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Clemson Football

Swinney on ACC Championship: "We are not entitled to win"

December 2, 2019
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The following is an unedited transcript provided by the ACC.

DABO SWINNEY: First of all, just like to congratulate Virginia and Coach Mendenhall on an awesome season. Just really an incredible journey that they've been on since coach got there. I mean, it's been fun to watch. You could see this coming as far as them building a championship program.

Just being around Bronco in meetings and things like that, I think he's an outstanding coach, unbelievable human being, has just done a wonderful job there at Virginia.

We're excited about it, about competing with them, representing the Atlantic in the ACC Championship Game up in Charlotte. It's always been a wonderful experience. Any time we've had a chance to go up to Charlotte, they do a great job there. We appreciate that.

Super proud of our team. This is a team that I think last year at the end of the year, going into spring, lots of questions on our team, not sure there were a lot of people that felt like we would be at this point. Maybe we could compete for our league, but not be a 12-0 team.

To be 12-0 for the fourth time in our school history, just the development that I've seen, the commitment, the leadership, the work ethic day in and day out by our staff and players has just been awesome to be a part of.

These guys love to work. They love the challenge of getting ready every single week. So for us, this is the next goal, to get to Charlotte and have an opportunity to compete and win the ACC. That's what our focus is on.

Really just proud of our team, excited about the opportunity up in Charlotte Saturday night, seeing if we can find a way to win it. We all know that we've got playoff opportunities and all that stuff out there.

But the way we've gotten 12-0 is just focusing on the task at hand week in and week out. That's exactly the way it will be this week. Just lock in and try to play our best four quarters of the season. That's what it's going to take against a really good Virginia team.

Any questions?

Q. In terms of the big picture, you're a guy who has built a program into national championship levels. A game like this for Virginia, is this a big moment in terms of building their team? Could a lopsided defeat for them in this game be a setback?

DABO SWINNEY: Absolutely it's a massive moment for what Bronco has done with the program, for them building their program. It's a huge moment. I mean, they just won the Coastal. They're playing in a championship game. There's a progression that you go through when you're really building something special. I think that's what they've been able to do to this point.

Regardless of what the score is, their focus is to try to go win the game. They're good enough to win the game. We got to play championship football. Simple as that. As I tell our guys, We're not entitled to win, we have to earn it every week, have great respect and humility for the process to get ready for every opponent. We do that. It won't be any different this week.

Heck, we played for our first championship my very first year in '09, then we got beat. We got back two years later in '11 and we won. Then we got our first bid to the Orange Bowl, gave up 70 points. Other people tried to let that overshadow what we had accomplished that year in winning 10 games, winning the ACC for the first time in 20 years. I refused to let that happen and so did our team.

We came back in '11 and beat LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. It's just all part of the journey. Regardless of who wins the game or what the score is or any of that stuff, this is a huge moment for both teams. You're in a championship game. You've competed on the field for our division. It's the culmination of an excellent conference season.

Q. K'Von Wallace for you, what has it been like to coach him, his impact and his growth?

DABO SWINNEY: He's been a joy to coach. It's one of the best things about being a coach, is seeing the transformation in a young person. Seeing him from where he was when he got here to who he is now, not just as a football player, but as a man, just how well equipped he is for life. He's a graduate here in a couple of weeks. I'm just super proud of him.

He's so prepared for his next opportunity in football, but more importantly to just go and dominate in life. I'm just thankful to have had an opportunity to have a front row seat to that growth over the last four years.

He's definitely a guy that's going to play on Sunday. Will be a great addition to somebody's team at the next level.

Q. How is Jackson doing today? And when you look at Bronco's team, especially defensively, even in the early years there at Virginia, they always seemed to play sound, fundamental football, especially on the defensive side. How refreshing is that to see a team that always seems to be well-coached like they are?

DABO SWINNEY: He has done an outstanding job. He did the same thing at BYU. He's a really good coach. You can just tell that he believes in the fundamentals of the game, and not beating yourself. When you see a team that has those characteristics, that's the sign of the type of coaching they have.

He's put a good staff together. They've hung in there. He took over a tough situation. In just a very short time, here they are in the ACC Championship Game. Coaching matters. I say that all the time. Players play, but you got to be able to put it all together. I think they've just done an awesome job of that, giving their guys the opportunity to win week in and week out, then just to grow. They add some new pieces each year. Again, it's been fun to watch that take place.

I didn't get to see Jackson today. He looked good last night. Expect him to be fine.

Q. You said several times this year this group is a little different, in a good way, from the past groups that have achieved special things. What have you observed? Why are they different? Is that at all surprising given the fact a lot of them haven't ever lost a college football game?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I just think, just like last year, we have great leadership. I mean, this is a defense that's playing the most consistent football of any group we've had. They're giving up 10 points a game. They've just been so consistent.

Offensively this is the most prolific offense we've had, scoring 45 a game. I mean, we're rushing the ball for 250 something a game. The other big thing, this is the best turnover margin team I've had. We're plus 11 in the turnover margin. We're getting a lot of takeaways, we're doing a good job of taking care of the ball. I think we've had seven games in a row now we've won the margin, which is the first time since I've been a head coach to have that consistency.

I just think we're not giving up big plays. Last year we were about 70th in plays of 20 yards or more. This year we're third or fourth in the country, plays of 20 yards or more. We just don't give a lot of big plays up.

The flipside of it, we're explosive. We're playing very, very well up front. We're protecting our quarterback at the best level of any team I've coached. So it's just been fun.

I think the neat thing is not a lot of seniors, but the experience and leadership of those guys has been unbelievable. The youth and the energy that has been a part of this team has been fun to coach.

We're a young team. I think we played the most freshmen of anybody in the country. Our future is very bright. But it's been neat to see it come together, the chemistry, the buy-in, the selflessness of this group.

Hopefully they'll be able to finish like we want them to. Now you get into a new phase of the season here, new experience for them in the post-season. After 12 games, just a tremendous year by these guys.

Q. Regarding the defense, given all the talent that left your program following last season, went to the NFL, did you and your staff think these kind of statistical benchmarks, did you think this was possible?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, my answer would be yes. That's our expectation every single year. That's kind of part of the deal, is everybody focused on who left. They forget to focus on who is still there.

Yes, we had some great players leave, but we have great players here. That was my big thing coming into the season, was I felt like this was the best back seven that I had had since I've been a head coach.

We're young, but very talented up front. When you're very disciplined, detailed in the back seven, you cannot necessarily cover up some things up front, because we're not covering anything up, but we can take some pressure off of those guys. As opposed to when you're not experienced on the back seven, you can be really, really good up front, it puts a lot of pressure on those guys because if you got guys running wide open, you just don't have a lot of room for error.

I just think, yes, we lost some great players up front, but we had a great group in our back seven coming back. Again, good, young talent in that D-line that's developed nicely, really has been able to just go play, have not had to have a lot of pressure put on them when it comes to just having to feel like they got to make a play, this and that, because you're not great on the back end.

We certainly expected to be a good defense. That's just the standard that we have. We lose players every single year on offense and defense. We feel like we've recruited well and developed well. If you do that, you got a good chance to sustain some consistency.

Q. You mentioned the building of your program. How influential was Tajh Boyd as you put together the foundation of Clemson football?

DABO SWINNEY: Can't overstate it. I mean, he was my first quarterback that I signed. You're talking about a guy that could have gone anywhere really. He signed in my very first class in February of '09. We only signed 12 players that year.

I needed a quarterback. I needed somebody that could come in and help me build a foundation, somebody that could be a face of our offense. I was looking for a certain style of play, the qualities that Tajh possessed.

I mean, it was just huge. Tajh was unbelievable. He left here as the winningest quarterback in school history. He and Rodney Williams tied. He took us to our first ACC championship, our first 10-win season in 20-plus years. That was huge for him.

He took us to our first BCS bowl win, had the huge win over LSU in the Chick-fil-A. We beat Ohio State in the Orange Bowl in '13. Tajh was just a massive, massive piece to the foundation of our program today. He kind of passed the torch to Deshaun Watson. Deshaun came in here, just unbelievable what he did. He also left here tied with Tajh and Rodney as the winningest quarterback in school history. Took us to the next step, that was to win a national championship. Trevor has come in and took us to our first 15-0 season, another national championship.

Certainly Tajh was a major, major cornerstone to the foundation of our program.

Q. This is the fifth different opponent for you in five years in the ACC Championship Game. Does that kind of help keep things fresh, that you're not playing the same guys every year in the same game?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I just want to be in it. I don't care about who we play. If we played the same team every year, I don't care. I just want to make sure we can get there.

It is kind of wild that we're playing our fifth different opponent, which is kind of cool, too. You don't get to play all the others. It's been a while. I'm trying to think when we played Virginia last.

Q. 2013.
DABO SWINNEY: Is that when it was? Okay.

We're definitely excited about, again, representing the Atlantic regardless of who comes out of the Coastal. Just so happens this year it's Virginia, a really talented team that's playing with a lot of passion and belief. We got to be ready to go.

Q. Some of the numbers are a little bit staggering, 27 consecutive wins, you lead the nation in consecutive home wins, consecutive road victories, ACC victories. Do you wait till the end of the season to look at stuff like that? Was that maybe part of your comments last night about Clemson not getting the respect it deserves nationally? Nobody really pays attention to it?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, that's part of it I guess. I just answered a guy's question. I'm not even sure who asked the question. I just answered his question. He was asking was this game relevant or something like that. I'm like, Yeah, because if we would have lost... Especially with rhetoric that's been out there really all year, really all spring, to be honest with you. You go win a game, then it's like the opponent was tired, whatever, all that type of stuff.

You come into this season, it seems like every week I even had to answer a question. When the First Take show was here, a lot of people think you go undefeated, you shouldn't be in the thing. It's just ludicrous. That's kind of what's been out there all year, as opposed to focusing on who we are as a team.

I'm not going to let anybody diminish what's been accomplished by our program, first of all, because it's incredible. Again, even going back to ACC Media Days, I made the comment then: we used to couldn't win in the post season because we didn't play people, now we only win because we don't play people. It's just the same old storyline, people just flip it around to whatever their agenda they want to have.

My job is to speak the truth and stand up for this program when I feel like it's necessary. What's been accomplished by this group is unbelievable. I mean, it's incredible. They've won 27 games in a row, won four conference titles in a row with a chance for a fifth. They've been in four playoffs, won two out of the last three national championships, and have beaten the best of the best to do it, period.

People who have not focused on what Travis Etienne has done, what Trevor Lawrence has done. People still want to talk about you threw a few interceptions at the beginning of the year. It's a joke. It's a joke. It doesn't even make any sense.

What these receivers have done, what this defense has done, it's incredible. It's just really incredible. These players, they deserve that credit.

I just answered the guy's question because he asked if it meant anything nationally. What are you talking about? Yeah, it's a huge game, has a lot of national relevance for us. If we lose, they want to throw us out because they don't respect who we play, which is another joke of itself. I think we got, what, 10 bowl teams again this year. It's a very competitive league. It proves itself out year in and year out.

Just really proud of what's been accomplished to this point. It's our fourth 12-0 season in the history of our school. More importantly what we've been able to do off the field alongside of the success on the field. Eight out of the last nine years top 10 academically, us, Duke and Northwestern. Just the consistency of being committed to excellence, doing the things right on and off the field, it's just a blessing to be able again to have a front row seat to it all.

People that haven't watched us or paid attention, they've missed a special time and a special group of young people that play with passion, unbelievable belief, will to win, and selflessness. It's incredible to watch.

Q. You called Tony Bennett before the Final Four, spent some time with him over the summer. Do you think you'll hear from him this week now that you're playing Virginia?

DABO SWINNEY: I doubt I'll be getting a good luck call from him. He's going to be pulling for those Cavaliers. If we're fortunate enough to win the game, I'm sure he'll send his well wishes for the post-season.

I'm sure he’s kept up, all that. He's into his season. He's a great man, a great coach, a friend. As he should be, he'll be pulling for those Virginia Cavaliers this week.

Q. Have you heard from him at all this season?

DABO SWINNEY: I have not talked to him this season.

Q. You'll be going up against Virginia's quarterback, who leads the ACC in total offense. Your impressions of him, how dangerous is he, what you like about him? Does he remind you of any quarterback you've seen in recent memory?

DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I wish I could tell you I've seen more tape at this point. Really that's going to be my night tonight, really diving into these guys a little bit more.

I have seen him a little bit. We've had one crossover game early, Florida State, where I got to see him quite a bit. But obviously saw him last year and those things.

He's a great player. First of all, he's a great leader. You just see that in him. He plays with an incredible will to win. He has this belief to him. It's very easy to see that.

He's one of those guys that makes everybody around him better. You can tell, again, he's a great young man and a great leader. That doesn't just happen. He's got the total respect of everyone. Kind of as he goes, they go.

He's dangerous. I mean, he's done a lot of things with his legs. Just in the game the other day, we had a chance to watch it all pretty much the whole game on the bus going down to South Carolina. I mean, he's a difference maker, just truly a guy that can make plays in a lot of different ways.

He's very dynamic. Just seems like he comes up with the big play when he needs to have it. They're passing the ball for 260 plus yards a game. Just a guy that can beat you with his feet and his arm. Going to be a handful for us. Everything is going to go through him. They do a great job schematically to make sure he's equipped with answers. Just going to be a great competitor to have to find a way to beat.

Q. How could the execution have been better along the goal line yesterday on the opening drive?

DABO SWINNEY: First of all, got to keep the ball up inside. We tried to bounce one. Just didn't quite get it blocked well at the point of attack. Those things happen. Good play by them. Not a good job by us.

We bounced back. The rest of the time we got into the red zone, short-yardage situations where you're able to convert. I think we were, man, what was it, our third-down we were 12 of 17. Did a great job of converting all day other than that one possession there.

Q. Admiral Yamamoto said after Pearl Harbor that you woke a sleeping giant and filled him with terrible resolve. When they put you fifth coming out of the first committee's ranking, did that fill you with terrible resolve and get your players totally motivated?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I like that.

We've been totally motivated all year. We really didn't need a playoff ranking of fifth to be motivated. This team has been locked in all year, has done a wonderful job.

They have a lot of playoff experience, so they understand these in-season rankings really don't matter. What matters is where it is in December. So teams that get distracted by that stuff from week-to-week usually get beat. What you got to do is just stay focused.

Having said that, I do think it certainly made our guys kind of raise their eye a little bit. Wow, we must not be very good, or a lot of people don't think we're very good. You go from one to fifth pretty quick.

At the end of the day we're where we hoped to be, and that is in Charlotte with a chance to compete for our league championship. If we can find a way to do that, win it, a chance to go back to the playoff.

It doesn't really matter where we are, one, two, three or four. We just hope to have the opportunity to get there. The next goal for us is the ACC championship, and the next goal after that is to win the closer. We're just hopeful that it works out, we get the shot. We'll be excited to play anybody wherever they send us.

Q. There's an old adage in coaching: offense sells tickets, defense wins championships. Is that true today?

DABO SWINNEY: No, that's never been true to me. I've told my team forever, teams win championships. That's what I believe. Defense doesn't win championships, offense doesn't win championships, but teams win championships. That's just what I believe. I don't buy into anything else.

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Swinney on ACC Championship: "We are not entitled to win"

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