Clemson University

As Dabo and Spurrier battled, their wives were building a close friendship

What Clemson’s Dabo Swinney said about South Carolina’s strengths

Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney previews the 2018 rivalry game against South Carolina.
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Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney previews the 2018 rivalry game against South Carolina.

As former South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney were taking jabs at each other during the early part of Swinney’s tenure at Clemson, their wives were forming a close friendship that still exists today.

After bickering publicly back and forth for years, Swinney and Spurrier are now friends, so much so that Swinney was in New York when Spurrier was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame last December.

But Kathleen Swinney and Jerri Spurrier have been friends for more than a decade since Dabo was named Clemson’s head coach in 2008.

“I know it’s a rivalry but Jerri has been the sweetest friend to Dabo and I,” Kathleen said. “Jerri has been a sweet coach’s wife and mentor to me. I really cherish some of the lessons she has been able to teach me as a young coach’s wife.”

When Dabo was named Clemson’s head coach in 2008, he wasn’t the only Swinney who had to juggle all of the added responsibilities.

Kathleen also had to figure out how to deal with manage her time and take care of new responsibilities. She leaned on Jerri Spurrier for help.

“Early on here I was stressed about having to go to more things and having to travel. I used to just hate to leave the boys and things like that, but she talked to me about that,” Kathleen recalled. “She just said, ‘You know Kathleen, you’re so involved in your kids’ lives, it’s OK for you to have to leave them for a night here and there.’ A lot of times there would be events or coaches meetings I needed to go to with Dabo. ... She said, ‘Other people can help you with your boys, but you’re the only one who can be a wife to your husband.’ ”

Steve and Jerri Spurrier celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a party in 2016 and invited Dabo and Kathleen Swinney to attend.

The Swinneys were unable to go as they had another commitment, but Kathleen said just being invited was an honor.

“To be married 50 years, especially in this profession, that’s really special,” Kathleen said. “They both just turned 70 a few years ago. They’ve been married 50 years. So she’s been with him for her entire life. ... She’s been through all the ups and downs.”

Jerri and Kathleen regularly exchanged gifts when Spurrier was still coaching at South Carolina, something they still occasionally do.

When South Carolina would play at Clemson, Kathleen would drop off a gift at Jerri’s hotel room. Jerri would do the same for Kathleen when the game was in Columbia.

But more than the bracelets or necklaces that Jerri would leave, Kathleen appreciates the conversations the two shared and still do.

“I just love to hear the advice. I really take it to heart. She just couldn’t be sweeter to Dabo and I. She hugs him when she sees him and just loves on us like we’re her children. It’s been a really, really sweet relationship,” Kathleen said. “One day I went to my mailbox a couple of weeks before the South Carolina-Clemson game and she had sent me a little orange purse with a note that said, ‘I saw this and thought of you.’ She just does some really, really sweet things. And we have developed a sweet relationship with them. Gamecocks and Clemson fans don’t want to think that, but off the field it’s really something that we’re very appreciative of.”

Jerri is also appreciative of the friendship and bond she has with the Swinneys.

“She’s something special. She’s an unbelievable, wonderful lady. I’ve always considered her a friend. How can she not be? She’s just a special person that always smiles. She’s just neat. She’s just wonderful,” Jerri said, adding that she also appreciates her relationship with Dabo.

“I’m going to get myself in trouble but he’s just a special man to me, and he knows I feel that way.”

The State’s Josh Kendall contributed to this story.