There is a strong coaching heritage over the 118 years of Clemson football that dates to the early 1900s, when John Heisman led the program. Jess Neely and Frank Howard continued the winning and joined Heisman in the College Football Hall of Fame. Danny Ford, a finalist for the Hall of Fame last year, led Clemson to the 1981 National Championship.
Dabo Swinney has been at Clemson for just seven years as head coach, but he is making progress towards joining the Tiger legends of the past. He will be the first person to tell you that the program has not reached all of its goals just yet, but there have been some significant accomplishments.
The 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons were especially noteworthy, with three top-15 final rankings in the polls. Clemson joined Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Oregon as the only schools in the nation who can make that claim. Each of Clemson’s teams from 2011-14 also won 10+ games, the first time the program did that since the 1987-90 era.
From 2011-14, Clemson had a 42-11 record, the most wins in a four-year period in school history. Twenty-seven of the victories took place against ACC teams, including a 38-10 triumph over No. 3 Virginia Tech that gave the Tigers the 2011 ACC title.
Nine of the 42 wins the last four years have come against top-25 teams, including five against top-10 opponents. Clemson also became the first non-SEC program to defeat top-10 SEC teams in consecutive games in the history of college football.
Clemson was in the top 10 of APR scores and the final top 25 of the AP and USA Today polls in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, the only FBS program that could make that claim.
In seven years (six full seasons) as the Tigers’ head coach, Swinney has directed Clemson to a 61-26 overall record (.701) and a 39-14 ACC regular-season mark (.736). He has also led the Tigers to the ACC Championship game twice, won one ACC Championship, won or shared three ACC Atlantic Division titles, won four bowl games and has been named national coach-of-the-year twice.
In 2014, Clemson overcame a slew of season-ending injuries and a difficult road schedule to register a 10-3 overall record and 6-2 mark in ACC regular-season games. Evidence of the mass injuries were shown by the fact that 48 different Tigers started at least one game among the 24 regular positions.
The Tigers finished the 2014 season ranked No. 15 in both the AP and coaches polls and was No. 17 in the final College Football Playoff ranking. The top-15 ranking marked the fourth straight year Clemson finished ranked in the polls under Swinney, who was named 2014 Grant Teaff National Coach-of-the-Year by FCA. He was also a finalist for the 2014 Bobby Dodd National Coach-of-the-Year Award, and won the Gene Stallings Award. Swinney’s Tigers joined Alabama, Florida State and Oregon as the only schools in the nation ranked in the top 25 of the final polls each season from 2011-14.
Losses at No. 12 Georgia and No. 1 Florida State within Clemson’s first three games of the 2014 season saw the Tigers in contention in the fourth quarter in both, including an overtime loss to the Seminoles. But Clemson rebounded and won its next six games, all against ACC foes.
With the 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl win over Oklahoma and Head Coach Bob Stoops by a score of 40-6, Swinney became the first and only coach in history to win three bowl games in consecutive seasons over teams whose head coaches had previously won the national title.
Defense was the key to success for the 2014 Tigers, as they led in the nation in total defense, pass efficiency defense, first downs allowed, third-down conversion percentage defense and tackles for loss along with being in the top five in many other defensive categories.
Defensive end Vic Beasley was named ACC Defensive Player-of-the-Year as well as being a finalist for multiple national awards and a first-team All-American thanks to his 21.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. All season, he led active players in the nation in career tackles for loss (52.5) and career sacks (33). Linebacker Stephone Anthony and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett joined Beasley as First-Team All-ACC selections. Beasley and Anthony were both first-round draft choices in May 2015.
Clemson’s young 2014 offense was set back with the injury of first-year freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson, who suffered injuries that forced him to miss more than half the season. He still had 14 passing touchdowns against only two interceptions and a 188.6 passing efficiency, one of the best figures in the country.
The Tigers’ top pass catcher (Artavis Scott) and rusher (Wayne Gallman) were also freshmen. Scott had 76 receptions for 965 yards and eight touchdowns, while Gallman had 769 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Clemson capped off the 2013 season with a thrilling 40-35 victory over No. 6 Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. Clemson had an 11-2 record after finishing 7-1 in ACC regular-season games for the second year in a row. It marked Clemson’s first back-to-back 11-win seasons in school history. The Tigers had a 4-0 record in ACC road games, the first time that happened since 1995.
The Tigers were No. 12 in the final BCS standings. It was the third straight year Clemson finished in the top 15 of the BCS standings, one of only six schools that could make that claim. Clemson, who was ranked No. 7 in the final USA Today poll and No. 8 in the final AP poll, was also one of only five programs ranked in the top 20 of every BCS standing from 2011 to 2013.
For the fourth time in his first five full seasons as head coach at Clemson, Swinney was a finalist for the Liberty Mutual National Coach-of-the-Year Award in 2013. Swinney was also one of 16 semifinalists for national coach-of-the-year by the Maxwell Football Club Collegiate Coach-of-the-Year Award for the second year in a row.
The Clemson offense continued to put up record-setting numbers in 2013, as it averaged 40.2 points and 507.7 yards per game. The Tiger defense also finished in the top 25 in the nation in scoring defense, total defense and turnovers forced. Clemson joined Florida State as the only schools in the nation to finish in the top 25 in the nation in scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense and total defense.
Tajh Boyd broke almost every Clemson career record for quarterbacks thanks in part to 2013, when he completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 3,851 yards and 34 touchdowns. He also added a team-high 10 rushing touchdowns. Boyd’s 107 career passing touchdowns and 133 total touchdowns were ACC records as well.
Sammy Watkins was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award and was a first-team All-American, as he had 101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns. He established Tiger career records for receptions, receiving yards and tied the receiving touchdowns mark as well.
Along with Boyd’s selection as a Second-Team All-ACC pick, offensive tackle Brandon Thomas, offensive guard Tyler Shatley, running back Roderick McDowell and placekicker Chandler Catanzaro were also named to the All-ACC squad on offense.
Beasley, who led the ACC in sacks (13) and added 23 tackles for loss, was a Consensus All-America selection. Defensive back Bashaud Breeland along with linebackers Spencer Shuey and Anthony also earned All-ACC honors on defense.
The 2012 season (11-2) was a groundbreaking year for Swinney’s Tigers when looking at the overall consistency of the program.
The seven conference wins in the regular season set a school record, while Clemson was co-champion of the ACC Atlantic Division. The school record for consecutive wins at Memorial Stadium (13) was also established, as was the record for consecutive wins by 14+ points (7).
With Clemson’s thrilling 25-24 win over No. 7 Louisiana State in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Tigers finished the season ranked No. 9 in the USA Today poll. It was Clemson’s first top-10 finish in one of the two major polls since 1990. Clemson also reached the 11-win mark for the first time since its 1981 National Championship season. The Tigers finished No. 14 in the final BCS standings as well.
The 2012 campaign featured a record-setting offense. Clemson had six of the 11 offensive players on the All-ACC first team chosen by the media and set over 80 Tiger team and individual records.
Leading the way was Boyd, the ACC Player-of-the-Year. The quarterback joined center Dalton Freeman as first-team All-Americans by AFCA, just the third time since 1945 that the AFCA first-team All-America quarterback and center were from the same school.
Boyd’s favorite wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, had 18 receiving touchdowns, second-most in the nation, and was a second-team All-American. He was a big reason Clemson scored a school-record 533 points.
Swinney was a finalist for the 2012 Liberty Mutual National Coach-of-the-Year Award for the third time. He was also one of 16 semifinalists for national coach-of-the-year by the Maxwell Football Club Collegiate Coach-of-the-Year Award.
Swinney’s 2011 squad, which ended the season ranked No. 22 in the nation, captured Clemson’s first ACC title since 1991 when it beat No. 3 Virginia Tech 38-10 in the ACC Championship game in Charlotte, N.C. It tied for the highest-ranked team the Tigers defeated in history. The win, the Tigers’ second over the Hokies in 2011, gave Clemson its first 10-win season since 1990. The Tigers’ four wins over top-25 ranked teams established a school record. Swinney has 10 top-25 wins in his head-coaching career, including six victories over top-10 teams.
The Tigers jumped out to an 8-0 record and a No. 6 national ranking after being unranked in the preseason. Games 3-5 marked a tough stretch, as Clemson hosted No. 19 Auburn, who entered with a national-best 17-game winning streak, and No. 11 Florida State along with a road game at No. 10 Virginia Tech. The Tigers were victorious in all three contests by scores of 38-24, 35-30 and 23-3, respectively, marking the first time in history that an ACC team won three consecutive games over top-25 ranked (AP) teams. Clemson also held Virginia Tech without a touchdown for the first time in a game at Blacksburg since 1995.
For his efforts, Swinney was named Bobby Dodd National Coach-of-the-Year in 2011 to become the first Tiger head coach to win a national coach-of-the-year award since 1981, when Danny Ford directed Clemson to the national title.
Swinney, who was also one of five finalists for the Eddie Robinson National Coach-of-the-Year Award, one of 10 finalists for the Bear Bryant National Coach-of-the-Year Award, one of 10 finalists for the Liberty Mutual Coach-of-the-Year Award and received the Regional AFCA Coach-of-the-Year Award in 2011, led the Tigers to their first Orange Bowl berth since 1981 with the help of five First-Team All-ACC players.
Dwayne Allen (TE), Boyd (QB), Andre Branch (DE), Freeman (C) and Watkins (WR) all earned first-team honors, while Andre Ellington (RB), Catanzaro (PK) and Brandon Thompson (DT) earned second-team honors. Watkins was also Second-Team All-ACC as a specialist.
Allen received the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end and totaled 50 receptions for 598 yards and eight touchdowns. Boyd set the school record for total yards (4,046), passing yards (3,828) and passing touchdowns (33), all marks he eclipsed in subsequent seasons. Branch, a finalist for the Hendricks Award, had an ACC-high 17 tackles for loss and an ACC-high 10.5 sacks, including tying school-records for tackles for loss (6) and sacks (4) in Clemson’s win at No. 10 Virginia Tech. Freeman was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy as well.
Watkins was one of the most dynamic freshmen in the nation. The ACC Rookie-of-the-Year totaled 82 receptions for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns along with a 25.0-yard average and one touchdown on kickoff returns despite missing one game due to injury. Watkins teamed up with Ellington to give Clemson a 1,000-yard receiver and 1,000-yard rusher, as Ellington had 1,178 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. Watkins was also an AP First-Team All-American, just the fourth in college football history as a first-year freshman.
Swinney became just the second Tiger coach to lead Clemson’s program into a bowl game in his first two full years as head coach, joining his predecessor, Bowden. The 2010 schedule was one of the most challenging in school history, as nine bowl teams were on the regular-season slate and two of the four non-conference opponents were ranked in the top 25 when they played the Tigers, just the second time in 21 years the Tigers faced two top-25 non-conference opponents in the regular season.
The 2010 season included wins over bowl teams Georgia Tech, Maryland and NC State. NC State was ranked No. 23 in the nation and was leading the ACC in scoring. But the defense held NC State and Russell Wilson to just one touchdown and 13 points. The team excelled defensively in 2010 and was 13th in the nation in scoring defense and in the top 25 in both total defense and passing defense.
C.J. Spiller was a unanimous first-team All-American in 2009 and Da’Quan Bowers duplicated the feat on the defense a year later. Bowers won the 2010 Nagurski Award as the nation’s top defensive player and he received the Hendricks Award as the country’s top defensive end. He was also a finalist for the Bednarik Award and Lombardi Award. He led the nation in sacks (15.5) and tied for the national lead in tackles for loss (26).
Bowers was one of four First-Team All-ACC players in 2010, as he joined Jarvis Jenkins (DT) and DeAndre McDaniel (S) on defense and Chris Hairston (OT) on offense. Clemson and Maryland tied for the most First-Team All-ACC selections.
In 2009, Swinney’s first full year as head coach, he led the Tigers to their first championship of the ACC’s Atlantic Division. The Tigers came just six points short of winning their first ACC title in 18 years. Swinney was named ACC Coach-of-the-Year by Sporting News and was a finalist for the Liberty Mutual Coach-of-the-Year Award.
Swinney accumulated nine wins, second-most among FBS coaches in their first full year behind Oregon’s Chip Kelly. The nine wins tied for fourth-most in ACC history for a first-year head coach. He also led the Tigers to their first bowl win since 2005 in the 21-13 victory over Kentucky in the Music City Bowl.
The Tigers reached the nine-win mark playing a schedule that included four games against top-15 opponents, just the second year in school history (1999 was the other) that Clemson played four games against teams ranked in the top 15 of the AP poll. The Tigers’ three FBS non-conference opponents had a combined record of 29-10 in 2009. Clemson gave Rose Bowl-bound TCU one of its stiffest tests in a 14-10 Horned Frog victory on Sept. 26.
Swinney’s first season included a six-game winning streak at midseason, a streak that saw the Tigers score 34+ points in every contest, a first in school history. During that stretch, the Tigers defeated No. 8 Miami (Fla.) on the road. The 40-37 overtime victory tied for the highest-ranked team Clemson has defeated on the road in history.
That was the second of six straight wins, the longest winning streak for the Clemson program in four years. The streak also included a 40-24 win over Florida State and Bobby Bowden, the Hall of Fame coach who is first in victories in FBS history. The winning streak brought Clemson to a No. 15 national ranking in the AP poll after the ACC Atlantic Division clinching victory over Virginia on Nov. 21.
The Tigers had success on offense, defense and special teams during the 2009 season. They were 28th in the nation and third in the ACC in scoring offense (31.1), while the defense was 20th in total defense (314.3) and seventh in pass defense (162.8). Clemson tied for fifth in the country in interceptions (21) as well.
Clemson added a school-record six kick returns for touchdowns in 2009, four on kickoff returns and two on punt returns.
The main reason Clemson was so outstanding on special teams was the play of college football’s most dynamic player (Spiller) in 2009. The Tiger running back was named MVP of the ACC in 2009 and was a Consensus All-American. He had five kick returns for touchdowns during the 2009 season, an all-time Clemson record, and established the NCAA record for kickoff returns for touchdowns in a career with seven. He was also the only FBS player to score at least one touchdown in every game in 2009.
Overall, the Tigers held down three positions on the All-ACC First-Team and five spots on the second team. Only Virginia Tech had more representatives.
In October 2008, he was named Clemson interim head coach, replacing Tommy Bowden, who had been his position coach as a player at Alabama and was Clemson’s head coach since 1999. He led the Tigers to a 4-2 record over the remainder of the 2008 regular season, including a win over South Carolina in the regular-season finale. That strong finish led to a Gator Bowl bid against Nebraska.
On Dec. 1, 2008, the interim tag was removed from the title and he was named the program’s head coach. At the time, there had been 28 interim head coaches at the FBS level since 1970 and those coaches had combined for a record of 26-86-2. Only one of those 28 interim coaches posted a winning record, and that was Swinney. When he was hired as the head coach, Swinney became just the second interim coach to be elevated to the head coach position at the same school during that time period.
Swinney hit the ground running in his first week as interim head coach, as he prepared for a 5-1 Georgia Tech team. He had to reorganize his staff and regroup his team and Clemson Nation in just five days. While the Tigers lost by four points, he accomplished many goals in that first week through his outstanding leadership. One of the most impressive demonstrations of unity came during the team’s “Tiger Walk.”
Prior to the game against the Yellow Jackets, Swinney decided to have his team depart buses outside the Lot 5 parking lot near the WestZone at Memorial Stadium and experience the gameday atmosphere. Dressed in jackets and ties, the team was embraced by thousands of Tiger fans who stood 10 deep for the 200-yard march to the stadium. It was the centerpiece of his “All In” theme during his first week as head coach. It is a tradition that has continued.
In his second week as head coach, an off-week, he invited the Clemson student body to a practice, and nearly 1,000 students showed up. He spoke to the group and actually allowed some students to participate during practice, as they were selected to attempt a field goal, punt against a live rush and field a punt. He also took the entire team to the Greenville Children’s Hospital for a visit with young men and women fighting cancer.
He has continued his community involvement through his foundation. His foundation made the first contribution to the cancer fund established for former Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich. Many schools followed his lead the remainder of the season.
The Liberty Mutual Coach-of-the-Year Award evaluates coaching performances in terms of coaching excellence, sportsmanship, integrity, academic excellence and community commitment. It is easy to see why Swinney was a national finalist for that award in his first full season as head coach in 2009, and again in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
The 1993 Alabama graduate joined the Clemson staff prior to the 2003 season. In his 12 years as an assistant or head coach, the Tigers have finished in the top 25 of the polls eight times and have totaled 20 wins over top-25 teams, including victories over Florida State (5), Auburn (2), Miami (Fla.) (2), Virginia Tech (2), Georgia (1), Louisiana State (1), Ohio State (1), Oklahoma (1) and Tennessee (1), during his tenure in Tigertown. That includes 11 top-25 wins as a head coach.
Swinney coached his wide receiver position to a level of consistency that had not been seen previously at Clemson. He had a wideout finish first or second in the ACC in catches in five of his six years as an assistant coach. In his first year, he had three of the top-10 receivers in the ACC, a first in Tiger history. He has coached a First or Second-Team All-ACC wideout (Derrick Hamilton, Airese Currie, Chansi Stuckey, Aaron Kelly, Jacoby Ford, Watkins, Hopkins, Scott, Mike Williams) in 11 of his 12 seasons in Tigertown, also an unprecedented feat at Clemson.
In 2004 and 2005, he coached the ACC reception champion (Currie (2004), Stuckey (2005)). It was the first time Clemson had two different players lead the ACC in receptions in consecutive years. In 2007, Kelly led the ACC in yards, giving Swinney an ACC receiving king three out of four years. Stuckey earned First-Team All-ACC honors in back-to-back years, a first for a Tiger wide receiver in 25 years.
The play of Swinney’s wide receivers was a big reason Clemson led the ACC in total offense, rushing offense and scoring offense during the 2006 season, just the second time an ACC team led the conference in all three categories during the previous 25 seasons. The Tigers also led the league and set school records for yards per play (6.5) and touchdowns (55).
In 2007, Swinney coached Kelly, a First-Team All-ACC selection who led the league in receiving yards per game and touchdown catches (11). He also finished second in receptions per game with 88 catches.
The Alabama native has a reputation as one of the top recruiters in the nation. In 2006, he was listed as the No. 5 recruiter in the nation by Rivals.com. It marked the second straight year that he was lauded by the website as a top-25 national recruiter. He signed 38 players in his five recruiting seasons as an assistant coach and was a major reason Clemson’s 2008 recruiting class was rated No. 2 in the nation by ESPN.com when he signed 11 players. He was named one of the top-25 recruiters in the nation by Rivals.com in 2007 as well.
When Swinney accepted the interim head coaching position on Oct. 13, 2008, he described his feelings as “bittersweet,” because he was taking over for Bowden, who had been his first position coach at Alabama in 1989. He had also brought Swinney back to the coaching profession in 2003 and has had a profound effect on his life. Both had followed similar paths as players, as Bowden was a walk-on at West Virginia and Swinney was a walk-on at Alabama.
Swinney received a commerce & business administration degree from Alabama in 1993 after lettering three times (1990-92). A walk-on who went on to earn a scholarship, Swinney was a wide receiver on Alabama’s 1992 National Championship team. He was also named Academic All-SEC along with being an SEC Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll member in 1990 and 1992.
Along with his appearance in the 1993 Sugar Bowl, his Alabama teams played in the 1990 Sugar Bowl, 1991 Fiesta Bowl and 1991 Blockbuster Bowl. Both Sugar Bowl appearances came after winning the SEC Championship game.
After his playing career, Swinney served as a graduate assistant from 1993-95 at Alabama, where he coached in the 1994 Gator Bowl and 1995 Citrus Bowl. In December 1995, he received a master’s degree in business administration from Alabama.
He became a full-time assistant coach at Alabama in February 1996 under Head Coach Gene Stallings (now in the Hall of Fame) and coached a total of five seasons there on a full-time basis. Swinney was assigned to coach the Crimson Tide’s wide receivers and tight ends in 1996, a season that saw Alabama win the SEC Western Division title and make an Outback Bowl appearance. The following year, he solely coached the tight ends under Head Coach Mike DuBose.
In 1998, he coached Alabama’s wide receivers, a position he held for three seasons. At the end of the 1999 campaign, Swinney coached the Crimson Tide in the 2000 Orange Bowl after winning the SEC Championship game. Wide receiver Freddie Milons was the game MVP.
During his time at Alabama, Swinney was a part of six teams with 10+ wins, five top-10 finishes, one national title (1992), three SEC Championships (1989,92,99) and five SEC Western Division titles (1992,93,94,96,99) as a player and coach.
As an assistant coach, he had 20 players either drafted or sign free-agent contracts with NFL teams. The list includes Hamilton, Currie, Kevin Youngblood, Stuckey and Milons, an All-American at Alabama.
From April 2001 to February 2003, Swinney was in private business in Alabama. He married the former Kathleen Bassett in 1994. They have three sons, Will (17), Drew (15) and Clay (12).