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November 20, 2013
Back in time
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CLEMSON -- Four-plus years ago, Dabo Swinney was 39 years old as he prepared for his first full season at Clemson.
He had earned the hearts and minds of his superiors and many fans during his successful audition for the job over the second half of 2008. But beyond the orange-tinted Clemson bubble, Swinney was viewed with considerable skepticism across the region and nation.
The popular opinion abroad was that he was too inexperienced, that Clemson made a big mistake in picking a receivers coach to replace Tommy Bowden. It was only a matter of time before he'd fall on his face and give way to a more seasoned coach who was better equipped to run a big-time program. Or so people thought.
At points it's useful and educational and entertaining to take a look back at things said and done in the distant past, and this week qualifies as one of those points. It marks the celebration of a closing era with Swinney saying goodbye to the remaining players from his first recruiting class.
Since the summer of 2009, Swinney and Clemson have done a bunch of things most people thought they couldn't do. There's still some ground this program wants to cover in the future - in particular, the near future with next week's trip to nemesis South Carolina -- but what has unfolded since the start of Swinney's first season has been impressive by any definition. It becomes more impressive when you rewind to the point when he was just a 4-3 coach trying to sell recruits on his grand visions.
Here's the Q&A from our lengthy sit-down with Swinney in August of 2009 as he prepared for the Tigers' opener with Middle Tennessee:
TI: Where were you when you heard Tommy Bowden was no longer the coach?
SWINNEY: "Sitting in the staff room. We were in our offensive staff room watching blitz pickup, watching a blitz drill. It was probably somewhere between 10 and 11 a.m., and (associate athletics director for football operations) Andy Johnston walked in and said, 'Coach Bowden needs to see y'all in the staff room in five minutes.'
"We'd been in there since 6 that morning, just wide open. It was just a normal day, a normal Monday. Five minutes later, we were in there in the staff room and Coach Bowden walked in. I could just tell when he walked in - he has a way with his expressions. And he had never done that before, ever, interrupted us like that and called us into a staff meeting unannounced. So we were all like, 'This isn't good.'
"He walked in and he was like, 'Sorry boys.' Just like that. He just said, 'Look, we're going to make a change.' He talked about the reasons why. And he was more concerned about us. He just said, 'I'm fine. But I'm more worried about all y'all and I appreciate the job you've done,' and this and that. He said, 'We just needed to win a couple more games.' He was very gracious. It was very brief, actually. We all got up and hugged him and thanked him, and he told us (athletics director) Terry Don (Phillips) was standing out in the hall. So he walked away, and Terry Don came right in.
"We were sitting there, and nobody knows what to say. Terry Don said, 'Look, I'm sorry. I didn't anticipate this happening.' He told us what happened, and then he said, 'Just do the best you can,' and he looked at me and said, 'Dabo you're now the head coach. You're calling all the shots. You have my full support. I need to see you in my office in five minutes.' Just like that.
"And then he walked out. And here we are."
TI: Was that at all strange or uncomfortable, given that you're the receivers coach and you're named the head coach above coaches who have been head coaches before, and other guys who were more experienced than you, and yet he points at you?
SWINNEY: "Of course it was awkward. But I was assistant head coach, and Tommy had named me that a year or so before. I had already had opportunities to leave, and I knew at some point if I wanted to be the coordinator I could stay there, or I could've gone somewhere else.
"But my goal was never to be a coordinator or an assistant head coach or whatever. My goal has always been just to be the best at whatever I've been doing, and to be happy. I've never been a guy that just wants to take a job just for some title and not be happy. That's really what kept me at Clemson, because I really like it here and my family liked it here and Coach Bowden was good to me.
"I think one thing that I learned through my career is patience. Because there was some times where I almost made some bad decisions on some jobs just because it might've been an advancement in title or whatever. But as I've looked back - and I've said this to people - it'd have been a big mistake for me.
"Hopefully I can be a good example to a lot of good assistant coaches out there to be patient, and when you do take a job, make sure it's the job you want. Make sure you're not just taking a job and knowing you're going to leave in six months. I've just never had that mentality.
"But it was a little awkward, because you're sitting in there with guys that have been your peers. And now all of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, you're appointed the leader - like, instant. That just doesn't happen. There's other interim coaches in this world, but it's maybe a game or two games. To sit there and be in the middle of the season and there's six weeks to go and you're now the leader, and you look around the room --- you've got a couple of guys in there who have been head coaches and all that. And he chose me.
"It was a little awkward at the time, but once I met with Terry Don - to be honest, when I went down there to meet with him, I just thought it was going to be, 'Hey, do the best job you can. I might get the next guy to try to keep you,' that kind of thing. But it was just the opposite. I go down there and sit down there with him with a notepad, and he was just very honest with me. He was very blunt. He told me what had happened with him and Tommy, and he said, 'You know what? Coach Bowden would like to see you get this job. He thinks you can do this job,' which was very encouraging to me. And he said, 'I think you can do the job. And not only do I think you can do the job, but I'd love to see you get the job.' That's exactly what he told me, which kind of took me aback.
"And then he told me why. He said, 'I've watched you for five-and-a-half years. I've hired a lot of coaches. And I just really think you're the perfect fit for this job.' He brought up Les Miles and Mike Gundy and different people he'd been around, and how he'd gone through that process. He told me he couldn't make me any promises, but he told me the situation with Coach Bowden gave me a chance. He told me he was sorry it was a difficult situation because there were a lot of dynamics I had to deal with, but he said he had no anticipation that something like this was going to happen.
"He said whether I win them all or lose them all, I was definitely going to get an interview for the job. He said he was going to go interview people. He said, 'I'm pulling for you, but I can't make you any promises.'
"He said, 'Do whatever you think you need to do to fix us.'
"So man all of a sudden, I went from this really low, low place, to a real - I mean, I was fired up to fight. I said, 'Man, you know what? I've got a shot.' And I felt some empowerment in that I actually had some control that I really was going to have the opportunity to be the head coach for six weeks and do what I wanted to do, and I had the support of the AD. He didn't give me any directions. Zero. So I went and sat down by myself for about 45 minutes. I prayed, and then I just kind of started writing down some things, some thoughts, as fast as I could. I met with all the coaches individually, and then I met with them as a staff and gave them direction. I told them I couldn't promise anything, and there probably will be changes. But the very best thing for everybody is to do the very best job we can. It's the right thing to do, first of all. It's what these kids deserve. It's what these fans deserve. But more important than that, it's our job. And it's always easier to get a job when you finish strong. I said the season's not over. We've got six ballgames left, and anything can happen. I was trying to see who could work under those circumstances and be professional and get organized.
"So then I had to meet with the team. It was 4 o'clock, and, oh by the way, you've got to practice that night and we had a game that Saturday. The game was the furthest thing from my mind.
"So Tommy met with the team, then I met with the team and Terry Don introduced me. I just had everybody leave. It was just me and those guys in there. We had a great meeting. I talked to them about what was going to be different, that we were going to practice that night. That's kind of where 'All In' came from. I said, 'I might not have a great shot at this job, but I've got a shot. And I'm all in. And here's what it's going to take. If you're going to come to practice tonight, you better be able to do this. Or go clean your locker out and move on. Because we're going to give Clemson fans exactly what they deserve: great effort, and not even worry about the scoreboard and all that stuff.' Those kids, they bought in. I wouldn't be here if they hadn't really bought in to what we were trying to do and played with great effort. And all the coaches did a great job of being professional and working hard. Fortunately, we were able to turn it around and have the opportunity to stay."
TI: Did you have any idea before October 13th that Terry Don thought as highly of you as he did?
SWINNEY: "I've had a couple of people ask me that. I knew he liked me, but I didn't know he thought that highly of me until he verbalized it to me. He told me, 'If I could hire this guy or that guy, I'd hire you. That's how strongly I feel about you.' I didn't know that. I had a friendship with him, but nothing like that.
"That's one of the things I told the staff. I said, 'You know what guys? That just goes to show, you never know when people are watching you. Or what they're watching. Or who's listening.' I mean, I knew Terry Don. But I had no idea he thought of me in that regard."
TI: Did Tommy resign or was he fired?
SWINNEY: "I know what I was told. And obviously there were only two people in the room. I don't know how much it matters what the semantics of it are. It's something I obviously can't get in the middle of, because I wasn't there."
TI: Did Tommy encourage you to retain any of his assistants?
SWINNEY: "No, he didn't. We talked that night, and then we talked a couple of other times after that when all that stuff was going on. All he really was, was just encouraging to me, just do the best you can, do what you feel is right, follow your gut and your instincts.
"He understands the business. And what might have been good for him isn't necessarily good for me. We're obviously different people with different backgrounds and ties and things like that. When you become a head coach, you want to surround yourself with people that you feel like are 100 percent in your corner and believe in the same things you believe in and can align with your philosophies and how you want to do things.
"Coach Bowden had put together a good staff and had hired really good people. But I'm very comfortable with the way the staff has turned out."
TI: You had a lot of new ideas that were implemented right off the bat when you were promoted to interim coach. Was that something that happened spontaneously?
SWINNEY: "I've always kept a head coach book, so to speak, for if and when I get the opportunity. And I had actually interviewed for a couple of head jobs in the previous year or so. I really did it just for the experience of going through the exercise of having to pull it all together, put all my thoughts on paper from A to Z running a program, what I would want to do and what my philosophies are.
"It was a lot of work pulling that together when I was trying to interview for a couple of jobs. But I had always kept a little book of things where I would make notes of things I really believed in. A lot of times it would be because of a bad experience. And I might say, 'If I ever get in this position, this is the way I would want to do it.' My experience has been very valuable to me, and I've always prepared for the opportunity to be a head coach, not knowing when it would ever come. I've kept a lot of notes, met with a lot of people. But I think the thing that helped me the most was interviewing for a couple of jobs and just going through the process. They're jobs I really wouldn't take, but it was a great process for me to go through.
"But a lot was instincts and my gut feel, from having been around here. There were things I felt I'd like to do differently if I were the head coach."
TI: Do you think one of Tommy's biggest weaknesses might've been connecting with the fan base? That was one of the things you addressed immediately by reaching out to the fans.
SWINNEY: "The bottom line is, it comes down to winning and losing. Everybody can love me, and I can reach out and connect with them. But if I don't win games, they ain't going to like me."
TI: But you have said building goodwill is important during bad times.
SWINNEY: "I do think it's important at a place like Clemson. Whether or not that was a strength or weakness of Coach Bowden's, that's for somebody else to determine and evaluate. But I do think it's critical at a place like Clemson, and it was critical in the program that I came up in at Alabama, where you have a really passionate fan base like you have here.
"I do think it's important that the Clemson people know that you're just one of them, and that you are accessible and that you do embrace the traditions and former players and things like that. I love that. I really love meeting people. I like everything about this program. I love to try to make a difference in somebody's life just because you're the head coach at Clemson. It's a really neat thing. And it's nothing to do with me. It's just simply this position, and you can really impact and affect a lot of people's lives just because of the title that you have. I think it's important for me to embrace that, and it's important for me to give as much as I can, whether it's a phone call or my time or just a word of encouragement or acknowledgement, whatever it is in this role.
"Coach Bowden was here a long time, and he won every year. It's like one of those things in talking with Coach (Danny) Ford. He told me: 'Look. I know you think you're going to win them all, but you're not going to.' It was one of the best pieces of advice he told me. He said one of the things he learned was the Clemson people, if they know you're trying and they know you're working hard and trying to do things the right way and you're a part of them, when you have one of them tough years, they'll give you some grace. He made a good point: He was 5-6 or 6-5 a time or two, and he felt like the relationships he had kind of helped him sustain to where he could get things right."
TI: Do you think fans might have less patience with you because they might consider you an extension of Tommy? And if so, is that fair?
SWINNEY: "I don't know if it's fair or not. I would just hope people judge me for who I am. I know we're working hard. I know we've put a great staff together. That'd be like judging Coach Ford because he was on Coach (Charley) Pell's staff, or whoever. I've got to be who I am, and ultimately I'm going to be judged by the scoreboard. That's really the bottom line.
"But I'm really more about these kids and worrying about them than I am worrying about myself or what the fans think of me, or what kind of leash I'm on. I don't lay awake at night worrying about that. I lay awake at night worrying about one of my players whose brother just went to jail, or making sure we're doing the right things by this kid, or that we're preparing the right way, or we've got an injured player. Those are the things I think about all the time. I don't sit around worrying about what the fans think about me."
TI: Tommy was pretty liberal when it came to media access. It didn't seem to bother him when his players would occasionally pop off to the media about play-calling or whatever. You seem to be running a much tighter ship in that area. Could you elaborate on your philosophy there?
SWINNEY: "I think players should be accountable. And I think coaches should be accountable. I definitely want to have a tighter ship, I don't think there's any doubt about that, in the way we deal with the media. A lot of these kids, they don't understand. And part of our jobs as coaches is teaching them how to handle the media, how to handle tough situations, how to be honest but don't hurt other people. Be careful what you say. Sometimes things don't look like what you want them to look like in print.
"I'm trying to have a little bit more controlled environment as far as when guys do interviews, and making sure that the coaching staff understands the message and what that message is supposed to be, and that we're all on the same page, and knowing they'll be held accountable. Hopefully we can do a little bit better job in understanding that it's about the team here. It's not about individuals. It's about the team."
TI: You're not a big fan of the "one play away" theme that Bowden harped on a lot when he was here, are you?
SWINNEY: "I'm a big fan of attention to details and let's play with great effort, try to play a little bit longer and harder than our opponent. We talk about playing for six seconds around here. Most people only play four or five. Well let's play for six. That's really what we focus on more than anything.
"I do emphasize how critical one play can be in a game. Because there's always four or five plays out of 65 that make a difference between winning and losing. The problem is you don't know when it's coming. So you've got to play every play like it's the last one.
"I don't sit around and talk about what we could have done and this and that. We're really focused on where we want to go. We know where we want to go. To do something, you've got to be able to visualize it. And you've got to believe that you can do it. We focus on what it takes to get there - daily. It's a daily focus, a daily commitment. One day after another after another. If we can get enough people to do that, we're going to have a chance to ultimately reach our goal."
TI: You said firing Rob Spence was one of the hardest things you've ever done. Why was it the first thing you did?
SWINNEY: "It was hard, because I really respect Rob. I respect him as a person, and I respect him as a football coach. He's one of the smartest, best coaches I've ever been around. I certainly grew as a coach around him for three years, without question. That was the hard part about it.
"But the smart thing was, I felt like we just needed a fresh start. There was change in the air, and I knew what I wanted to do from a head-coach perspective. And I'm sure Rob would've been fine, because he's a professional guy. But I just felt like it just wasn't the best thing for him or for me to go down that path. I felt the best thing for him was to move on, and the best thing for me was to start fresh and really be able to put my personality into this thing and not have to worry about that intangible: He was the coordinator, and I was working for him. Now I'm calling the plays. It was already difficult enough. Not necessarily uncomfortable, but a little odd. You go from co-worker, to all of a sudden you're the boss. And it happens that fast.
"There was an adjustment for everybody, but I just felt like that was one area where, especially me being an offensive guy, that's just the way it was. It might've been different if I were a defensive guy. I think it was the easiest thing for me to really be able to put my handprints and personality into it without dealing with some conflicts."
TI: Was Vic Koenning's departure a result of philosophical differences, or were there maybe some personality differences there as well?
SWINNEY: "When you get to be a head coach, you have to put your personality into it. Vic is a great coach. But what was a great fit for Coach Bowden doesn't mean it was a great fit for me. Different personalities, different people, different backgrounds, things like that. We don't have to argue whether Vic is a great coach or not, because our defense was very good the whole time he was here. It got better and better and better.
"But I think for me, it was just more getting somebody that I think just fit me a little bit better. So yeah, part of it was personality. Part of it is just philosophy, differences and things like that. There's a lot of ways to skin a cat. I wanted to put my stamp on it and bring people in with a fresh start. I wanted to keep some guys, but I didn't want it to feel like I just had Coach Bowden's staff and now all of the sudden all these guys are having to learn how to work for me. I wanted to bring guys in here that, from the very get-go, the only reason they were here is because I hired them.
"And obviously for me being an offensive guy, I've got to really rely and depend on whoever that defensive person is. I knew I was going to bring Charlie Harbison here, and I felt Kevin (Steele) was the perfect fit. I needed that kind of dynamic and that total package that I've got now on the defensive side of the ball.
"It wasn't change to just change. It was change because I felt that was the best thing for me as a new head coach."
TI: You said last November that you thought Cullen Harper would make a good living in the NFL. Surprised he won't play a down at the next level a year after he was rated the No. 1 senior quarterback in college football?
SWINNEY: "I am surprised that he didn't get a shot. I really felt like he would get an opportunity at the next level. But for whatever reason, it hasn't worked out that way for him."
TI: What's the main reason this program hasn't sniffed a conference championship in the last four years?
SWINNEY: "Probably inconsistent effort. Just not consistent enough effort, day-in and day-out, practice after practice, game after game after game. Just a daily focus on doing what it takes to get the outcome that you want.
"Sometimes we focus so much on where we want to go and the outcome that we want, instead of focusing on what it takes to get there. That's what we've tried to do. We've tried to put the focus on the things we control. The effort. The preparation. The details."
TI: You've talked a lot about the offense and the stuff y'all are going to do, but what's the identity of this offense going to be under you?
SWINNEY: "I think the identity is going to be an offense that gets the ball to its playmakers and gives guys opportunities to win games for us. Obviously we want to be able to run the football. I think our identity will change within our system from year to year based on the personnel that we have.
"I think we have a great system, very flexible. But our identity is: We want to be able to run the ball, and we want to be able to play-action. We want to stretch the field horizontally, but also vertically through the play-action pass, primarily. But also, we'll drop back and take our shots from time to time and make sure that people aren't just playing tendencies and things like that. We're a zone football team with the inside zone and outside zone schemes. But we also want to be a power team and gap it. We're a spread football team, but we'll be under center and do split backs and one back. We'll do a lot of different things with our tight ends as far as creating a two-back type of mentality at times, but also we'll spread the field.
"So we're a spread team, but not just a sold-out team like Middle Tennessee or Mike Leach. That's not who we are. We want to be a power-oriented, attacking-style offense. It's all about creating matchups through our personnel. We have a lot of flexibility in what we do without recreating the wheel week to week. The inside zone is inside zone, no matter what you're in. And power is power. All they've got to know is if it's one-back power or two-back power.
"I want us to play with an up-tempo, very aggressive, attacking style. That's what we are. And that's through running and through passing. When it's all said and done, I hope we're a balanced football team. Fifty-fifty would be ideal, but maybe 40-60 or 45-55. I hope that's kind of where we end up when it's all said and done.
"There's a lot of things we'll do to create the identity we want. And that's running it, that's throwing it, that's screening it, that's formationing it."
TI: When were your formative years as an offensive tactician?
SWINNEY: "I spent a couple of years with Homer Smith, and obviously I was with Mal Moore in the beginning as my first year as a GA. I was Homer's GA for two years, '94 and '95. I kind of worked side by side with him. He was a brilliant guy. A lot of what he talked about was matchups and how you formationed and having a system in place that you believe in, that you could have every week. And then that carried on over into Woody McCorvey, and that was my first year full-time in '96.
"We won our division, and we were a power football team then. We were a run-run-run-throw team. That's who we were. That was our identity, and it was easy to figure it out.
"In '97, I spent a year with Bruce Arians. He was totally different from anything I'd ever been around. He came in from the NFL, different terminology, different system. Great learning experience for me. He was much more of a mixture. It was the first time I'd been around more of a mixture of the passing game-running game, West Coast type of deal in how we used formations.
"Then when Charlie Stubbs came in, in '98, '99 and 2000, that's when I really first got exposed to the spread and being able to run the ball out of the spread, and being able to really create mismatches and take advantage of opportunities to stretch the field horizontally and vertically. We had some guys like Shaun Alexander, Michael Vaughn, Freddie Milons, Chris Samuel. We had some pretty good weapons. We took advantage of that personnel and won the conference in '99.
"But I learned a ton from that time as well. And then coming here, it was like starting over. We were four wides all the time. Everything was four wides. We hardly ever had a tight end in the game. We never tried to run the ball. If we did, it was a draw or something like that. It was a pass-pass-pass-run mentality, and that's the first time I'd ever been around that. I think that's a hard thing to maintain over the course of time in a tough defensive conference. My first three years here, we had a different coordinator. So I really learned and grew a lot.
"But it's kind of been a process for me. There's certain things I just believe in. I just think you've got to be a physical, tough football team. There's just no substitute for that. It ain't always going to go in the rim. Sometimes you've got to rebound, and you've got to just knock somebody off the ball. And you don't have to be in the 'I' to do that. That's where I've grown and matured from a coaching standpoint from when I was a player to where I am today. It doesn't matter what you're in; you've got to be physical, and you can be physical. That's what I hope is our identity, is that we're a tough, physical football team that will flat get after you and will not sit on their heels, that will control the tempo and then will just keep coming. And when we get a tackle for loss or make a mistake, we line up and we keep coming and keep coming. We're a team that doesn't beat themselves, and an opportunistic team that takes advantage of big-play opportunities that come our way. I really hope that's who we end up being.
"I do believe that you can't just line up in one thing anymore and just: 'Here we are. Come get us.' I just don't think there are many teams out there that are just dominant enough to do that. And defenses are so good - if they want to take something away, they can take it away. So you have to have the ability to throw the football. A lot of times you're throwing the football to be able to run it.
"Obviously in our situation, people are going to look at us and say they're going to stop the run. So we've got to be able to throw the ball to be able to run it. And we've got to be able to create opportunities to run the ball. Maybe it's through formations, where we take advantage of alignments or things like that. But I want us to be physical, no matter what we're in, no matter what's on the field. Shotgun, under center, two back, one back, no back. Let's be physical at every position."
TI: How would you describe Billy Napier's offensive belief system? More of a power guy right?
SWINNEY: "I think he ties into what I believe. That's why he's here. That's why I hired him, because I know exactly what I want to do and how I want to do it. And he's done a great job of working in the parameters I've set forth. As long as we stay within these parameters, then we're all right. This is what we want to be. This is who I want us to be, right here. I don't want to be five-wides. I don't want to be a team that's throwing it 60 times every week. I want to be a team that lines up, and here's the schemes I like from a run standpoint. Here's what I really believe in. Here's the core plays I believe in. Here's the pass concepts I think we need. Now let's go play, and let's formation them, let's get the best people on the field.
"Billy is a definite tough, hard-nosed mentality. I think that's how he came up. Heck, he's been drawing plays in a notebook since he was probably a kindergartner, with his daddy being a head coach. He played in an option-style offense, and he was a very good player.
"I think his mentality is: 'Listen, we've got to whip the guy over us. Let's don't sit on our heels and wait for something to happen. Let's make it happen.' So I think he falls in line with what I want to do."
TI: How much of Rob Spence's stuff did you keep? Most of the terminology?
SWINNEY: "We kept a lot of the terminology, and changed a good bit of it too. We really didn't have a system problem here. We've got an excellent system. A lot of it is the same thing we did at Alabama, the same thing we did when I first came here. Some people call it this; some people call it that.
"From where we were just from a carryover standpoint, you don't want to change something to change something. If guys understand something as this, you want to take advantage of that learning curve. You don't want to just have to start over and teach them something new just so you can say you changed the terminology. We tried to keep as much as we could that fit, and then obviously there were a bunch of things we had to add and blend. So it was really about taking what I felt was really, really good from what we'd done here - because we've done some really good things - and marrying it to the things I felt like we needed to do that we haven't done."
TI: How did the offensive line get in a situation where, if Chris Hairston goes down, you could be in some real trouble there? It's a situation that you clearly don't want to be in.
SWINNEY: "Well, we graduated some guys. And all of a sudden you've gone out and you've recruited, and on the offensive line if you miss on one or two it can come back to get you. That's probably the case. I think we had a couple of guys we missed on for whatever reason, guys we were hoping would be good players and just didn't really pan out to be that way.
"You look at it, and you'd love to have three Chris Hairstons on both sides. But I don't know many schools that have that. And all of a sudden, you graduate a pretty good group. And now you've got to start over and you've got some young guys. We've got some young guys in the pipeline that are going to be fine. They're just not there yet. A lot of people don't have three tackles. I do feel like we have three that we can win with.
"I know at times we get a little greedy, and you wish you had more and this and that. But we'll be OK. Chris Hairston is just a great player. I think he can be a big-time NFL guy. I really do. When you're preparing a guy like that, there's a drop-off. I don't know that we've had many big-time NFL tackles here. Barry Richardson was a mainstay, and he's a starting tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs now. He's a pretty good player.
"The way it'll play out, I think we've got some guys in the pipeline that are going to be good players. I think Brandon Thomas is a guy we hit on. He's coming off knee surgery. He's big. He's athletic. I think he's what you're looking for. But he don't know which way is up right now. He's just not ready. I think Phillip Price is a guy we just kind of lucked in to. We've made a move with him and made a commitment, and he can be a really good player. I really believe that. He's probably a year away, learning how to play and getting to the size he needs. But he's a tough, tough kid. He has the mentality you want; we've just got to get the size to go with it. He's only about 270, but he can be 310 easy.
"We have a couple other guys you hoped might be a little bit better, but they maybe aren't quite what you wanted or hoped for. But you love them anyway. But then we took a guy like Antoine McClain, who we really recruited in here to play tackle. A couple of those guys fit in that category. But as we got them in, we realized they were really more suited for guard."
"But Chris is just a junior. Landon (Walker) is just a sophomore, but he's getting better and better. And then you throw in a Brandon Thomas, Phillip the next year. Hopefully David Smith is a guy that can play tackle and guard for us as we keep grooming him along. Hopefully we can solidify that position a little bit better."
TI: Do you think David Smith could play tackle this season?
SWINNEY: "It's harder to play tackle than guard, but I think he could."
TI: Why isn't he getting much work there now?
SWINNEY: "We've worked him at tackle. We've worked him more at right tackle than left tackle. Because if we had an issue, Cory (Lambert) would go to left tackle. That would be step number one right there. Cory is our swing guy. If we're going to rest Chris Hairston, we're going to put Cory over there and play Landon. Jamarcus (Grant) is another guy we feel we can hopefully get some snaps here or there inside and outside, and try to use him as a utility guy a little bit.
"But we've got to address it in recruiting, ain't no doubt about it. We've got to address it with our recruiting."
TI: One of the issues ACC coaches discussed at the spring meetings was the trend of expanded support staffs among some major college football programs. One of your first objectives when you became head coach was to add positions to your support staff. Is this merely the latest frontier in the so-called arms race?
SWINNEY: "I think so. To be honest with you, we talked about it as a group of coaches. And we all talked about our own issues and resources that we have. Some have more than others, and everybody has something when it comes to their support. And we also talked about other people and what they have, other conferences.
"You're going to always have the haves and the have-nots. That ain't ever going to change. You can try to legislate that all you want, but that's just the way it is. Every time you put a rule in place, somebody figures out something else. It's been that way forever.
"I think we'd all love to have more coaches. I know I would. I'd love to be able to hire more coaches, or even have more GA's. I would love that, in particular because it's hard for young people to get an opportunity nowadays. They've limited the amount of GA's. Used to be you'd have unlimited GA's. Back when I was playing, every coach had a GA. We had all these graduate assistants, and it was a great opportunity for guys to not only get a master's degree, but also to get their foot in the door and coaching.
"But then in like 1992 or something, they cut all that out and said you can only have two GA's. It cut back on a lot of people's opportunities to be coaches, and people have had to go other routes - whether it's working in the weight room or going into the administration or whatever it is. I don't know where it's going or what the overall parameters are, but I know that from an equity standpoint with football, we've got extremely high expectations and we have the least personnel of anybody. If you look at basketball, what do they have? Thirteen players and four coaches?"
TI: Is the monster television deal the SEC signed with ESPN and CBS an indication that it's going to be hard to compete with schools like that economically?
SWINNEY: "Obviously it's something that people are really talking about because it's current news. It's a new contract. I think that's great for the SEC.
"And yeah, obviously there's a trickle-down effect. If you have more revenue, you have more money for coaches. You have more money for recruiting budgets, facilities, staff, and on and on and on.
"But they've still got 85 scholarships. That part doesn't change. And I think, too, the timing of it; it was their time and their time was coming up. In two years, our contract is coming up. And I'm sure we're going to be making the headlines:
"Man, look at this new contract they signed!"
"I look at it like a guy who got drafted in the first round five years ago, and here's what he got paid and everybody's talking about it and it's a big deal. And then five years later, another guy gets drafted first and he gets paid this amount. That doesn't make one better than the other; that's just kind of what the market is.
"I'm happy for the SEC. That's great for them. They negotiated a great deal, and it was their time to do that. And our time will be coming up.
"The ACC and SEC are obviously very competitive conferences, and I think they'll be even more competitive as we move forward. There's other conferences out there where it's probably a much bigger deal to them. There's certain conferences that aren't going to compete with the SEC or the ACC.
"Obviously the SEC is a direct competitor of us. Everything drives everything else. I've used this example many times: You've got Coke and you've got Pepsi. It's constantly like that, and I think it'll be that way with us and with our contracts as we continue to move forward.
"But it's certainly something everybody's got their eye on. They obviously have a little bit more windfall coming off this new contract. But at the end of the day, it's 85 versus 85."
TI: What was your first major purchase when your raise kicked in?
SWINNEY: "Once we decided we weren't going to move, my first major purchase was to put a pool in our backyard. We tore our deck down and built a new deck and put a swimming pool in.
"I've wanted a pool my entire life. Two things I've always wanted in my whole life, from the time I've been born, was a trampoline and a swimming pool. I've checked both of those things off my list, so I'm good. That was really exciting for us, to put a pool in. We opened it up at the end of May and started swimming in it. It's been fun."
TI: You turned down Nick Saban a couple of years ago after he offered you a job on his staff, and it sounds like he thought he had you in the bag. Has he spoken to you since, and what was the conversation like when you told him you weren't going to Tuscaloosa?
SWINNEY: "Coach Saban, he didn't really know me. That was probably the biggest thing. First of all, I'm honored that he would call me. But he was just calling me on a recommendation. He didn't know me, and I didn't know him. I have a lot of respect for him, and obviously I'm from Alabama. That was a difficult thing, because that was going home. It was also an opportunity for a lot more money.
"But one thing I've learned is, you just don't make decisions based on things like that. You've got to have good, sound principles for making decisions. You've got to look at facts, and put prayer into it and things like that. It wasn't a knock on Coach Saban or anything like that; it just wasn't the best thing for me. The best thing for me was to stay right where I was, to stay focused on the job that I had. I was happy. I had a good job. Yeah, it was more money and all that. But there was no reason for me to do it. The only reason I would've taken the job would've been to go home and to get more money.
"It was bad timing here. I had six kids committed. It was a week before signing day. I would've felt horrible about that. Coach Bowden had been good to me. Clemson had been good to me and my family. My family loved it here. The kids love it here. This is what they know. My baby was born here. This is what he knows. Will and Drew have been raised here. They love their school. They've done all the preschool here, and now we've got a fifth-grader and a fourth-grader. This is what they know. My family is important to me.
"Plus, I didn't know many of those (coaches) there. I know all these people, and I just felt like the best thing for me was to stay here. It was a tough decision, but it really was easy when it came down to it.
"(Saban) may have been a little surprised. I don't know. But I think he understood. I wished him well, and that was about it. But he hired a good guy in there, and they're obviously doing well."
TI: Last book you read?
SWINNEY: "I read "Ordering Your Private World" this summer. What a great book that was for me. It was actually written by a pastor of this huge church, and he was talking about making sure you have order in your private world so you can really do a great job in your public world and keep your priorities in order. It was a good book. I think it was an older book.
"I also read "The Magic of Thinking Big." That's a great book, and it really all talks about believing. It talks about believing in yourself. I love books like that."
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