Clemson Football

WATCH: Dabo Swinney: "We have an unbelievably special group"

December 2, 2018
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DABO SWINNEY: Just really, really amazing season. Proud of our team. 13-0. It's just been a special year. It's been a historic year. I mean, these guys, we always have our team goals. We sat down and we talked about some kind of goals within the goals. These guys have done an amazing job of working toward those things. Just unbelievable. I've never really been a part of a team like this.

The consistent leadership and the focused leadership that we've had has been really special. For the seniors, their accomplishments, 53 wins now, obviously to win four in a row, it's special.

I'm happy for our fans, for them to be able to see this and be a part of it. As I said out on the field, 10 years ago this was a very emotional night for me because I got the opportunity to be the head coach at Clemson on this day. 10 years later, it's still an emotional night, for different reasons.

It's amazing the journey that we've been on. As I told the team, we're not in this position if it wasn't for what took place before us, '15, '16, '17, to give this team an opportunity. Just an awesome night.

We got one goal left, and that's to try to win our closer. We'll go to work on that right away. I'm not sure where we're going to go, any of that stuff.

I thought the game itself, it was a lot of fun, sloppy, grindy, awful footing, just wet, but just a lot of fun.

Man, give Pitt a lot of credit, congratulations to them, too, for winning their division, getting here tonight. I know it was a great experience for them. We were fortunate to get a fast start, a quick lead. They did not quit. They continued to play tough all the way to the end.

For us to be able to run the ball 300 yards, a lot of credit to this guy next to me. What a year he's had. Special to watch Travis blossom into the player he is. But he took it over for us, that offensive line. We had no turnovers, rushed for 300 yards. We made just enough plays in the passing game.

Defensively three turnovers, two of them set us up for one-play scores. We settled in nicely on the run game there in the second half. Had eight yards passing. Just a hard-fought game. Like I said, a gritty game. Our guys were focused and ready to go.

A lot of fun in that locker room. It never gets old coming up here, being a part of a special celebration. You never know when you're going to get another opportunity to be a part of something like this. But we started 122 days ago, and we've kind of had that countdown going all year. These guys have been the epitome of the commitment we talked about back on August 1st. Really proud of our team. Just thankful for the opportunity to be a part of it.

Our staff is amazing. Our fans, just awesome. What an environment that we had tonight. Appreciate Charlotte, the venue we had. It was a great evening.

Q. You're only the second team this year to run for more than 300 yards against Pitt. Coming into this, what did you see that led you to believe you could expose them there?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, we weren't really sure coming into it. I mean, they're really good. They forced the issue. That's kind of what I told our guys. This wasn't going to be a 15-round deal. They don't get in the ring and dance around, get out, let the clock run. They're a knock-you-out or you-knock-them-out type of team. They're in your face, toe-to-toe.

They challenge you. The safeties are downhill, the backers are downhill. We fit some things up, opened up the game with some outside zone. That was about as well blocked a play as we've had all year. He just made a great run. Did a great job of stretching it, setting the blocks. We got some good blocks downfield.

They did a good job. They settled in. We just hit some big plays on them in the run game. But then with the type of game that it was, we mishandled a few balls, missed a few throws. We just kind of hung in there with it. Our OL kind of took it over, then these backs, all the way down to the end. It was great to see Adam break that long one at the end.

We just kind of did what we've done all year. We just stuck with our zone, our counter-scheme. We danced with who brung us. That's what we did. We were able to win the matchup up front.

Q. You mentioned the journey. How special was this one, to be able to get to 13-0?

DABO SWINNEY: It's really just indescribable. I've been doing this a long time now. The years, it becomes a blur. I got into coaching in 1993, then I got this job 10 years ago today. I can't even believe I've been the head coach 10 years here. This is my 16th year overall at Clemson. I came here thinking, I'll be here a year, two years. Here I am. It's just crazy.

But that was God's plan for me. I'm just so thankful. What was accomplished this year, I mean, these guys won 11 games by 20 points or more. We set the school record for touchdowns, offensive touchdowns. That offense we had in '16 was pretty good. These guys shattered it tonight. We still got more games, hopefully two more games.

Most of these guys are back on offense next year. We have an unbelievably special group. What I love more than anything is just coming to work every day and knowing that you're around good people, people who really care about what you're doing, they're passionate about it. This team has had an unbelievable focus.

These guys have just been locked in all year long. They love each other. They really, really like and appreciate and love each other. It's a very close football team. Our practices, it's just no nonsense. It can be a grind. I mean, there's a lot of monotony in what you got to do to get ready week in and week out. Every week we've been favored. It don't matter. These guys just get ready as if we're playing the Saints every week. That's kind of the mindset of these guys. They want to play well.

It's been great. My word for the year has been 'joy' all year. I've had so much joy with this team. Incredible joy in the journey. At the end of the day, that's what it all comes down to. I'm going to miss these guys. I love these guys. Got a lot of guys, this is the most senior class I've ever had, most veterans I've ever had on a team.

Man, to be a part of their lives for four and five years, to see the transformation, to see them achieve what they've achieved is just incredible. I know as a grown man what that's going to mean to them down the road. For them, this is kind of a cool moment in life. This is just who they are, what they're doing. But, man, I know what it's going to mean to them when they're 35, 40, down the road, when they have a chance to really reflect. It's going to be the relationships, it's going to be the journey that they're going to remember.

Last night we went to the banquet. They had all those legends up there. I'm talking about guys that have done amazing things in the game of football. They talked about this time in their lives. These are the relationships that they'll have forever. Very few people get an opportunity to experience what I've been able to experience and what these guys have been able to experience.

You just look around for some perspective, you know, ironically I've seen it on both sides because I was at Alabama in '93, '94, '95, and '96, when we lost to the Gators. Coach Spurrier reminded me of that. It's good to be on the other side of it.

It hasn't been done since then. No Power 5 team has done it. So it's incredibly difficult to have the type of consistency that we've had. It just takes good people. You got to have good players, but you got to have good people. That's what we try to do. We try to recruit people first, players second.

When I went to Jennings, Louisiana, I sat over there at his grandmama's house, his mom was there, sister, little brother, I mean, I just knew. This is a special young man.

To see him come in here and do what he's done, to be so humble about it. He doesn't really know he's a great player. He just kind of goes about his business, loves his teammates. It's been special. Unbelievable journey. I'll never, ever forget it.

Again, this is an awesome moment. This is great. This is special to be able to stand on the stage and hold the trophy, all that. But, man, it's the practices, it's the grind in August, it's those meetings, Friday night meetings. It's the bus rides. That's the stuff. It's the guys messing around, having fun. Those are the things you always remember.

Q. How special was it tonight to share with your son and family?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, if you go back and watch my press conference from 10 years ago on this day, you'll see my sweet wife, who is here, and my mom, they were there that day. But if you go back and look at that, it's hilarious because it's the epitome of my children. Will, my oldest, he was kind of on the edge of his seat. He's 10. He's listening to everything that dad said. He's kind of my shadow, a mini me.

Then Drew, he's laid back like this, This is great, all good. Kind of just cool.

Then Clay, my baby, he's knocked out, asleep, could care less what's going on.

That is the epitome of my three children. 10 years later, I mean, if you go back and you freeze that moment, as you get older, you don't feel any different, seems like yesterday, but that moment is frozen in my mind. 10 years later, Will and Drew are on the team. To see them be a part of it, it's just incredible. Clay is over there working for me on the sideline. He was actually awake for all four quarters.

It's just amazing. Special as a parent to be able to share that with your children, to see them just love what they're doing.

Q. You seem to not take these ACC championships for granted. People talk Playoff, Playoff, Playoff, these really mean something to you. How much have you savored the last four?

DABO SWINNEY: That's what it's all about. If we can compete for this league, then we have a chance to do bigger and better things. So, you know, this is important. When I got the job, that was when I said, We got to compete in the league. We'll become great from the inside out. We got to learn how to compete in practice. We got to learn how to think. Got to create this attitude of belief. I got to get other people to believe in what we're doing. We got to become a consistent team in our league, then we'll blossom from there.

The first year we won our first division in '09. That was amazing. We lost to Georgia Tech in that first championship. Two years later we got back here in '11, played V-Tech. To win it for the first time in 20 years at that time was a big deal. It was a big deal. This is who we are at Clemson. It had been so long since we won this league.

To get back here again in '15, '16, '17, now '18, this is what we set out to do every single year. We keep our goals simple. We want to win the opener, want to win our division, win our state championship, win this league, win the closer. Those allow us to compete at the highest level.

If you can't win this league, or compete consistently for the league, you're never going to be the type of program that you want. So for us, it's everything. I mean, this leads to bigger and better things. We've been able to be really consistent in our conference play.

Q. Travis, walk us through the first handoff.

TRAVIS ETIENNE: Going into the first play, kind of like a little outside zone we've been running all week. Knew it would be the first play of the game. Getting the handoff, seeing where the backer fit, it was just well blocked. There was just a big hole. I got around that to the outside. Amare had this guy standing still. I mean, after that I was gone. Amare, great block downfield. Wouldn't have made it without him. I just thank him for that.

Q. Travis, you didn't have a lot of yards in this game last year. How special was it for you to have a game like it was tonight?

TRAVIS ETIENNE: All that credit goes to my offensive line. Coming in Monday through Friday, just grinding every single day, gives us the group of backs we have. You want to go out there and lay it on the line for them.

I think the reason I've been so successful this year is just the group of backs that I have, Tavien coming in there, running the defenses down, Adam coming in. You see what he doing. When (indiscernible) gets a chance, he's unbelievable in the vision he has. All my credit just goes to those guys.

Q. It's no secret that you and Alabama are both going to be in the Playoff for the fourth consecutive year. We don't know if you will meet again. Do you consider Alabama-Clemson a rivalry?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, we've played three years in a row. I think four probably makes it official (smiling). If we do it this year, we'll officially call it a rivalry. Let's see if we can do it four in a row.

We need to beat them more, too. Ain't much a rivalry when you're losing. We got to win more (laughter).

Q. You mentioned the success you've had in the ACC, been consistent the past few years. Coach Narduzzi was complimentary of your team, there's a benchmark in the league right now. Do you feel that's a fair assessment? What do you make of the state of ACC football now that you've won four in a row?

DABO SWINNEY: I appreciate that from Coach Narduzzi. We're 1-1 against Pitt. They beat us the last time we played them. That's what I told him the other day. You guys, great job, undefeated.

Last time we played you, we were undefeated, too.

I think anybody can beat anybody. We have a tremendous amount of respect for all the teams in this league. If I'm not mistaken, I think Virginia Tech had to win, but I think we have 11 bowl teams. Anybody confirm that? I think our league has 11 bowl teams. We only have 14 teams. You might say, Bowl game...

Listen, if you have 11 teams with winning records, it's very competitive. Anybody can beat anybody, in my opinion, in this league. It's incredibly competitive. I think that's one of the reasons that we've been so successful in post-season, because of what we play week in and week out in our league.

The league never gets the amount of credit that it deserves. But, I mean, I'm thankful first of all what we practice against every day. That grinds us up, shapes us, molds us, develops us. When we play week in, week out, you better be ready.

I have a ton of respect for all the teams in here. I'm not going to sit up here and say we got something. We've worked really hard to build our program. We're proud of what we've done. It's that far from the outhouse to the penthouse. I know how small a margin it is. There's a lot of great teams in this league that I think are continuing to build their programs.

But we've been very fortunate to have the consistency that we've had.

Q. You were obviously on December 1st, 2008 dreaming big, thinking big. Were you thinking this big?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, as I've said many times, we're not even close to what I was dreaming about. I've never been a small dreamer. I had a lot of time as a kid to dream. There wasn't much else left to do.

I've always dreamed big. The Bible says as a man thinketh, so is he. I've always believed in that. I think you got to be a champion on the inside. You got to believe the right things. You got to be able to see it and have a vision for it. Then you got to go act upon it.

You can't be afraid to fail. Can't let other people put limits on -- let other people put limits on what you can and can't do. Man, absolutely. There's a few things I think we could have done better.

But absolutely I had a vision for building a program that could be special, that could be hopefully a model in college football. I think we're still under construction, still got a lot of work to do. I continue every day and every year to continue to dream, to believe in a very positive future.

That's just the way I go about things. I've never sat around and said, Well, hopefully we can win nine games, this and that. If we're going to dream, let's extravagantly dream. Let's go all out with it. Let's get a bunch of good people together, be able to sell that and articulate that, get young people to buy into it.

Man, it's amazing what you can do when you get a bunch of people to come together for a common purpose, singleness of purpose, one heartbeat. It's powerful. It's powerful. It's what the Bible says. Two can accomplish more than, twice as much as one. Great synergy when you got a lot of people that believe in that same vision. That's what we got at Clemson.

Q. Your senior class you mentioned, 53 wins, four ACC titles, four trips to the College Football Playoff. The legacy they leave behind, speak to that.

DABO SWINNEY: I really can't. I mean, I was a part of a pretty special group when I was a player. I mean, we went 11-1, my junior year 13-0, my senior year we won the first conference championship. I had an unbelievable experience as a player. Won the National Championship. We were pretty special, senior class, at that time.

I've been around some great groups here. Man, that senior class last year, the year before, I think this is either the fourth or fifth year in a row that our senior class has become the winningest class in school history. This group has taken it a step forward because they're the winningest class in ACC history. Now they've tied the record for college football.

It's amazing. It really is. To me, I think to be great at anything, you have to be very consistent for a long period of time. Man, these guys are great because they've done that. They've done that. They've been unbelievably consistent for a long period of time. You just got to tip your hat.

For me, like I said, as a grown man, to see in this world a bunch of young people be so passionate about something, just sold out to achieve it, and bought in, just truly love each other. I mean, man, the servant leadership on our team is unbelievable. These guys are amazing human beings, first and foremost. They're great players, but they are unbelievable young people that are going to dominate in life.

I cannot wait 10 years from now, I don't know where we'll be, but 10 years from now to see what this group of young men are going to do in life. It's going to be unbelievable to see. I've had some great, amazing, dynamic leaders that have come through our program the last 10 years. But collectively as a group, I've never seen anything like it. I mean, it's just amazing.

I wish everybody could be a part of my meetings that I have on Mondays and Fridays with these guys, to hear some of the things that are articulated. It just gives you great inspiration for what our future is going to be when you've got a bunch of young people like this. Man, they're winners.

They don't let football define them. It's bigger than that with this group. They're going to do some awesome things in life.

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WATCH: Dabo Swinney: "We have an unbelievably special group"

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