On Jan. 13, Clemson is seeking to become the first back-to-back national champions since Alabama did it in 2011-12. Hear what coach Dabo Swinney had to say ahead of the Tigers' fourth championship game appearance in five seasons.
Q. Is there something to (indiscernible) to make it a little bit more (indiscernible)?
DABO SWINNEY: I guess we think so. I think any time you have some experience doing something, you at least have a visual of it. My second year as a head coach was a lot easier for me than my first year as far as just processes and understanding things, and certainly just having a visual of what to expect, whether it be travel, hotel, logistics, responsibilities, whether for media, stuff like this. And then certainly the moment. It's a big moment. But at the end of the day, I don't play. The players play. But we've got good leadership on the team and a lot of young guys. This is a very young team. But our leaders have done a nice job of getting them to this point.
Q. What kind of history did you have (indiscernible) winning streak?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, regardless of what happens Monday night, this has been historic. Our program and even this team is not going to be defined by a scoreboard Monday night. Yeah, we win and we've won 30 in a row, and these guys went 15-0 again back to back. But man, it's been special. We certainly believe and hope, and we're going to do everything we can to win on the scoreboard, too. We know that matters. But no matter what we're not defined by that. This has been unbelievable.
The good news is this is one of the youngest teams I've ever had. We've got 80 freshmen and sophomores out of our 120. I think we've got a chance to be a better team next year. I really do. Fifteen mid-years just got there, and we've got a lot of people back, and excited about what our future is, and this is kind of the end of a great decade, and we would certainly love to end it up as National Champs, but we're excited about the Roaring '20s, too. My grandmother told me about the Roaring '20s, so I'm getting to live them, and I can't wait. We're going to roar Monday night, both teams, because you've got Tigers bringing them in in style.
Q. Does this feel like a road game?
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, no question. I think we're the only one that took a plane here. So yeah, this is definitely a road game. This is what -- the last one was a road game. You know, you go out to -- it's a long way out there to Arizona, and that was a great football team, and we might as well have played -- we could have just played it in Columbus and it would have made it a lot easier on everybody because it was probably about 80-20 and our fans are amazing, but Ohio State, what do they got, about 60,000 students? Got a lot of graduates, a lot of alumni all over the place, and we do, too, but we're a smaller school.
So it's pretty cool. But yeah, this is -- I mean, this is definitely a road game. It just worked out that way, and I mean, you don't know these things in advance, but I think it's really cool for LSU. How cool is that, for them to be able to just hop on a bus and ride up the road 40 minutes or so. It would be like us playing for the National Championship in Greenville, literally.
Q. When you walk into the Superdome, do you have flashbacks of your National Championship team with Alabama?
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, definitely the National Championship win with Alabama. That's the last time I've been here. That was a playoff game. So 27 years ago. I'm in the same hotel. So be nice to get the same result, but this is just an awesome venue, really is. Really cool. I'm glad we're only here a couple days. It's kind of that championship mode. We've had the bowl experience. We had a great time-out in Arizona, and we're just kind of focused on getting ready for the game now.
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, it's going to be wild. It's going to be like -- we could have just played in Baton Rouge, but the weather might have been bad. It's going to be like a road game. I know our fans will show up and they'll be passionate just like they are everywhere we go on the road. But it'll be an awesome, awesome atmosphere. I mean, this is two great teams, two undefeated teams. Again, they're playing right here at home, and it's exciting. It's exciting to know you're at this point. It's coming to an end. It's been -- I don't know about college football, but this has been the longest season in the history of Clemson football. We started July 31st, and we played August 29th, I think, something like that, and here we are finishing up January 13th. So we were kind of -- Hunter Renfrow was speaking to our team at practice the other day. He was at practice right before we left, and he was just telling the guys, hey -- he doesn't say a whole lot. I don't know what you got to say, I don't know, man, y'all just have fun. Just have fun. He goes, hey, look at it this way, you guys got mat drills in two weeks, because it's like literally our season has gone so long. We're like six weeks away from spring practice. So it's just crazy.
It's been fun. It's been a lot of fun. But it's been -- it's nice to know that, hey, man, let's go let it all hang out and cut it loose. We've had a wonderful year. We've had an unbelievable decade, and I'm excited to finish strong Monday night and then set our eyes on what's next.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, first of all, belief. I think that's when it starts is getting people to believe in who we are, who I am, you know, building the culture of our program, consistency, and then people. You know, you win with people, getting the right people in place, and then players. Same thing, you win with people first, players second, and I think just development, evaluation. Certainly this is a game that's played by players, and we've been able to get great players, but we've also had lots of great -- like a Hunter Renfrow, like a Grady Jarrett, like an Adam Humphries, like a Tig Willard. We've had a lot of players over the years that weren't necessarily highly recruited guys but we've developed. In 11 years we've had one No. 1 recruiting class, and we just had it.
We've, I think, been consistent with our philosophy and our approach, and then we've had continuity, and when we've had changes, been able to get the right people in the right place.
But if I had to say one thing, just belief, from where we started the decade, with a vision, and then just staying the course throughout the time.
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, yeah, no doubt. They're great up front, just like we are. Obviously got a great quarterback, just like we do. Got great skill receivers like we do and they got a great running back like we do, so it's kind of like what we just played. There's really no weaknesses. They're well coordinated, got a great scheme. They're five out most of the time, a lot of empty. They do a great job of creating match-ups, especially when they get in their bunch sets and create leverage and easy throws. I mean, the quarterback, I think he's 80 percent. I mean, are you kidding me? You know, their scheme helps, but he's very smart, and he's very accurate, and he has a great understanding, and he keeps them in the right play. They really empower him to run the offense, and he'll get them in and out of a bad play and into the best-case scenario a lot, and they've just got all the pieces.
BY THE NUMBERS: How Clemson and LSU match up statistically
To me, 1 and 2 and 6 are special, and 19, they've got a bunch of wideouts, but 22 and 81, their tight end, that's kind of his security blankets and those guys are problems. They're real matchup problems. 81 is a really good football player. He's physical. There's not a lot of max protection, but when they get in those bunch sets and things, it's almost like being in max protection because they chip -- they slam their way out, so they get out, but they've created time, and they've shortened the edges.
You've got to be creative in how you get to him, and then when you do get to him, he creates, and he's just got a great knack for escaping and avoiding the rush, and then he makes huge plays on the move. I mean, some of their biggest plays come from him just scrambling, extending -- kind of like us, kind of like our guy. They're really similar when it comes to all that stuff. This is -- I mean, these are two elite quarterbacks getting ready to duel it out, and really all the same across the board. You just change jerseys and helmets and they'd kind of all look the same. Just really, really talented, beautiful football players that are getting ready to compete against each other with a really small margin of victory.
Q. What will the difference be?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, we hope we can make them punt at least once. If we can make them punt once, it'll be a good night for us.
It is what it is. Both defenses have a challenge. Both defenses are really, really good. Very, very good. But both defenses got their hands full, and so I think the biggest thing is just -- the quarterbacks are special. You've got to just try to not let everybody around him have a great night. I think that's the big thing. I think both -- whichever quarterback just plays good, not great, then that defense is going to win.
It's going to be fun. It's a great match-up. Really, really awesome match-up, two teams that I think have a lot of respect for each other and are both passionate and passionate fan bases and want to win. It's going to be exciting.
Q. Are (indiscernible) 100 percent?
DABO SWINNEY: Are they 100 percent? As far as I know. Let me see. Yeah, I mean, there's no practice problems or anything like that. Maybe their toe hurts or something. I don't know. I don't know if they woke up this morning with a bruise on their pinky --
Q. They were the two guys that got banged up --
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, yeah, these guys heal up in two days nowadays. Yeah, they're fine. Higgins came back and played and Ross just landed on his shoulder, but they're good to go.
Q. How do you think (inaudible) played?
DABO SWINNEY: He did good. It was good to see him play at game speed. I think it was really good for him. It's been a while, a long time since he had played, and now all of a sudden, boom, you're in a playoff game. So the intensity of it was a lot, but I thought he managed it well. I think technique-wise, some things we need to clean up, just little things, hat in the wrong place, some footwork stuff. But as far as just playing fast and trying to play physical, he did a nice job.
DABO SWINNEY: He's 6'4", he's probably close to 230-ish. He's going to run probably 4.4 or better. He's got a 41-inch vertical. He's an unbelievably special young person. Just great character. Awesome work ethic. I mean, just freaky measurables. But then you throw in the fact that he's a very humble young man. He's got great character. He's been -- got an unbelievable family. He's a guy that came back for his fourth year. Could have come out last year, and just has a lot of self-awareness of what he needs to do as a football player. And now he's a complete player. He's become very detailed in his approach. His preparation, his understanding of our defense, and more importantly understanding of offenses.
So just the nuances of the game, and so you put all that knowledge with the work ethic and the talent, you get a great player.
Q. How do you prepare for a guy that doesn't get rattled, rarely makes mistakes?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, you just do the best you can. I mean, that's just kind of -- you get to this stage, that's what -- last year we played Alabama, and I think Tua's completion percentage or his yards per completion was higher, his yards per attempt was higher. He was a freak. And Tua is one of the best players I've ever seen, and when you get to this stage, that's just what you're going to see. When you get to the Super Bowl, you're going to see two elite quarterbacks. It's hard. It's not easy. So you just -- you've got to tighten up in everything that you do, and you have to understand that every play matters. You look at our game a couple weeks ago, there's just maybe three plays, maybe three that we made, maybe three that they didn't make, whatever. That's usually what these games come down to, especially when you've got two great competitors, two elite quarterbacks leading the show like we've got and what they've got in Joe Burrow.
Q. (Indiscernible) what have you seen from those guys that just scares you on tape?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, they're special. They look like our guys. That's what I just said over here. You could put them in Clemson helmets and put our guys in LSU helmets and nobody would miss a beat. We might be a little taller, but just elite playmakers. And Joe would be the -- Joe is incredible. But he's got greatness around him, too. Trevor Lawrence is incredible, but he's got greatness around him, built from the inside, great offensive lines, great skill, and so those guys make plays. He trusts them, a lot of back-shoulder throws, a lot of high-point balls. He's not afraid on scrambles to put it up.
But schematically they do a good job of creating mismatches, and then it's yards after the catch. These guys can run with it, they can break tackles, they can make people miss. But they're all on the same page. They just have a really good chemistry.
So it's a challenge.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think it would be special. I think it would be a list of one, back-to-back National Championships in the playoff era. I don't think anybody has done that. I know we haven't had the playoff era long, but it would be a list of one, so it would be pretty special.
DABO SWINNEY: Them big dudes up front that disrupted everything. Those guys did a great job, man. We're built a little differently right now than Auburn, but we're similar in some ways, too. And they did do a great job. But I think -- what's his name, Brown, Derrick Brown? Those guys, they really were disruptive up front, did a great job. And then they picked their spots. You can't just sit there and play zone or just sit there and play man. I thought they were smart and creative and mixing things up. Just trying to throw them different pitches.
Listen, you're playing one of the -- from a baseball analogy, you're playing one of the best hitters ever, and if you're just throwing a fast ball, I don't care if you're throwing it 110 or whatever, he's going to hit it, and he's going to hit it a long way. So you'd better be a little more Greg Maddux, work the plate a little bit. You'd better have some different pitches. Keep them off base just enough, probably still going to hit it, but maybe it's not a grand slam.
Q. Does this feel like a road game?
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, yes, no question. It's definitely a road game.
Q. (Question on Travis Etienne).
DABO SWINNEY: He's been amazing for our program. He's got about every record in the book, and those who follow Clemson know he's done it on very limited touches. I mean, there's been lots of games where he's had eight, nine, 10 touches because of the nature of the game and yet he's got 100-something yards. He's got all the records in the ACC, touchdowns and all that. So he's just a special young person, beautiful family, from right here in Jennings, and just a blue collar hard worker, humble superstar, and doesn't even know it. He just goes about his business. He loves to play. He loves to practice. He doesn't have smidge of prima donna in him. He's a grinder and he sets a great example and sets the tone for everybody else, because he doesn't carry himself as a superstar type guy. I mean, he just goes about his business and he's a great teammate, excellent student, and he's just been a joy to watch transform over the last three seasons.
Q. (Indiscernible) redeem himself from his performance two years ago here. Do you have a sense from him that he's --
DABO SWINNEY: Yes, he's excited. He's definitely excited. This is really cool for him to have this opportunity to come back and play here. I mean, to play LSU for the National Championship, you can't even dream it up. For a guy like Travis, it's pretty cool.
Q. You made a baseball reference. Who would you equate Trevor Lawrence to?
DABO SWINNEY: Who's that great pitcher with the long hair? One of them guys. One of them guys who's got a lot of pitches that can beat you a lot of ways.
Q. Last year you blow out Alabama, a lot more extra attention on the program. What's allowed the guys to extend this run as more attention comes on the program each year?
DABO SWINNEY: Just staying true to our purpose and the culture of our program. We start over every year. We don't carry anything over. We go back to work and just have a daily focus. Really that's it.
Q. Was there a time this year when you have noticed that?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, that's kind of, again, a daily thing. I think every single day you reset. Every single day you walk in and it's a windshield mentality. You learn from yesterday, you learn from the past, but it's about today, and just the daily focus on how we start stacking those todays up, then next thing you know you put some good weeks together and a couple good months, and next thing you know, you're like, hey, whoa, man, you're so busy trying to be great you don't get distracted by things that keep you from being great.
Q. We have a lot of coaches on staff. You hired all of them. Out of all of those guys, who do you think was the ugliest growing up as a kid?
DABO SWINNEY: Hmm, let me see. Hmm. I think we're all made in God's image, so we're all beautiful inside and out.
Q. So you don't got one in mind at all?
DABO SWINNEY: Not really. I mean, I'm thinking, but then I think they do have families and moms and dads and kids.
Q. Who was the meanest coach on the staff right now?
DABO SWINNEY: It's got to be Pearman. Wouldn't it be Pearman?
Q. I was thinking about Caldwell.
DABO SWINNEY: Robby Caldwell is a sweetheart. He's an ol' Teddy bear.
That was some high-quality interviewing right there.
Q. Against Ohio State you guys were playing one of the best teams in the country. How much confidence do you think that will give you guys going into this game?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think it gives us a lot of confidence. We didn't go into the game spotting them 16. But to be able to go on a 29-7 run in the biggest of stages against an elite football team, that was a great team. I mean, really, really good, by far the best Ohio State team we've played. To get down 16-0 and to see a team that hasn't been down -- we had a tight game in North Carolina where we had to make a play to go up in the fourth quarter, which was the first time I had seen Trevor Lawrence even have to play with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, and at the time, I said, man, it's kind of cool. It's kind of neat to see Trevor in that situation go make a play. We weren't playing great, and then our defense had to kind of win the game at the end.
So fast forward, you're in a playoff game and you're down 16-0, and the walls can cave in on you. And it's a road game, but to see the grit and the heart and the fight and the belief, the will to win, the no-quit attitude and spirit of our team it special, and I think certainly it gives them great confidence going into a game like this because in a game -- in games like this, there's going to be adversity. There just is. And there's going to be some success, and I think you've got to be able to handle both of those because it's a four-quarter game. They don't call the game after the first quarter. You've got to play all the way through, and our guys have that mindset.
DABO SWINNEY: I mean, I think we have a great program. Clemson is a wonderful place to live. You know, I hope I'm a decent guy to work for. It's a family atmosphere. It's a place where truly our families are a part of it and welcome, and kids around all the time, wives around all the time. It's a small town. I mean, everything is five minutes. I mean, everything. You can run home and work out at lunch if you want. It's just a great -- when this is your profession, as a coach, especially coaches that have been other places, you understand how special it is to live there. Monday through Friday we kind of have a Clemson bubble, kind of our own little world, but yet we get to have this unbelievable stage to compete at the highest level and do something that we all love to do. Our fans are amazing. Every game is sold out and packed. It doesn't matter who we play. You'd never know. And that's not the norm across college football. I mean, it's just amazing to have that type of venue and environment, and so as we've built -- it wasn't that way. When I was at Clemson, it was kind of a stepping-stone job when I came in as an assistant. Guys would be gone, and that was one of the things I wanted to change. I wanted to make it a destination job, and that's what it's become.
So we love each other. We have great relationships. This is very much a relationship-driven program. And then most everybody on our staff either played for me or I have some type of relationship with them. Brent was kind of the oddball of the group. He's the one that I really had no relationship with, and now he's been with me for eight years or something like that. But Mickey Conn was a teammate, Lemanski Hall was my teammate, Todd Bates was from Alabama and a guy that I recruited and a guy that had been and had worked in my camp for years, coaching at Jacksonville State, Brandon Streeter was a GA for me, played at Clemson. Jeff Scott, GA for me, played at Clemson. Tony Elliott was a captain for me, played receiver for me, and Robbie Caldwell I've known forever, all my years recruiting at Alabama, recruiting at Clemson, coming across him on the recruiting trail. I always respected Robbie Caldwell and had gotten to know him over the years. Woody McCorvey, he was my coach. Mike Reed, same thing, a guy when I was recruiting, we had the same area in Jacksonville, Florida. He was at NC State and I was at Clemson. He's one of those guys, if I ever get to be a head coach, I get a chance to hire that guy, I'm hiring that guy. And so -- but I had a relationship in place with him already.
And so my staff is just -- it's just built on that. Even our peripheral staff and our support staff. I think we've got 19 former players on our staff, whether it be -- yeah. And so it's just a special place, and we're thankful for it.
Q. Talk a little bit about (indiscernible).
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, he was a freshman, and we didn't play very well as a team. Had a couple plays that really turned the game against us, two big picks by them and really just kind of over after that. It was a good experience for him as a freshman.
And then to come back last year, he had an amazing year. To lead us to -- he was one of the key guys into a 15-0 run, beating an unbelievable Alabama -- the same team, maybe a better team, probably a better team, a 14-0 Alabama team in the National Championship with an incredible offense and defense, and Travis was awesome. So I think he grew a lot last year, and then he's just taking it to another level this year, from really more anything just physically where he is from just a maturity with his body. He's just bigger, stronger. He's incredibly fast and explosive. But his understanding of the game, his knowledge of the game, his details, the game has really slowed down for him. Been really proud of him.
DABO SWINNEY: It's just really surreal. Sometimes at practice or whatever, I just -- like that's my boys, and they've grown up literally their whole lives. We moved to Clemson, they were four and three, and then Clay was born here. So they've grown up part of it. It's an amazing experience as a father to be able to watch them. They're great teammates. They're grinders. They work their butts off in everything that they do, and they love their journey. I love watching them put the work in. I love watching them grind. I love their work ethic and commitment to excellence and everything that they do, and their leadership. They're both great leaders. Coach V has got two boys on the team now. Coach Batson has got a son on the team. Jeff Davis's twins just graduated. So we've got a lot of family part of our program.
Q. The last five years the championship match-up has been two teams from the south. It's like seven of the last nine years, as well. Top recruiting rankings every year now are you guys and a bunch of SEC teams. Is it getting harder and harder for teams from outside this part of the country?
DABO SWINNEY: I don't think so. I think there's some great teams out on the West Coast. I thought Oregon was a great team this year. They're a play or two away. You've got to believe Southern Cal at some point is going to get back to being special again. Utah had a great year. So I think there's teams that definitely will eventually be here. Washington has already been in the playoff.
But certainly football is important in the South. There's no question about it. It's a very culture-driven sport, and it's very important in the southeast, not that it's not important -- I mean, we just signed, we think, the best quarterback in the country out of California. So football is important all over, but there's certainly great recruiting areas in the southeast.
Q. Is that part of it? You've always had the ability to get great players here, but the fact that you guys and Alabama go to any part of the country and recruit the best players, how much of an advantage is that for you guys?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, well, I think we've earned it. That didn't just happen. We didn't just show up and say, hey, we're Clemson, come to Clemson and kids want to come. That's been earned through years of consistency. Nine, 10-plus win seasons, National Championships, conference championships, those type of things, big, big wins, big, big moments over the last decade. When you think about it now, like DJ, for example, and we weren't even recruiting him, his coach reached out to us and said, hey, I've got a pretty good quarterback. It's not like we're just going to go out there and say we're Clemson. We usually have to have some type of interest reciprocated.
But I think when you think about it, here's a guy that since he was seven years old, he's been seeing this version of Clemson, whether it be through the media, TV, whatever, big games, and so I think that that resonates. And so what happens with that, as our brand has grown through our consistency, kids want to come see Clemson. It's become a place -- and what I already knew, what I knew when I took the job was that if we could get guys on campus, people were going to see what a special place this is. And that's what's happened. That's how we started the program.
But now, 10 years, 11 years later, we signed kids from 14 states this year, and last year was like 14 or 15 or something. And when we've gotten one, we've signed back-to-back players out of California for the first time in the history of the school. We've signed -- Travis was my first guy from Louisiana. Then we came back right here in Baton Rouge and got Bryton Constantin, linebacker.
But I just think the consistency, the culture of who we are and how transparent we are in the recruiting process of hey, this is what the expectations are, and you don't need to come here if you're not all in with that, all right, because we're going to go to class, we're going to be great citizens, we're going to hold you accountable, those type of things.
So it's pretty cool for me to see a bunch of really, really talented young people that really want that, and they're coming a long ways to come be a part of it. Isaiah Simmons came from Olathe, Kansas. He was my first guy out of Kansas. Christian Wilkins came from Connecticut.
So you know, we have to be smart. The thing for us is the right fit -- not the so-called the highest-rated player but the best player in our eyes and the best fit for our program, and we always start inside out. We're always, South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Maryland, that's our base, and then we try to scout out the best guys that fit our program from all over the country.
Q. When you look at the process the last four, five years, the scheduling and everything, is there one thing that you've learned in this whole process that maybe LSU isn't ready for, being on this stage?
DABO SWINNEY: I mean, I don't know, and if it was I wouldn't say it. I'm sure they've done a great job. Listen, Coach O has been around the block a lot. He's no rookie. So I'm sure that they'll be incredibly well prepared just like we will be.
Q. You know Coach O's story, basically getting a second chance, and we know your story, as well, coming in as an assistant and eventually taking over. Do you admire his story, getting a second chance, being able to finally get that chance at proving what they're able to do in that situation?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, absolutely. No question. I admire any successful coach. I always -- I like to study people who are successful, and he's been incredibly successful.
I've followed him and known him a long time, and I've always pulled for him. He's an easy guy to pull for because he's a wear-it-on-your-sleeve guy, he's passionate. It's easy to recognize passion and enthusiasm, and he's got that oozing out of his veins. And you just -- I have great respect for that. I think that he truly loves the players. I think he loves what he does, and you know, that resonates, I think, with his team and with certainly his fan base and things like that.
But I think he's a great football coach. He's done a wonderful job, and it's cool to see because I know he's had a -- I know it didn't go well at Ole Miss, but I think he's a good example to a lot of people because we all fail, we all fail, to the world's terms. But I think it's a choice on whether you fail forward, whether you're destroyed or defined by your failure or you're developed by it, and I think it's really cool to see somebody that people kind of label as can't do something or failed at something and yet he learned and grew and developed and stayed the course and got back up and went back to work, and now to see him at this point, I think that's just -- what a great lesson. What a great living example for a lot of people, but certainly for his young players that he mentors every single day because he's a living, breathing example of hey, listen, it's not always perfect. It's not always going to be the way you planned it but how you're going to respond.
When you make mistakes, when you do stupid stuff, does it define you, does it destroy you, or does it develop you. And I think he's a great example of that. He did a wonderful job out there at Southern Cal and probably would still be there if they'd have kept him. But for whatever reason he went in a different direction, but you know, I just think God orders our steps and brought him to LSU. I don't think you could have a better fit for LSU than Coach O. I mean, he truly loves where he is, and he loves this program and he's passionate about it. He's put a good staff together, and you can just tell that he cares about LSU and the people of Louisiana. And I think that that's awesome. He's a great story to follow for sure.
Q. (Question regarding Joe Burrow.)
DABO SWINNEY: To be honest with you, I did not see it, so I can't comment on it.
Q. What can you say about him?
DABO SWINNEY: Joe Burrow? I don't think if there's anything I can say that hasn't already been said. He's special. He really is. It's just kind of -- as I said, just as a coach, it makes you sick watching the tape because he just rarely ever makes a mistake. He's always a step ahead. He knows exactly where to go with the ball. You got him sacked and then you don't. He creates. He's just like this all the time. Even when you watch him -- one of the things I watch is he makes a big play in a huge game in a critical moment, and he just jogs down the field.
He's pretty special. To me those are things that I look -- if I was an NFL evaluator, I want to see this guy, who he is, he's just like this all the time, and at that position I think that's a special quality.
Q. How much does the situation with Nolan's dad -- I know you love all your guys, but is there something a little different about him?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, he's like a son, but I do. I feel that same responsibility with all my guys for sure, to hold them accountable, to teach them, to give them the tools that they need to be successful in life. That's very important to me. To just grow them up as men that are ready to go be great citizens in this world. But certainly there's a special connection there with Nolan, obviously, and it was a great moment. It was a really cool moment.
The cool thing is I told him right before, hey, you're going to have the game-winning interception, get your dadgum head up. It was crazy how it all worked out. He didn't play very well, he had missed a couple plays, and so to see him come back and make that play at the end, really, literally his feet were in the exact same spot of his failure that we were just talking about on that touchdown on fourth-and-1. The interception was in the same end zone, same spot, his feet -- same gut receiver, and literally his feet are right on the S in State. It's just amazing. Amazing how it worked out.
Q. How much of your success is because you've had kind of the same staff?
DABO SWINNEY: People say that, but I've had a lot of turnover over the years. We've had a lot of peripheral staff turnover. I've had three different offensive coordinators in my 11 years. I've had just two different defensive coordinators. Brent has been with me eight years now, and it's been awesome. I've had -- I've got -- I think I'm on my fifth defensive line guy. I've had a couple different DB coaches. We've had some change.
I think the biggest thing is when we've had change, it's getting the right people in place, and more important than anything is just the culture, just sustaining the culture and starting over every year, holding everyone accountable, and that's probably the biggest thing, just again, recruiting.
Us coaches, we get way too much credit. You've got to have players. We've done -- probably the other thing I would say is just the evaluation and the development of our players over the last decade, because we've had one No. 1 recruiting class in 11 years, and I think my highest might have been like seventh or something prior to that. So we pretty much have been in the top 15, but we've developed our guys, whether it be a Grady Jarrett who was a two-star recruit who's now one of the highest paid D-tackles in the league, Hunter Renfrow who was a walk on who had a pretty good year for the Raiders this year, Adam Humphries who had one scholarship offer who makes $9 million a year now, a Tyler Shatley who's been with the Jaguars for six years, offensive lineman, that was a linebacker/fullback in high school. I just think we've done a nice job, and then we've had guys like Sammy Watkins, Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence who were great players. Travis Etienne wasn't a really highly recruited guy, three-star guy. So we've evaluated, identified and developed a lot of good players, and we've done it our way.
We've done it simply through the draft, if you will, because we don't -- I don't go out and sign grad transfers out of the portal. I don't sign junior college players. I've tried to bring freshmen in. That's how we try to do it so when team has something to prove your philosophy you've got to be right. So I think more than anything that's the consistency we've had in our development and getting the most out of our players that we have had over the years.
Q. Not everybody has had an opportunity to coach against a Heisman winner.
DABO SWINNEY: Listen, I don't get into all them awards that get voted on. I really don't. It's special for me to coach this team. It's special for me to coach these guys. I love competing against great competitors, so I don't -- it's not special because he's the Heisman. It's special because he's a great competitor, and he's on a great football team. That's special.
But yeah, I don't go, oh, my goodness, that guy is the Thorpe Award winner or whatever. I don't get into all that stuff.
Q. What did you see in Nolan that nobody else did, and how do you think --
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, same thing I saw in Adam Humphries. I don't know why nobody offered Adam Humphries a scholarship, and when I offered him a scholarship, the media and fan base, people beat me up, oh we're only offering him to get Charone Peake, because he was a great player, and I'm like, no, this guy can play and he ended up playing as a true freshman, and like I said, makes $9 million a year for the Titans now. So I don't know why other people don't see certain things. Why was Deshaun Watson the 12th pick in the draft? I don't know. I can't answer that. Why was Tom Brady a sixth-rounder? I don't know. Why was Grady Jarrett a fifth-rounder? I don't know. I can't speak to that.
Q. You saw a player there, it wasn't a charity thing?
DABO SWINNEY: No, no, and to be quite honest with you, God worked that out, because we played in Arizona for the National Championship in '15, and after the game I had four guys come to me and tell me they were leaving early. I didn't know they were leaving early. I'm not one of these coaches that sits around and goes, okay, he's going to leave, he's going to leave, and goes and signs all these guys. What do you do if they stay? What do you do then? I'm going to tell you, you've got to run people off, and that's not how we operate. So I assume everybody is coming back until they tell me different. And literally right after the game, like the next day, T.J. Green, Travis Blanks, Jayron Kearse and Mackensie Alexander said, Coach, I'm going pro. I'm like, okay. So we huddle up as a staff like all right, we've got three weeks -- two-and-a-half weeks. We'd better go find some DBs because we're now in the DB business because we weren't recruiting DBs. The one guy I knew -- so we went and signed four guys, and the only guy I knew prior to that point, two-and-a-half weeks before signing day senior year, that's why all this early recruiting stuff is so overrated. I love it when everybody is committing them 10th graders. I'm going to get all them seniors that develop. So two-and-a-half weeks, I had never heard -- I knew Trayvon Mullen. I had never met him, but I knew who he was. He had been a guy on our board. But I wasn't sure we were going to have a spot. So, man, all of a sudden we've got a spot for Trayvon Mullen. We get him. He plays for the Raiders now, started as a rookie this year, was a great player for us.
So Brent comes to me, he said, hey, I've got a kid, let's look at this guy. All right, well, there's a whole process we have to go through. Being a good player is like the smallest box to check for us, and we find this kid in Olathe, Kansas, kind of a gangly looking dude named Isaiah Simmons who played wideout and safety kind of just roamed around, three-deep, run around, and so Brent is like, I'm going to go check him out. He had one visit left, so we liked him. I went out and met with his family. He came in on his visit. He came to Clemson.
Literally I didn't know who he was two weeks before. Then mid-week visit, the week before signing day, mid-week visit, this guy Brent calls me, and he says, hey, there's this kid, I just found him. I want to bring him in this week. He's from Virginia. His name is K'Von Wallace. He's a late bloomer, but he can do a lot of things. I'm like, alright, so let's bring him in. So checked out all of his stuff, grades, you know, so K'Von Wallace comes in. We get K'Von Wallace. And then I'm looking for another guy, and I know -- I had offered Nolan a walk-on spot the spring before but I had not watched one play of his senior year, not one play, and I was like, just something -- God just put it on my spirit. I'm like, you know what, I'm going to pull up Nolan. So I pulled up his highlights, and I watched him, and I was like -- I'm trying not to be biased, and I'm watching his tape, and he plays wide out -- I just watched K'Von, I just watched Isaiah and I'm watching this kid and he's dominating at receiver and at DB and you've got to understand my connection because I grew up in Pelham, and Vestavia was one of our rivals and Buddy Anderson has been the head coach there for 50-something years. He was the head coach when I was playing. So I've known Buddy Anderson forever, and Vestavia High School has put out hundreds of Division I football players. I played with some of them at Alabama.
After I watched it, I called Buddy Anderson, and I said, Coach, I want to ask you something. He had no idea why I was calling. I said, why is nobody recruiting Nolan Turner? And he just kind of -- it was like I went -- and just burst the bubble, and he was frustrated about it, and he said, Coach, I can't understand it. He's as good a player as I've had in my 50 years here. He said, the kid can run, his best football is in front of him, he's a late bloomer just like his dad was. So I had all this working knowledge, and I played KT, and KT was a late bloomer.
So I took the tape down there, I pulled it up down there with Brent and I said, hey, tell me what you think about this kid. So Brent watched him, and he's like, I love this guy, where is he? I'm like, that's all I need to know. So then I made a call, and I said, hey, I'm coming to see Nolan tomorrow. So it was a pretty special moment.
So that's what I mean, when I say God worked it out, that just happened. It wasn't some charity thing. People -- oh, some of these story lines that people put out there that Coach Swinney did that because of his buddy. That all sounds good, but that's not reality. If I didn't have a spot, he wouldn't have got a scholarship. We had four guys leave, and we were looking for people, and he earned it. And then he's coming here, and he's -- and I told him early on, I said, man, let me tell you, here's the story, early on, you're not good enough, you shouldn't be here, we only signed you because coach is friends with your daddy, whatever. I was like man, you're going to have to have some thick skin and rise above that. I'm telling you, you can play. And you're going to be a great player, and I talked to him. I'm thankful that I have lots of examples like that, of guys that have come through our program, similar deals.
So he's just done an amazing job. He's a great leader. The cool thing for me is because of what he went through with his dad, he was kind of a very quiet, reserved kid, and his dad and I actually talked about that. That was something KT worried a little bit about. And KT was like that. KT was kind of quiet and reserved until you got to know him. And Nolan for most of his childhood, he just had a -- it was a challenge seeing his dad the way he did.
So you know, I think just for me watching him develop as a man and seeing him, just the smile that he has, his confidence, because I think early on he felt like he had all this to prove, and it's hard, especially in today's world with message boards and social media and all these things, these external pressures that get put on these young men. So just watching him blossom and develop, smile, he's a great teammate, the players love him, and he's just an unbelievably hard worker, and he has bloomed and blossomed at Clemson and had a great career. He's had some big moments and going to be back next year. He's been an off-and-on starter for us this year. We kind of consider him a starter, but he's got a chance to really be one of the best leaders on our team this year.
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, it's a road game. That's just how we look at it. It's a road game. There's no doubt. Might as well have just played in Baton Rouge. No different. But maybe have better weather here in the Dome, so it'll be good. But yeah, it's no different. As I said earlier, it would be like us playing the National Championship in Greenville, South Carolina, 40 minutes up the road.
DABO SWINNEY: Social media in the fall? Yeah, that came from the seniors. I want to say it was either 2012 or '13, they just came to me and said, hey, Coach, this is something we'd like to do, what do you think about it. I said, you're asking me what I think about it? Shoot, that's great with me. I said, y'all want to do it, then y'all do it, and so they did.
And now it's just become a part of our culture. Every year -- I love it. Every August these people who do no homework, they just write these articles and they bash Coach Swinney, I'm taking everybody's First Amendment right, I'm just this and that, and it's just laughable every year. But I get beat up -- every August it's like on a loop. Here it comes. When is the social media article? Oh, there it is. It's just crazy.
It was either '12 or '13. I want to say it was Grady Jarrett's group if I remember correctly. And so all I do every year is literally, report date, when I meet with my seniors, I'm like, all right, here's the policy, you guys want to keep it, what do you want to do? This year -- they all look at me like I'm crazy, like what are you talking about. This is what we do. So I'm like, all right, here we go.
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, absolutely. I just think the biggest thing in this world, it just eliminates one thing they feel the need to have to do. It's not like they're not on it and keeping up with the world, but just young people today feel like they've got to respond to every nut job out there. I mean, that's just kind of the world. Somebody says something bad, you feel like you have to respond, and it's just the craziest thing. And so I just think it eliminates the emotion and just takes a little pressure off of them.
So I don't know, I mean, it's been working fine for us, but I don't really pay much attention to it, but I think that we probably do as good a job as anybody. We just had a lady come in and speak to our team last Saturday about social media. She spoke for an hour. She did an amazing job, and she was a person that was affected and lost her career.
I think it's important to educate -- social media is great. There's lots of positives that come from it. But what you click and what you say and what you type, I mean, in the world now, you're going to be held accountable for that 20 years later. People change and people grow up and people mature, and good people do stupid things. And so I mean, there's a lot of us sitting here, I'm pretty sure y'all are happy you're not being held accountable for social media 20 years ago for something stupid that you did. I know I am.
DABO SWINNEY: You'd have to ask all them smart people. I don't know. It doesn't really ever seem to matter. We'll win 50 in a row, we'll still be the underdog.
Q. The 2012 Peach Bowl, you beat LSU on the last play of the game. Where does that game fit into --
DABO SWINNEY: It was the next step. The first step was my first team in '09 winning the division. You can't win -- I always tell guys, you can't win five until you win four. You can't win four until you win three. You've got to take the steps. And I think so many people, so many programs, they try to take a shortcut. There's no elevator. You've got to take the steps. And that's a grind.
But for me, '09 was the first step because we needed to win a division, and my first year we won a division. We played for the ACC Championship, got beat. But that was the first step.
The next step was learning how to handle adversity. 2010 we lost five games by six points or less, two of them in overtime, one of them to the National Champions at Auburn in overtime. We learned how to handle adversity. Our culture was taking root. 2011 was the next step because we needed to win an ACC Championship. We hadn't done it in 20 years. So we won 10 games for the first time in 20 years. We won the ACC Championship. And then we got our butts kicked in the Orange Bowl. So we come back in '12, and we win 11 games.
So now consistency, back-to-back 10-plus win seasons, and now we get back to a big bowl, and we beat LSU and a team that was way better than us. I mean, you can just -- there ain't no doubt. That's probably the -- that might be the best defense I've ever seen, that LSU defense of '12.
But taking the next step of winning a game like that on a national stage and the belief -- so the belief that came from that and what we were doing and then you come back in '13, back to the Orange Bowl, beat Ohio State, you win your first BCS bowl, and then the next year, we win 10 again, we beat South Carolina, we'd had a losing streak to South Carolina, beat South Carolina, beat Oklahoma, and then in '15 we're in the National Championship, got beat, '16 we're back, we win it. '17 we're right here in New Orleans, kind of fat and happy as the champions and we played like crap, and they punched us in the mouth, all right. And they were a better team.
And then come back last year and win it again.
It's just been a step along the way for us.
Q. Why have your walk-ons done so well for you?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think walk-ons are critical to the success of your program. We've done a great job of evaluating those guys and developing those guys, too, and you just mentioned a couple. Luke Price has been a heck of a player for us this year. Phillip Price, our left tackle, he was our starting left tackle in our first ACC Championship team, a walk-on. Hunter Renfrow, speaks for itself.
So I just think that those guys, they bring hunger, and certainly got to be good enough, but they bring hunger, they bring commitment, they bring work ethic, they bring great value to your team and I think great perspective to your team and a good balance. So I've just always believed that and have worked hard to develop them.
DABO SWINNEY: I mean, I don't know. I just try to be myself. I really just -- that's one thing I learned early on is being me. Dabo got me here, and I just try to be me. If I try to do something somebody else's way, I'm probably not going to be very successful. So I just try to be who I am. I don't really do anything different than I did when I was coaching my group. I don't coach the team. I coach the team -- you ask Tony Elliott, all right, who played for me, or any of these -- he was a receiver for me. I coached the team exactly the way I coach my position group. I don't really do it any different. I just get to coach a bigger group, and I coach the coaches the same way. But as far as all that stuff, I just -- I mean, I just try to -- I answer questions. Sometimes people ask me questions, and I give them an answer, and then they beat me up for my answer. It's the darndest thing, as if it wasn't the answer they wanted or didn't fit the narrative or agenda. But I try to -- I could just be the wrong LSU guy, but I try not to do that, I try to answer the questions the best I can.
Q. How many yards (indiscernible)?
DABO SWINNEY: I don't know, but those guys are great to watch, man. They're really fun to watch. But yeah, he's got his hands full. We call him Vinny. He turns into Vinny on game day. Brent, really, if you're around him off the field, he is like one the sweetest people you'll ever meet. He just has this gentle spirit, got these two cute little daughters, and he's just so docile and kind and sweet, and then you walk on the practice field or a game field, and he turns into Vinny. It's fourth-and-1, every game everybody is out to get him. So that's just his mindset. He has done a good job of just keeping him corralled.
DABO SWINNEY: Tua is special. He's one of the best quarterbacks we've seen come through the college ranks. Awesome person. I mean, just a phenomenal young man. I reached out to him when he got hurt and communicated with him a little bit. He's been so good for the game, just what he represents. Obviously didn't get to coach him, but I know full well what type of teammate he was and the type of leader, and Coach Saban has a great appreciation for that, as well, and the mark that he left on their program. But he impacted a lot of people through his platform at the University of Alabama playing quarterback. But from a talent standpoint, he's awesome. I mean, if I was in the NFL, I'd be taking Tua because he's a winner. He's a very savvy, smart, instinctive player. He's tough. He's got a great heart. He's going to make everybody else around him better. Those are qualities that you want to have in a quarterback. So he's got a great future, and he'll up, get well, and he'll make a great player for somebody.