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Clemson Football

The House that Swinney Built...Twice

October 28, 2021

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Nine games into his first season as an assistant coach at Clemson, things didn't look good for Dabo Swinney as Tommy Bowden's staff was under fire after a 5-4 start, including a 45-17 loss against Wake Forest. 

But a chance conversation with his home builder and a matchup with No. 3 FSU would provide motivation and opportunity for a coaching staff on the brink of disaster.

As Bobby Bowden's undefeated Seminoles rolled into town, many expected a bludgeoning from Florida State-- especially after Wake Forest throttled Clemson, 45-17. At that point, most Clemson fans had seen enough.

There were calls for a change at the top, and Swinney, an unknown wide receivers coach, would have likely been out as well-- similarly to how his coaching stint at Alabama ended in 2001 when Dennis Francione came in and cleaned house.

"Well, I would have never got out of coaching. I always had the coaching bug, but we got fired," Swinney said last night. 

"Alabama and Dennis Francione didn't keep me. So I didn't have a job-- and I tried to get a job from December to February that first year, I was out in '01, but didn't get a job."

Clemson's two-time National Championship-winning head coach noted that the opportunity to find another job is a tight window. After missing his chance to find a new gig, he had to begin a new career-- especially since he had two young children at home.

"It's rare that you get hired in May. Something crazy has gotta happen for you to get a job in the summer. So if you miss the little window-- you're out," Swinney noted. "I didn't get a job, and so I was out-- just turned 31 and two kids-- a contract running out, I had to go to work."

Fortunately for Swinney, he connected with former Crimson Tide strength and conditioning coach Rich Wingo and began working in commercial real estate. 

"I started (in real estate) that April of '01, and one season turned into a second season. The next year I didn't have an opportunity. There were a couple of jobs, but I was doing some high school stuff, and some consulting and clinics, things like that. But I never lost the coaching bug; just God hadn't opened the right door for me." Swinney recalled.

Eighteen months later, opportunity would knock as Swinney's former position coach at Alabama, Tommy Bowden, gave him a chance to come to Clemson as the Tigers' wide receivers coach.

"I knew this was the right door. I knew it was the right place. I didn't really know why," Swinney said even though it might not have been a great job to take as Bowden's seat was already warm.

"I knew we weren't in a good situation as a staff or whatever-- maybe why Tommy (Bowden) hired me. Maybe he couldn't get nobody else. I don't know," Swinney said with a smile.

Unfortunately, year one begins, and the Tigers struggle-- including the walloping from Wake Forest that turned the temperature on Bowden's seat to high.

"You start 5-4, and there can be some doubt, but I didn't. I knew God was in control, and I knew he brought me here for a reason, and I just trusted that. I just kept the faith."

"You start 5-4, and there can be some doubt, but I didn't. I knew God was in control, and I knew he brought me here for a reason, and I just trusted that. I just kept the faith."
- Dabo Swinney

Looking back, Swinney and the rest of that coaching staff could have been finished, if not for an incredible run in the final four games of the season. Plus, a chance conversation with his home builder happened to give Swinney even more motivation heading into the game against the Seminoles.

"We were in the middle of building a house, and I went out there during lunch. The builder needed to meet about something-- brick or something at our house-- I'll never forget it; I was walking away-- we're getting ready to play Florida State-- undefeated, No. 3 or whatever. He stopped me and said, 'Listen, Coach, I just want you to know if things don't go well the rest of the season. I just want you to know; I've got somebody that will buy this house.' And I'll never forget it. It made me mad. I was like, 'Hey, let me tell you something-- we're moving into this house.'”

Now, reflecting on those moments, Swinney noted his dedication to being a part of the Clemson community for the long haul.

"I didn't come here and rent. I came here-- bought a lot-- and I'm gonna build a house," Swinney said. 

And he ended up building Clemson into a powerhouse program after taking over from Bowden in 2008.

"I think as people, we always sell ourselves short. We limit ourselves by how we think or by what other people say to you-- or feel about you-- or whatever. That's not how God intended it."
- Dabo Swinney

"That was an unbelievable fork in the road. You know, that's life. God's always got the right answers. He's got the plan. It's never our plan. It's always his plan, and man, I'm really thankful for that because I've had a lot of plans along the way, that I'm really glad they didn't work out. Because God had a better plan," Swinney stated.

"I think as people, we always sell ourselves short. We limit ourselves by how we think or by what other people say to you-- or feel about you-- or whatever. That's not how God intended it."

Back when he was talking with his builder, undoubtedly Swinney hoped to spend many years at Clemson, but no one could have seen what was to come for the one-time commercial real estate broker.

"It was an amazing time. It was a blessing. I remember that whole week I'm like, 'We got enough to beat these guys,' and it was just a magical night. We got it done, and man, we got on a run. All I know is Coach Bowden--  we went from 5-4 to 9-4-- beat No. 6 Tennessee-- he got Coach of the Year-- and man, they might have wanted to get rid of him, but they didn't have a choice to give him another contract," Swinney laughed.

"What that meant was the Swinney's got to move into their house, and we lived there for 14 years. We stayed in that house before we moved in 2017," Swinney said.

"So that was a great memory, some challenging times that year, but great memories, and it made us better."

With Clemson sitting at 4-3 this year, like his house so many years ago, Swinney hopes to rebuild the wave of momentum the Tigers have been riding over the past decade-- which included six consecutive trips to the College Football Playoff and two National Titles.

Those first steps could begin with the Tigers matchup against Florida State on Saturday. Ironically former Tiger head coach Tommy Bowden will be on Death Valley’s field for the first time since Swinney took over as the interim head coach in 2008, as Clemson honors Bobby Bowden’s legacy this Saturday in Death Valley.

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The House that Swinney Built...Twice

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