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Media May Attack Coach Dabo Swinney, but He Will Remain Focused on His Purpose

College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T - Alabama v Clemson
Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers celebrates with his players late in the game of his teams 44-16 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide.

This article contains the views of Ryan Kantor, not necessarily the views of all writers of Shakin the Southland.

Coach Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers have won two of the past three college football national championships, and they’ve done it while eschewing the famous quote:

“Just win baby.” - Al Davis, Owner Oakland Raiders

Here are the past 10 national champions:

2009: Alabama
2010: Auburn
2011: Alabama
2012: Alabama
2013: Florida State
2014: Ohio State
2015: Alabama
2016: Clemson
2017: Alabama
2018: Clemson

Several things pop out about the list. First and foremost is the long-held dominance of Alabama and the rising dominance of Clemson. Beyond that though, you think about Auburn’s trouble with Heisman-winning QB Cam Newton. He got there via JUCO after leaving Florida when he was caught stealing a laptop. At Auburn there were accusations and even a one-day NCAA suspension due to his father allegedly being paid for his son’s enrollment.

Moving down the list you have 2013 Florida State, a team led by Heisman-winning QB Jameis Winston who was accused of sexual assault. While I don’t have enough information to comment on the credibility of the accusation, it seems clear that the Coach and police were less interested in finding that information than...well... “just win, baby.”

Then of course you have Ohio State and the whole Zach Smith situation, not to mention the much more concrete enablement of criminal conduct at UF under his regime there.

Clemson isn’t perfect. In past year’s we’ve had a player kicked off the team for financial transaction fraud. Star WRs Sammy Watkins and Deon Cain along with kicker Ammon Lakip were suspended for drug use. There were even alumni players involved in a robbery. The common thread through, is that Coach Swinney never looked to cover it up or keep players eligible for the sake of winning. He instead disciplined players appropriately, even if it hurt the team. His decision to suspend Sammy Watkins for the Auburn game and Deon Cain for the National Championship game (I contend they would have beat Alabama if Cain played) stand out as strong examples.

Upon winning the 2018 National Championship with the first 15-0 record in modern college football history, Coach Swinney was quick to highlight that it isn’t all about on-field successes. He discussed the team’s academic progress rate which the university explains here:

“Clemson’s football program has an APR score of 985 according to data released by the NCAA on Tuesday, tied with Wisconsin for the highest among the top 25 US News and World Report Public Institutions. Clemson was tied for fourth in the nation among all FBS schools, trailing only Northwestern, Boise State and Duke.

The Clemson football program’s APR score has improved every year. The 985 score was second best in the ACC behind Duke (989). ... Clemson was the only program to rank in the top 10 of the final USA Today poll and post an APR score of at least 980 this year.”

Will Leitch, writing for New York: The Magazine, felt the need to leech off of Dabo’s success at Clemson by writing a hit piece that pulled quotes out of context and read them in the most unfavorable light possible. Throughout the piece (please don’t click the link and give them the benefit of a page view) his biases and malicious intent is clear.

He starts with a shot about the Kelly Bryant championship ring situation:

“It is an understood principle of organized sports that if you play for a team that wins a championship — even if you were not actually playing while they won the championship — you get a championship ring. ... Which is why it was so shocking last week when Dabo Swinney, head coach of defending college football champion Clemson, announced that Kelly Bryant — who started four games for the Tigers last year, including a key 28-26 road victory over Texas A&M in which he threw for a touchdown and ran for another — would not be receiving a championship ring. At the time, both team and player seemed simpatico. But when Clemson went on and won a title behind Lawrence, Swinney purposefully kept a ring from Bryant when they were handed out in the fall. His reasoning was as simple as it was purposefully ignorant of decades of precedent: “He wasn’t on the team.”

I don’t know if this was ignorant or intentionally dishonest, but David Hale of ESPN did a great job of exposing whichever one it was in a series of tweets. here’s the two most relevant ones:

Next the writer argues the following:

“To be an FBS college football coach is to reap the harvest of an unjust system, but Swinney has gone beyond merely being complicit in this system. Instead, he has chosen to forcefully advocate for it. He has said he will quit college football entirely if players get paid, saying that, ‘as far as paying players, professionalizing college athletics, that’s where you lose me. I’ll go do something else, because there’s enough entitlement in this world as it is.’ (He brazenly reiterated this stance after signing that new contract.) He has fought against players receiving stipends in addition to their scholarships.”

In an amazing coincidence, the writer failed to include this Swinney quote from the same article where there’s far more context:

“They may want to professionalize college athletics. Well, then, maybe I’ll go to the pros. If I’m going to coach pro football, I might as well do that.”

And maybe he just didn’t see this one:

“I would love to see there be some type of stipend or annuity or something where upon graduation they would have access to something, so it will be tied to the student-athlete, which ultimately is what it should be about.”

The author then gets political and blasts him for not approving of Colin Kaepernick’s protest.

He criticized Colin Kaepernick’s protest, saying that “it’s not good to use the team as a platform” and that “two wrongs don’t make a right...”

Firstly, good people can disagree on this issue, but for the author to state this as if Coach Swinney was outside of the mainstream is wrong. According to a 2016 Seton Hall Sports poll, 80% supported Kaepernick’s right to protest, but only 27% of people actually approved of his protest while 47% disapproved. More importantly, his opinion is totally irrelevant because he also said he wouldn’t discipline a player on his team if they did protest (though not as relevant in college football given the timing of the anthem). Coach Swinney said it is in the end the player’s right:

“I think everybody has the right to express himself in that regard, but I don’t think it’s good to be a distraction to your team.”

Here are just a few more:

“He once kicked a player off his team — and thus out of college — for “having a bad attitude.”

This was Kyrin Priester he’s referencing here. Priester was subsequently kicked out of Washington State so this seems like Coach Swinney was obviously right in hindsight. Since the writer must not be a college football fan, he probably didn’t know that.

“He doesn’t tolerate cursing at his practices.”

Oh the humanity!

Oh, and remember the Clemson football team’s visit to the White House during the government shutdown, when President Trump gave out all that fast food? The Root reported that while most of Clemson’s black players did not attend, the ones who did go did so because they feared Swinney would punish them otherwise. (Swinney denied this, as did several players.)

If you recall this situation, many players didn’t attend because they had draft prep to focus on, had already been, the invitation came at the last minute, and most notably they had already been. The author admits in the attack itself that it was denied by the players.

So with that negativity out of the way, let’s look again and who Coach Dabo Swinney actually is.

In the video below, ESPN’s Marty Smith asks him what is his greatest challenge personally. Coach Swinney says it is “to stay focused on my purpose as a man, the purpose of this program, and to help my staff and my players find and fulfill their purpose.”

Here’s him explaining what he wants for his players:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.

Clemson fan’s should enjoy these years having not only the best college football coach in the country, but a great man as the face of the program and arguably the University.