Dabo Swinney’s dominance: 15 incredible facts about his Clemson career
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is a one-of-a-kind head coach.
He’s about to embark on his 15th season as the leader of Clemson’s program, and he’s already built one of the best coaching résumés in college football history.
Through 14 seasons, the number of wins, ACC titles and National Championships that he has won is historic. The start to his career so far rivals even the most accomplished coaches in college football history.
Here are 15 incredible facts about Swinney’s career so far, entering the 2022 season:
1. He was a walk-on receiver at Alabama
Swinney comes from humble beginnings. He was a walk-on receiver at Alabama before eventually earning a scholarship. He lettered on Alabama’s 1992 National Championship team, which was Gene Stalling’s crowning achievement as the Crimson Tide’s head coach.
Swinney also shared a room with his mother for 3 years during his time with Alabama due to family finances, he told ESPN in 2016.
“He’s always been the underdog,” former Alabama quarterback Jay Barker said in the story. “He has had to fight for everything and has never been given anything. That’s what has made him so successful. He loves being the underdog because he’s lived it his entire life.”
He finished his Alabama career with 7 catches for 81 yards.
2. He succeeded Tommy Bowden at Clemson
Swinney officially took over at Clemson in 2009. He was the Tigers’ interim head coach in 2008, leading the Tigers to a 4-3 record in those games.
He succeeded Tommy Bowden, who originally hired Swinney to be Clemson’s receivers coach in 2003. By 2007, he was promoted to Clemson’s associate head coach role.
3. Zero coordinator experience before being named head coach
When Swinney was named Clemson’s interim head coach in 2008, he had never called a play before. His coaching experienced included time at Alabama and with the Tigers dating back to 1996, but he had never been a collegiate coordinator.
That’s an unusual path for a head coach, especially one as successful as Swinney has been. Nick Saban was Michigan State’s defensive coordinator from 1983-87. Jimbo Fisher was an offensive coordinator at Samford, Cincinnati, LSU and Florida State before getting the Seminoles’ head coaching job. Kirby Smart was Alabama’s DC before getting the UGA job.
4. He once out trash-talked Steve Spurrier
During a meeting with reporters in December of 2011, Swinney was asked about some disparaging comments from then-South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.
“We ain’t Alabama, we ain’t LSU, but we ain’t Clemson,” Spurrier said after South Carolina beat the Tigers 34-13 in the regular seasons finale.
Swinney’s response was thoughtful and memorable. He took the time to dissect Spurrier’s insult and threw back plenty of trash talk back toward the Head Ball Coach and his program.
“If he said that, that’s disappointing to be honest with you,” Swinney said. “Because I was taught to win or lose with class. That’s kind of a childish thing to put out there to be honest with you. I think our program here speaks for itself.
“I guess I’d have to say I agree with him … I’d say he’s right. They’re not Clemson. They’re never going to be Clemson, to be honest with you. And no 3-game winning streak is going to change that. It’s not the first time they’ve won 3 in a row, and it won’t be the last time. It might be 50 more years, but it’ll probably happen again.”
Two days after those comments were made, Clemson upset No. 5 Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game.
5. Dabo has been dominant vs. South Carolina
South Carolina won the next 2 meetings in this rivalry but the Tigers have been dominant ever since. Clemson has won the last 7 meetings with South Carolina by an average of 26 points.
He added a few more jabs at the Gamecocks that ended up proving to be true.
“I think he’s exactly right,” Swinney added in that interview. “I think that they’re not Clemson. And they never will be. You’re looking at the best era in the history of South Carolina football right now. They just had their second 10-win season. They won a championship in 1969 and then the 2010 SEC East.
“There’s a lot of rivalries out there, this is more of a domination and that’s the fact. My kids and grandkids won’t live long enough to ever see this really become a rivalry.”
Here’s a clip of his extended comments:
6. He’s 1 of 2 head coaches to reach 100 wins
Clemson is certainly in the golden era of its football program. The Tigers were somewhat successful before Swinney took over, but they’ve reached new heights over the last decade-plus. He’s 1 of just 2 coaches in program history to reach 100 career wins.
To find the other, you have to go all the way to Frank Howard. He was Clemson’s coach from 1940-65. Danny Ford is third on the list with 96 career wins — including the 1981 National Championship, which is the only title that Clemson claims before Swinney’s promotion to head coach.
7. He’s 15 wins shy of the all-time Clemson record
Speaking of Howard, Swinney is closing in on his all-time wins record. His 165 wins is just 15 more than Swinney has entering the 2022 season. He could conceivably tie the record if Clemson has a perfect 15-0 season en route to the national title.
Even if the record doesn’t fall until next season, it will still be quite the accomplishment. It took Howard a full 30 seasons to reach that 165-win mark. Barring an unforeseen disaster, Swinney will smash through the record in just his 15th full season at the helm.
8. He’s the second longest-tenured Clemson coach of all time
Swinney is already in elite company in terms of longevity at Clemson. He’s in a group of just 4 coaches to last more than a decade at the program.
- Frank Howard (30 seasons)
- Dabo Swinney (14 seasons)
- Danny Ford (12 seasons)
- Tommy Bowden (10 seasons)
Swinney’s 80.6% winning percentage entering 2022 is the best of that group by a significant margin.
9. He has 11 10-win seasons. Every other Clemson coach combined has 7
There’s no doubt that Swinney has brought Clemson into a new era. Perhaps no stat shows that more than Clemson’s 10-win seasons.
Prior to Swinney’s official hiring in 2009, Clemson had just 7 10-win seasons in program history. Four of them came from Danny Ford. Ken Hatfield got one in 1990, Frank Howard went 11-0 in 1948 and Charley Pell won 10 games in 1978. That’s the list.
Since Swinney took over, Clemson has won at least 10 games in 11 consecutive seasons. That streak was put into jeopardy by a COVID-19-shortened season in 2020 and by a slow start in 2021. But the Tigers still got to 10 wins in both seasons.
10. He has more ACC titles than any other coach in Clemson history
Swinney is responsible for 7 of Clemson’s 20 all-time ACC Championships. Aged just 52 years old going into the 2022 season, it’s reasonable to expect that more could be on the horizon.
Swinney won his first ACC crown in 2011, as the Tigers blew out a highly-touted Virginia Tech team. That was Clemson’s first conference championship since 1991 — when Bobby Bowden and Florida State were not eligible to compete for the title.
He’s one of 3 Clemson coaches to win 6 ACC crowns, but the only coach to win 7. Here’s how that breaks down:
- Dabo Swinney: 7
- Danny Ford: 6
- Frank Howard: 6
- Tommy West: 1
11. He doesn’t use the transfer portal
While the nature of roster building in college football has changed drastically over the past few years, Dabo Swinney has held up a more traditional approach.
Swinney doesn’t use the transfer portal like his other competitors do. His only addition of the 2022 offseason so far has been quarterback Hunter Johnson, who originally attended Clemson out of high school. He was brought in to be a veteran presence, but not necessarily to impact games on the field.
Aside from Johnson, Swinney hasn’t made any notable additions in previous years. He prefers to give younger players — or walk-ons, like once was — a chance to rise to the occasion.
“My transfer portal is right there in that locker room, because if I’m constantly going out every year and adding guys from the transfer portal, I’m telling all those guys in that locker room that I don’t believe in them, that I don’t think they can play,” Swinney told ESPN in 2021. “We’re also not doing our job as coaches and recruiters if we’re bringing in a bunch of transfers. We’re not going to build our roster on transfers.”
12. He promotes from within
Swinney takes a similar approach to his coaching staff. After the 2021 season, Clemson lost defensive coordinator Brent Venables to Oklahoma and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott to Virginia.
Venables and Elliott had a combined 19 years of service on Clemson’s coach staff. Instead of performing a national search to replace a pair of longtime coordinators, Swinney looked within the program.
He promoted Brandon Streeter to offensive coordinator to replace Elliott. He also named Wes Goodwin and Mickey Conn as co-defensive coordinators to succeed Venables. Those 3 coaches have a combined 16 years of experience on Clemson’s on-field staff entering 2022.
“Sometimes it’s easy,” Swinney said when asked about the difficulty choosing replacements for Venables and Elliott. “Thirty seconds. It would be hard for me to interview somebody in 30 seconds. That’s how long it took to make a decision.”
Swinney has a long history of promoting from within, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Elliott spent 4 seasons as Clemson’s running backs coach before being named co-offensive coordinator in 2015.
“I’m always going to promote from within when it’s feasible,” Swinney also said. “I’m going to hire who’s best for this team and university, not who people want me to hire.”
13. He’s 1 of 2 coaches with multiple National Championships
Swinney is in an exclusive club of head coaches who have won multiple National Championshps. He led the Tigers to the promised land in 2016 and 2018, with the potential for more on the way in the future.
He’s one of just 5 active head coaches who have won a national title. Alabama’s Nick Saban, North Carolina’s Mack Brown, Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher and Georgia’s Kirby Smart are the others. Only Swinney, Saban and Smart did so at their current school.
Swinney and Saban are the only coaches on that list who have won multiple national titles. If Swinney wins another one, he would become the 16th head coach in college football history with 3 National Championships. Urban Meyer and Nick Saban joined that club in 2014 and 2011, respectively. Before them, the last entrants were Tom Osborne (1997) and Barry Switzer (1985).
Saban won his second National Championship in 2009, which was his 14th year as a head coach. Swinney accomplished the same feat in 11 campaigns.
14. He is responsible for an out-sized percentage of Clemson’s total wins
Just to put things into perspective, Dabo’s career wins represents more than 19% of all victories in Clemson history. That’s an astronomically high number when considering that Swinney has coached in few than 15% of all Tigers’ games.
He has more wins than Ken Hatfield, Tommy West and Josh Cody have games coached in Clemson history — combined. That trio of coaches have a combined 14 years of service to Clemson and rank in the top 8 on the Tigers’ all-time wins list.
15. Compare win total to other ACC head coaches
Comparing Swinney’s overall win total to his ACC peers is a good way to put his success into context. He’s second in overall wins amongst active head coaches, trailing only UNC’s Mack Brown. Of course, the vast majority of those wins came during his stint with Texas. Brown has 90 career victories with the Tar Heels.
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson is the only other current ACC coach with more than 100 career wins. But with the exception of 1 season where he was Tennessee’s offensive coordinator, Clawson has been a head coach every season since 1999 — when Swinney was still on staff at Alabama. Clawson has 51 wins as Wake’s head coach.
Swinney has more wins than Dave Doeren and Mario Cristobal combined. Those two coaches have a combined 22 years of head coaching experience, compared to just 14 for Swinney.
Here’s how the full list breaks down:
- Mack Brown, North Carolina: 265
- Dabo Swinney, Clemson: 150
- Dave Clawson, Wake Forest: 141
- Dave Doeren, NC State: 87
- Scott Satterfield, Louisville: 69
- Dino Babers, Syracuse: 66
- Mario Cristobal, Miami: 62
- Pat Narduzzi, Pitt: 53
- Mike Norvell, Florida State: 46
- Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech: 24
- Jeff Hafley, Boston College: 12
- Brent Pry, Virginia Tech: 0
- Mike Elko, Duke: 0
- Tony Elliott, Virginia: 0