Relentless. Determined. Persistent.
All are just some of the words that describe Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney, who in five years has completely changed the culture at Clemson University. He has brought a mentality that the program has not been privy to since the days of former head coach Danny Ford. But Swinney has carved out a niche for himself during his time at head coach, putting together an elite coaching staff and putting Clemson football back on the map as an elite program.
But just who is the man beneath the solid orange and purple?
Just as Gotham City legend Batman has his own secret identity, so too does Dabo Swinney. His alter ego: William Christopher Swinney. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Swinney is all too familiar with the challenges and circumstances that life can bring, as his mother endured polio for the first part of her life and now lives a healthy life near Birmingham, Alabama. She was a figure who always stood by his side as the rest of their family battled their own demons, as Dabo’s dad faced alcoholism and his two brothers found themselves in trouble of following down their father’s path.
His senior year of high school at Pelham (Ala.) high school saw perhaps the biggest challenges of Dabo’s life as he and his mother moved from place to place, with no house or apartment to really call home. But, it was during this time that Dabo Swinney’s relentless spirit of determination began to manifest itself. This determination is what allowed the Alabama native to attend the University of Alabama and join the football team as a walk-on receiver and letter, earning a scholarship and letter for three years, including the Tide’s 1992 national championship season.
And after working as a graduate assistant from 1993-95 and as the wide receivers and tight ends coach for the Alabama Crimson Tide, Swinney found himself at Clemson in 2003 as their wide receivers coach for the next five years. And when former head coach Tommy Bowden resigned under heavy fire in 2008, Swinney stepped in as interim and hasn’t looked back.
Now, Swinney has revitalized a program that has not had this level of excitement since the 1980s and early 90s. And his impact has extended to his football team and the entire Clemson fan base as he brings back the culture of Clemson football. It all started with the revival of “Tiger Walk,” where pregame buses stop several hundred yards away and the players walk through their adoring fan bases.
And this time, the team would trade in its tennis shoes and sweatsuits for the less comfortable yet far more stylish suits and ties. For Dabo, it’s been more than X’s and O’s. It’s instilling that image of Clemson football, of representing themselves and carrying themselves as college athletes should.
“It’s a reminder, every week, that ‘man, people care”, Swinney tells Yahoo Sports Columnist Dan Wetzel. “It’s just a game, but it matters. It’s important how we play and how we represent this university. People drive five hours to watch you play and then drive five hours back. They spend their money on this. A lot of these guys aren’t wealthy. We have a blue-collar fan base.”
And his impact has reached the fans in plenty of ways. Over the years, Swinney has visited a number of visitations to Clemson fans in hospice, and engages fans with his personality, connecting with his fan base off the field. Public figure James Cartee also wrote how Dabo visited his grandmother just a few days before the busiest time of the year: National Signing Day.
“On Monday, my Grandmother was told that someone was coming to visit her. My uncle Ray kept teasing her, telling her that Elvis was that special visitor. Though Elvis was a “no show,” the person who DID make an appearance was Dabo Swinney, Clemson’s head football coach. Actually, he made more than an appearance. He made an impression. He made a memory. He gave my family encouragement and laughter. He gave his time, his story, his faith, and his affection. He was interactive, and he listened as much as he talked.”
Later on, during the week leading up to the big season opener against the Georgia Bulldogs, the fifth-year head coach went around and passed out doughnuts to those who camped out all week to get a ticket for one of the biggest home games of the season. The coach even greeted student fans the first morning that tickets were distributed, throwing out “All In” buttons and creating even more buzz and excitement.
Swinney may have evolved into the full-time CEO head coach, but he is the unique CEO head coach with soul for the Clemson fan base and the community at large. Swinney is without a doubt the most popular guy on campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Always seen greeting fans and willing to take pictures with any who ask, he has instilled in them the kind of inspiration, faith and excitement on and off the field that Clemson’s program arguably hasn’t had since the days of former head coach Danny Ford.
Dropped into challenging environments in his youth, Dabo Swinney’s life has been driven by his faith to overcome adversity. Whether it was his unstable family life in high school, his drive to walk-on as a receiver on the Gene Stallings’ led Crimson Tide and come away with a national championship, or even coming in as an interim head coach to salvage a program on the verge of utter disappointment, Swinney is no stranger to adversity.
They say that a football team can only be as good as its head coach. And for Swinney, that reflection has become apparent, as he instills in his players the motivation and discipline that football teams should have. He has steadily learned and developed the CEO- like mindset of a college football head coach and has come a long way since his humble beginning in 2008. He now has the fierce complexity and ambition to build a national championship contender. The Dabo Swinney era is still a work in progress here at Clemson, but the brand he has built, and continues to build upon, keeps growing with each passing day. At Clemson, everybody’s “All In” for the Tigers.