Pelham native Dabo Swinney wins 2nd National Championship in 3 years

Published 3:03 pm Tuesday, January 8, 2019

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – He didn’t belong there. At least that’s what Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney told us after winning his second college football National Championship in three years by taking down the king of the sport in dominant fashion on Monday, Jan. 7.

But after the 44-16 thumping the Tigers gave the Crimson Tide on a national stage, he proved he more than belongs; he proved he is one of the best.

After pouring his heart into the first 40 seconds of his postgame interview, you could see that start to sink in as a smile cracked through and joy overcame his face.

“There ain’t never been a 15-0 team,” Swinney said in his typical excited country voice. “I know we’re not supposed to be here, we’re just little ole Clemson, and I’m not supposed be here, but we are and I am. How ‘bout them Tigers. We beat Notre Dame and Alabama. We left no doubt and walk off the field tonight as the first 15-0 football team in college football history.”

It was a game that saw Alabama make costly mistakes and fail to convert on opportunities throughout almost looking unprepared and overwhelmed, while Swinney and the Tigers took advantage.

If there is one thing we can’t question, it was that Clemson came into the game prepared and while they were susceptible to giving up yards defensively, that side of the ball stepped up to make plays in big situations inside the red zone, while the offense did the same thing making big plays throughout, including converting 10 of 15 third down attempts.

“We couldn’t get off the field on third down,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “We gave up a couple of big-time explosive plays on third down. We actually stopped the run pretty well and created enough third down situations, we just couldn’t get off the field.”

Despite two interceptions in the first half and being forced to kick a field goal instead of finish a drive with a touchdown, Alabama still trailed by just 15 points at the halftime break, 31-16, but they still had an entire second half to make adjustments and get back into the game.

Instead, three turnovers on downs inside the 15-yard line in the second half, one of which came on a questionable fake field goal with the kicker as the lead blocker, and Alabama never even sniffed the lead again as the Tigers closed the game out with 30 unanswered points to pull off a dominant win.

“I hope that you can get a little hope from us that if we can do it, anybody can do it,” Swinney said of knocking off the sport’s biggest giant. “I mean that. If I can do it and these Clemson Tigers can do it, anybody can do it if you have a belief in yourself and what you’re doing.”

Having now led Clemson to eight consecutive 10-plus win seasons, four consecutive 12-plus win seasons, four consecutive college football playoff berths, three championship appearances in the last four years and two National Championships in the last three years, Swinney had it wrong; he does belong here simply due to his hard work and belief to make his dreams come true.

“Takes belief,” he said. “I think we put limitations on our own self by how we think. I’ve always believed that way. I know 10 years ago not many people saw this coming, but we’re here and we did it.”

Growing up in Pelham, Swinney made the most of a difficult childhood by competing in several sports at the high school level before walking on to the Alabama football team.

The evidence of his future success was already there with his work ethic and determination to get to that point, but the first day he became part of that Crimson Tide team was when it became obvious.

“I loved the first day I got to be part of the team, the first team meeting, the first practice,” he said. “My whole life I had been a big Alabama fan. I took it and ran with it. The friendships and the relationships were special.”

It didn’t matter the playing time; the experience of being on a special team was what mattered, the great mark of a successful head coach with a burning desire to win at the same time.

Every step since then didn’t seem to fit. It never seemed to be his time, but he always wound up in the right situation.

After graduating from Alabama in 1993, he was close to accepting a job in health care management, but was then offered to be a graduate assistant at Alabama, which he accepted.

That one decision was one of epic proportions. Thinking back on it now, it seems like an outlandish thought and a no-brainer, but just imagine the difference in so many lives had he not gone down the coaching path.

“I had never really thought about [coaching],” Swinney said. “That was the first time I hadn’t been part of a team, and coach [Gene] Stallings said, ‘You start in July.’

“It was easier for me to call and turn down the job I had been offered.”

After finishing his master’s degree, Swinney was ready to again seek a job outside of football, but Stallings instead persuaded him to stay by offering him a full-time job in 1996.

That lasted five years before he was dismissed along with the entire staff of Mike DuBose in 2001.

This time, he finally did take a job outside of football, grabbing a real estate gig, but former Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden quickly gave him an offer to be a receivers coach with the Tigers in 2003.

When Bowden was released of his duties in October 2008, Swinney didn’t know what was going to happen, and didn’t even know if he’d have a job, but former Clemson athletics director Terry Don Phillips had full belief he was the man that would take the Tigers to the next level.

Swinney then took over for Bowden in October of that 2008 season where he went into the South Carolina game basically needing a win to secure the head coaching job.

He led the Tigers to an emphatic 31-14 victory and shortly after was named the permanent head coach. The rest is history.

Swinney has now gone 116-30 in 11 years and has never wavered from the young coach who just loved being a part of a special team.

“I enjoy being with the players every day,” he said. “I love the preparation. I wanted to stay a part of the team. I love to compete. The relationships with the coaches and players, it’s just special. That’s what I loved the most when I first got in and that’s what I love now.”

Swinney has put years and years of hard work into making his dreams come true, and that’s the main sentiment he carries with him, hoping his story will help another young person want to achieve their highest goals.

“As a young boy growing up in Alabama, I’ve lived so many of my dreams and I dreamed big,” Swinney said. “What else was I going to do.

“I know there’s a single mom out there somewhere probably trying to figure out how she’s going to make it, and I know there’s a kid like me that’s probably got some bad circumstances and not sure what the future looks like. If anything else comes from this tonight, I hope that somebody like that can have some encouragement and hope.”