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Clemson Football

ACC Football Kickoff 2019: Clemson hits the stage

July 18, 2019
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Watch as Dabo Swinney, Tanner Muse, and John Simpson speak during the opening day of the ACC Football Kickoff.

We have continuing coverage of the ACC Kickoff all afternoon from Charlotte.


THE MODERATOR: We are joined by the Clemson Tigers.

We'll call John Simpson up to the podium for questions.

Q. What can you say about a lot returning on the offensive line, just your thoughts on the leadership there not only from you but the other gentlemen.
JOHN SIMPSON: We have a lot of great guys on the offensive line, a lot of leaders, like you said. From every position, like, except for our left tackle right now, he's still a young guy, we just got to bring him under our wing, we're going to try to do everything we can to be great.

Q. If you pass block, Trevor Lawrence may throw it downfield for a touchdown. If you run block, Travis Etienne may find a crease and score a touchdown. Which is more fun?
JOHN SIMPSON: I would say when Travis runs for a touchdown, it just makes me feel like I did my job, even when Trevor throws a ball. When Travis runs, he got to run through the line. When he runs through that line, gets those yards, he just makes me feel like I did a great job.

Q. Robby Caldwell has been well-known for cross-training you guys. Talk about what it's like to learn each of those different positions.
JOHN SIMPSON: Knowing multiple positions is very helpful for the team and for me. Just knowing those things, knowing that I'm able, I'm equipped with that knowledge to go into the game, be able to play left tackle if I needed to, sticking to guard, wherever they need me at. It just makes me feel more comfortable, I'm sure it makes Coach Swinney feel comfortable.

Q. Obviously there was a lot of talk about the network being launched today. For a program with you guys, two national championships in three years, what keeps the players grounded on a day-to-day basis?
JOHN SIMPSON: Well, Coach Swinney instills in us that we got to just rebuild. Starting from a foundation, we are going to live in the house that we build. So, like, at the beginning of the year, he tries to tell us that we have a windshield mentality. He tells us that throughout the whole year.

That's how a lot of guys view how we play, just windshield mentality. All that stuff we did last year can't carry over. That helps a lot.

Q. What can you say about the leadership from Trevor Lawrence, stepping in as a freshman, what he was able to do quickly?
JOHN SIMPSON: Working with a guy like Trevor Lawrence is fun. I said this earlier to a few people. He's the kind of guy that, like, takes the responsibility even if it's not, like, his fault. Say, if the offensive line did something wrong or makes a mistake or something like that, It's my fault, I should have thrown it faster. It's my fault, I should have stepped up in the pocket.

Having a guy like that behind you makes you feel more confident, makes you feel like you can play faster and quicker.

Q. You've experienced so much in your time at Clemson. What is your thought process heading into your final year of ball?
JOHN SIMPSON: My thought process going into my final year... It's a bittersweet thing (laughter). I just feel like I got to dominate everybody that I go against. That's been my thought process, like, since my freshman year, just dominate, be the best that you can be.

Q. Describe your teammate Tanner Muse, and keep in mind we're going to ask him the same question about you.
JOHN SIMPSON: Tanner Muse is a hard-nosed safety. He plays really hard. He can play some linebacker, if he needed to.

He gets the job done. I feel like there's not a harder worker on our team than Tanner Muse.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We'll have you guys switch places.

We welcome Tanner Muse. Tanner will thinking about your response. What do you think about the photo? You like it.

TANNER MUSE: Yeah, that's pretty cool right there (laughter).

THE MODERATOR: Tell us about John Simpson.

TANNER MUSE: John is a fun-loving guy. We've had a great time since we've been here. He's really about his business. Everybody kind of knew when he came in he was going to be the dude, real big guy, real big frame. He's really just worked hard. Building around his joints, making sure he stays healthy this season. He's been a very dependable guy. He's a world-class guy first, then he's obviously a great player as well.

THE MODERATOR: Questions.

Q. You've won two national championships. You have a drawer somewhere full of rings. What is the driving force for this season for this team? Where does the chip come from to make another run?
TANNER MUSE: I think it comes -- I mean, it comes just from the success. Tasting the success, being able to continue to strive to get to the top of the mount, top of the totem pole.

We've suffered a few losses since I've been there. I hate losing more than anything. Just having that bitter taste in my mouth. I always think back of those times, how it felt, how bad it was. That always drives me to continue to get better, continue to bring the guys along where they don't have to feel what we felt in previous years.

Q. For you this season, to come back, after having that success, being able to hoist the trophy, why was it important for you to come back this year?
TANNER MUSE: Yeah, just felt like I had a bunch of unfinished business at Clemson. I had a really successful year, but I just felt like I didn't hit on everything I should have hit on. I got a lot of work to do in my game. I got a lot of things that I can get better at.

I'm super excited just having to get through this work through this summer and spring ball. It's been a lot of fun. Just really finish as much as I can get out of Clemson as I can. It's a great place to be. I love living there. I love everything about it. I love being around my teammates, the coaching staff.

Just really enjoying it for another year. It's been so much fun this year. I look forward to the season.

Q. There are a lot of-high explosive offenses in this league. Some have catchy names. Clemson has had success slowing these offenses down. How have you done it?
TANNER MUSE: I think it all comes into our preparation. We prepare so hard. Coach Venables makes sure we're in there. We go a little overtime sometimes. You know, it's all worth it at the end of the day.

I think our preparation is top tier in the nation. The amount of film we watch all summertime, springtime and now, getting into the season I think is what really sets us ahead of others.

Q. Coach Swinney told us he thought this could be the best back seven he's ever had. How does that make you feel to hear him say that?
TANNER MUSE: Makes me feel pretty good. We've had some good back sevens in the past. For him to say that... Me being one of the seniors, a part of, that I feel very privileged and honored. But it doesn't stop there. We have 11 guys on the field, so that seven has to really lead the other four to be able to all work together as a cohesive unit.

If you have one bad player on the field, it can end up in a touchdown. It really doesn't matter about what group's the best, as long as that defense is tip-top shape, all the bolts are tightened, then we'll be just fine.

Q. Your secondary really received quite a bit of criticism at certain points last year. How validating was it to do what you did to the Crimson Tide? How are you keeping that same chip on your shoulder this season?
TANNER MUSE: We got a bunch of things said about us after the South Carolina game. I thought we really proved ourselves against Pittsburgh. I think we kept them under a hundred yards passing, which is unheard of, in a championship-type game. That was really satisfying as a team. Building that into the Playoffs, doing what we did, a lot of guys coming out, having their come-out party, like Nolan Turner making that pick against Notre Dame, that was huge for him, being a confidence booster, putting different packages in. We really had all four of our safeties out on the field at the same time.

That's just a big thing for us, just being able to have pride in our unit, just understanding that it's not about what the outside media is talking about, it's about what we have in our team, how we have our players, coaches, how we feel about each other.

If there's a problem there, we're going to handle it. Outside stuff, really doesn't bother us. We know what we're about, how we do things.

Q. We know Coach Swinney obviously knows how to win. In the trenches, what we don't see when you're in practices and team meetings, what can you say about him as a head coach? What breeds success?
TANNER MUSE: Yeah, we get after it in the trenches. Every week we have some full days, things like that. It really just kind of keeps us humble knowing what we're going to feel on Saturdays is no comparison to what we're facing each other. I feel like we have our best practice squad, which is good on good. That's what makes us good and so much better as the season keeps going on. We'll play great teams, but we'll also play a great offense.

I think that's what makes us really good, keeps us tip-top and super sharp.

Q. You said you had some unfinished business. Within that, is some of that developing your leadership skills? What do you expect from yourself over the next eight or nine months?
TANNER MUSE: Yeah, definitely in the past I've been a leader by what I've done, by my actions and things like that. This year I really got to take that vocal role. That's really important for the team to see somebody step up and say something for the team. That's what we really need as a defense.

I'm going to do the best that I can. I know we have a lot of other guys on our defensive 11 that step up. K'Von, Isaiah, A.J., a few other guys that I'm missing. We all got to work as a team and as a defense to really be vocal, to lead these young guys to another successful season.

THE MODERATOR: Tanner, thank you very much. You can switch places with your coach.

Questions for Coach Swinney.

Q. You've been in Charlotte a lot lately. How important is Charlotte for you guys? How important is Charlotte for the ACC?
DABO SWINNEY: Charlotte has been great, really has. This is a wonderful city, has a great infrastructure. Actually came up here for the All-Star basketball game this year. That was pretty cool.

It's a great venue that we're blessed to play in here in Charlotte. It's one of our goals every year, is to try to get here. Love everything about this city.

Q. Seems like every team today has been asked how they might be able to close the distance with Clemson. Knowing you still have that giant target on your back, how important is it for you to keep hammering those things that have made you successful to this point?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, it's kind of business as usual for us, to be honest with you. It's just what we do every year. We've had eight 10-plus winning seasons in a row, been very consistent. The reason for that is we start over. You heard these guys talk about it. Truly, we don't carry everything over. It's a new team, there's new challenges. You got to redevelop the leadership, reinstall the core values.

I start my meetings tomorrow with the coaches. We have five days. Even though we've all been together for a long time, when we meet tomorrow, it's as if we just showed up and met each other for the first time. We're going to install the program, what we do, how we do it, why we do it that way.

Then we just go execute the plan. That's just the mindset that's woven into the culture. It's always about what's next. You got to show up every year with something to prove.

That sense of urgency, we create that all the time. It's in our off-season, our strength and conditioning program, the way we practice, the way we meet and message with our team.

For us, that's what we do. Then you got to continue to recruit the right people, develop your players. We've been able to consistently do that.

Q. Over the last several years you guys I think are 34-2 against ACC foes. You beat them by an average of 22 points. Seems like most teams you're rolling over. The last couple of years there's one team that has given you fits, and that's Syracuse. Why have those guys been able to play with you? Do you view them as your biggest obstacle in your path of where you want to go?
DABO SWINNEY: We've had a lot of teams give us fits. We've had some good wins and some games we've been able to get control of. I mean, shoot, we had three games with Louisville go down to the last play. Epic battles with NC State. I know Florida State this year was a different type of game, as they're transitioning. Unbelievable battles with Florida State, on and on and on.

Syracuse, Dino has just done an unbelievable job. It's a great place. It starts with him. I mean, he's put a good staff together. They have a good philosophy in place. They're well-coached. They recruit well. They develop well. You can tell that it's a relationship-driven program. He does a great job in connecting with his players. They play hard. They play hard.

He's created the belief in his team that they can win, regardless of who they play. That's what it takes. He's done an awesome job of instilling that mindset into their team. He's had good players, some really good players.

So I don't see them going away any time soon.

Q. Last season I asked you about faith. There's obviously something else with this team than just simple recruiting and wins and losses. What can you say about the culture that you have that's developed at Clemson and the fact this team not only wins games but does it professionally in a humble way? There's obviously pillars to the foundation.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, that starts with the process that we go through tomorrow starting with our staff, making sure that everybody's on the same page. Again, we'll have five days from about 8:30 to 5:00, no phones, we don't leave. When we walk out of there, we're ready for the year.

It starts with the people involved. I've got I think 19 former players on my staff in different roles. It's very connected. It's very relationship-driven. I got relationships with -- I mean, you look at my staff. Woody McCorvey was my coach. Lemanski Hall, Thad Turnipseed, Mickey Conn, I played with them. Danny, I coached with him. He was one of my coaches when I was playing. Tony, I coached Jeff, Tony was a GA for me. It just kind of keeps going on and on and on.

I work with a group of people that I love. We have great relationships. So Clemson is a special place, there's a quality of life and a simplicity of life in Clemson that's really special, that's just kind of a natural resource that you really don't understand until you have lived it.

I think that's part of it. When this is your profession, I think our staff, especially the staff that have been other places, they realize how unique it is to be able to live in a place like Clemson, then had this unbelievable stage to do what you love to do on the weekends.

Then they all leave (smiling).

It's just an awesome place, a bunch of good people. We have a great administration. There's a great chain of command, an alignment with our board and our president and our AD. We're just all on the same page. And we like each other.

We've built our culture through loving our players, graduating our players, equipping them with the tools they need to go be successful in life, making sure they have a good experience, and that they win, but in that order.

We've kept the main thing the main thing. We haven't changed anything since 2009 when I got the job. It's the same thing. Same deal. We stayed the course. We stayed committed to the vision of the program even when sometimes it didn't make sense to other people or other people wanted us to do this, do that. We stayed the course.

I think God has blessed us with an amazing journey, great group of people, group of young men that have chosen to come in and buy in and believe. I can be the greatest coach in the world, but if the players don't buy in, don't believe, it's not going to work.

We've had a bunch of selfless players and staff that have bought into the philosophy of the program, how we do things. It's been a great journey. But we're just getting going. We're just getting going. It's been a fun time. I can't believe I've had 10 years already under my belt. My 11th full-time year. Going to be my 17th at Clemson.

Love what I do, who I do it with, where I do it. I'm excited about this challenge and this journey and the story that this team it's going to write as they go through the season.

Q. This year you will play 10 out of your 12 regular-season games in the Carolinas. Do you look at that as an advantage or a luxury considering how far you've had to travel for games before?
DABO SWINNEY: Wow, I didn't know that. Didn't even think about that.

Obviously I don't look at that as a luxury (laughter). Haven't even thought about it. But that's great.

I think we had one stretch, I think we went, like, 17 out of 18 road games or something where they were night games. I mean, it was like crazy. You're getting home at 6 a.m. We won most of them.

But it's nice. That's nice to know that when you do go on those road games, and you don't ever know when you're going to play, but it is nice to know it's a short trip whenever the game is over. It's not like you're having to go a long way.

But, no, that's pretty cool. Be great for our parents. Most of our parents, families and fans, easy for them to get to the games also.

Q. As Todd Bates enters year three with Clemson, what does he mean to you and your program?
DABO SWINNEY: Todd has done an awesome job, just really proud of him. I would equate Todd replacing Dan Brooks to these young D-linemen trying to replace Christian and Dexter and Clelin and Austin and Huggy, that group. Kind of the same thing.

I'm really proud of him. He's a guy that I kind of had my eye on for a while. Just a matter of whenever that time came. Dan decided to retire. This is one of the greatest coaches of all time, Dan Brooks. When he decided to retire, after the championship in '16, I was able to go hire Todd. He was at Jacksonville State. He has done a phenomenal job in connecting with our players. Nobody works harder at trying to be a great coach and a student of the game, learning. He's been great with Brent. Brent has really enjoyed him.

He's an unbelievable recruiter. He's passionate about what he does. Got a wonderful family. He has twins getting ready to be born literally any minute. Just really proud of him.

It was a great decision to bring him to Clemson and we're thankful he's still here.

Q. A lot has been made about your leadership. Who are some of the leaders that you admire, that you've learned from, not necessarily in the football world, maybe a book you've read?
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, man. A lot of my teachers growing up. My coaches. I learn from everyone. You don't have to have a Twitter follower account for me to think you're a great leader or something. I think everybody has a chance to be a great leader. You have an opportunity to learn from everyone as you go through life.

Man, some of my coaches that I've had all the way back to Coach Tohill back in high school. I grew up in one town. I had relationships with my teachers, small town, kindergarten, elementary, middle school, high school. I'm so thankful for all the teachers that shaped me, disciplined me, encouraged me, equipped me with an education, helped stoke that belief.

Same thing with my coaches. Coach Stallings has been one of great mentors in my life. A lot of great leaders I never met. I grew up, Bear Bryant was one of my heroes growing up. I loved Coach Bryant. Never got to meet him. He was one that I followed and read about and things like that.

Bobby Bowden is I think a man that I have learned a lot about, got to know obviously with my relationship with Tommy. Just so many people. So many people I've never met, then some people I've than fortunate to meet.

A guy like Tony Dungy. I read his books, read his daily devotional. I've had an opportunity to visit with him. He's spoken to the team. I've really met some neat people along my journey that have been great leaders for me.

But I study anybody and everybody. I think we can learn. It's a constant process, never ends. I learn from my kids. I learn from my players. I learn from the staff. So it's a never ending process for me.

Woody McCorvey, who was my position coach, been one of the great mentors in my life, one of the wisest men I know. Lots of them. My wife. Don't leave her out (smiling). Known her since the first grade. She's been a great leader in my life, for sure.

Q. The other room just now you were talking about that recruiting cycle when you got K'Von and Isaiah late in the process. Is that a situation you could see yourself using the transfer portal, if there had been one back then?
DABO SWINNEY: Probably not. To me, I mean, like I say, we haven't recruited a transfer portal. Not anything wrong with that, it just hasn't been what we needed to do. Hope we don't have to do that.

I think at that time those guys were seniors. I still prefer to recruit the high school kid, do a good job of evaluating and develop. That's just my mindset. That's my philosophy.

There may come a day where maybe we have some guys leave that you didn't know, all of a sudden you get some guys injured, something like that. Maybe it's later in the process, maybe spring or summer, something like that, where you might have a specific need.

I don't know. Figure that out as I go. It's not really where we are right now.

Q. There were an eye-popping 18 punts returned for touchdowns last year. Clemson ranks among the ACC's elite in net punting, even though you don't punt that often. In this ACC, how important is it to pay attention to things like punt coverage, kicking away from the dangerous return man?
DABO SWINNEY: I mean, special teams are critical. People talk about defense wins championships. I always laugh at that. Defense don't win championships. Teams win championships. It takes a team to win a championship, not an offense, not a defense, not special teams.

But special teams are a critical part of that team because it's field position, it's the hidden yardage. I mean, you can go back to our first national championship game when we got beat. We gave up doggone kick return to Drake I think was his name, Kenyan Drake, great player, one play, one play. They had the on-side kick in that game. That's not why they scored, but they got great field position, the middle of the field.

Special teams is critical. I mean, it impacts the game. So it's something, I mean, we work very hard on, all aspects of it. We've had our share of success and we've had our share of bad plays, too. But just like your offense and your defense, it's critical. Oftentimes can be the difference, all things being even.

THE MODERATOR: Clemson, thank you. Good luck.

DABO SWINNEY: Thank you. Appreciate it.

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ACC Football Kickoff 2019: Clemson hits the stage

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