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Clemson Football

Two Words That Changed Clemson Football: That one time Dabo Swinney almost quit coaching

December 31, 2017
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NOTE: In honor of Father’s Day, we wanted to rerun this incredible story about Dabo Swinney and his boys. This story origanally ran before Clemson’s 24-6 loss to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.


NEW ORLEANS, La. -- When you’re a kid, you always want to have things your way.

Kids want that extra dessert, that video game they don’t need, an extended curfew; the list goes on. For most fathers, it’s hard to say no when your child looks up at you and says two small words:

“But, Daddy.”

The same applies to Dabo Swinney.

The Clemson head coach has always been known as a family man. He’s practically built his program around having that family atmosphere. It’s an environment where his coaches and players feel like they are home.

The Clemson head coach has always been known as a family man. He’s practically built his program around having a family atmosphere. It’s an environment where his coaches and players feel like they are at home.

Swinney is about to play his alma mater Alabama for the third year in a row with national championship implications. He's got a chance to continue to build his coaching legacy. Two more wins would allow him to hoist the golden scepter for a second consecutive year.

This form of rare air for a Clemson program that hadn’t won a national title since 1981 probably wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for a family meeting 12 years ago.

Ever since his son Will Swinney was born, Dabo has been a coach. Swinney began as an assistant coach for wide receivers and tight ends in 1995 at the University of Alabama.

In 1998, his first son Will was born in August and spent his first Christmas in a hotel at the Music City Bowl. He’s grown up with his father and has basically been a member of his teams ever since he was brought into this world.

“I think the best part is those unique experiences that a child of a coach gets and how he's grown up and he's had a chance to know the players,” Swinney said.

But that lifestyle got kind of old for Dabo as he had his second and third son. He would constantly be on the road, and he felt like he was missing out on his boys’ childhood.

The lifestyle wasn’t what he thought it’d be for him and his family and the young coach wanted out.

“I was gone all the time,” Swinney said. “And I remember being down in Florida, calling home. And Will had just hit a home run and Drew was doing this and Clay was crying and Kath is going "Ahh."

“I was gone all the time,” Swinney said. “And I remember being down in Florida, calling home. And Will had just hit a home run and Drew was doing this and Clay was crying and Kath is going "Ahh."

He remembered he had been gone four weeks during the summer of 2005 or 2006 while he was an assistant at Clemson.

"I just had this moment of, you know what? Man, I just felt like I was sacrificing my family. And I just told Kath, I said, "Kath, I can't do this anymore." And I came home."

The story could have just ended there, but home Swinney went to have a big family meeting.

His sons Will, Drew, and Clay accompanied his wife Kathleen in the bedroom and Swinney had his speech all planned out on why he made his decision.

“I just told them, ‘y'all are the most important thing in the world to me. I love y'all, And your dad can do a lot of things. And I'm going to get out of coaching."

“I'm going to get a job where I can coach your teams and be home for the weekend. And I just don't want to miss this opportunity to be a great dad."

Swinney wanted the opportunity to be the best father he knew he could be, but seven-year-old Will Swinney didn’t want his dad to waste the opportunity he had of being the best coach. The special perks of hanging around the team and taking part in team activities didn’t hurt either.

Will responded to his dad’s speech by uttering that small phrase that every dad grows accustomed to hearing.

"But, Daddy, if you're not a coach, we won't get to know the players, and we don't get to ride the bus."

"But, Daddy, if you're not a coach, we won't get to know the players, and we don't get to ride the bus."

From that moment, Swinney felt that God was speaking to him. His children had just opened the family man’s eyes.

"I was focused on the things that we didn't get to do,” Swinney said. “God used my kids to get me to focus on the things that we do get to do and that they got to do,” And a whole different lens and perspective that I didn't have. I was just focused on what I was missing out on and this and that. So that was a life-changing moment for me."

Will Swinney went from hoping he’d be able to ride the team bus as a kid with his dad to riding it while playing for his dad in the College Football Playoff.

Dabo’s love for the family at Clemson is a significant part of what gives Clemson a unique feel. He knows that being a good coach doesn’t mean you can’t be a good husband and father.

On any given evening, you could walk into Clemson's football complex and see children running around and wives hanging out for dinner because that's what matters. He doesn’t want other coaches to feel the same way he felt in 2005.

“I want the wives there. I want the kids there,” Swinney said. “I want these coaches to know: I want them to go to the games. We don't meet before 9:00. I want them to take their kids to school. We got plenty of time to get done what we need to get done. But, at the end of the day, you only get to be a father one time.”

Swinney has made the most of his opportunity to be a great coach, husband, and father all at the same time. He’s taken Clemson to new heights and has already cemented his name as one of the greats in the school’s history.

But if it weren’t for a family meeting 12 years ago and Will Swinney speaking up, who knows where Dabo and Clemson football would be today?

 
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