Dabo Swinney has created a national power at Clemson, but he almost didn’t continue coaching college football long enough to see the Tigers’ program reach new heights.
Swinney told a story at Sugar Bowl Media Day on Saturday in New Orleans about just how close he came to giving up coaching in 2006 because he had to spend so much time away from his sons Will, Drew and Clay, and his wife, Kathleen.
Dabo was a wide receivers coach at Clemson when he called home while on a four-week recruiting trip to Florida. As he was speaking with his wife, it hit him that he was sacrificing his family time and missing special moments with his boys.
“I just told Kath, I said, ‘Kath, I can’t do this anymore.’ And I came home. So we had this family meeting,” Swinney recalled. “I got Will, Drew, and Clay sitting on the bed, feet just kind of hanging over the bed. And they’re just looking at me. I just told them, ‘Listen, I just want y’all to know, 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, and I’m going to get a job where I can coach your teams and be home on the weekend. And I just don’t want to miss this opportunity to be a great dad.’”
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Swinney worked hard preparing the speech he wanted to give to his boys, but did not get the reply he was expecting.
“They look at me and go, ‘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.’ And all of a sudden God used my kids to speak to me and impact me,” Swinney said. “My kids start opening my eyes … I was focused on the things that we didn’t get to do. 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.”
After that conversation, Swinney decided he would continue in his coaching career.
Two years after nearly getting out of coaching, he was named the Tigers’ head coach.
Clemson has gone on to win at least 10 games for seven consecutive seasons, is in the College Football Playoff for the third consecutive year and is the defending national champion.
Dabo’s son Will is currently playing for the Tigers and is the team’s holder, in addition to being a backup wide receiver.
“That was a life-changing moment for me. It really was. Through these boys’ mouths and their experiences that they had, they started telling me, ‘Dad, we love you being a coach. And mom videos anyway. She videos it.’ … That was an impactful time for me. And from that point on, I said, you know what? I’ve got to change my perspective here … You can be a great coach and be a great father and be a great husband. You can be all those things. You don’t have to sacrifice all those things to be a great coach.”
Swinney has put an emphasis on making sure his assistants get to spend plenty of time with their families throughout his time as a head coach, and spouses and kids are constantly around Clemson’s football facility.
“I’ve tried to teach that to my staff and all my coaches and my young staff. And I’ve tried to set that example for them. This is very inclusive at Clemson. I want the wives there. I want the kids there,” Swinney said. “I mean, it’s a romper room every other day running around there, because I think it’s important. I want these coaches to know, I want them to go to the games. We don’t meet before 9 (a.m.). I want them to take their kids to school. We’ve got plenty of time to get done what we need to get done.”
That is a big reason Clemson has had little staff turnover.
Coordinators Brent Venables, Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott have all drawn head coaching interest over the past couple of years but have remained at Clemson with Swinney.
“He creates an incredible culture … It lets us enjoy our life as husbands and fathers,” Venables said. “I’m challenged daily as a husband, as a father, as a Christian, as a coach because he’s done a great job surrounding himself with a great staff. Good men, good people. Talented in their profession but really good at all of the other things other than being a coach. And so, again, just real blessed to be a part of that and be exposed to that.”