Thursday, October 9th, 2008.
After entering the 2008 season ranked 9th, favorites to win the ACC and hopes of a BCS championship, Clemson finds itself 3-2, coming off an embarrassing home loss to Maryland. All championship hopes are gone, and ACC hopes are vanishing. Yet, an opportunity presents itself with a winnable game in Winston-Salem, against ranked Wake Forest.
The Demon Deacons’ defense rose to the occasion and shutout Clemson in the first half, taking a 3-0 lead into the locker room. That dominance continued into the 3rd quarter until seven seconds remaining, when Cullen Harper found Jacoby Ford for the Tigers’ first score. Unfortunately, that score would be their only points and Wake Forest would go on to win 12-7.
Monday, October 13th, 2008.
Tommy Bowden resigns. Vic Koenning, the defensive coordinator at the time, was the overwhelming favorite to be the interim head coach. However, Clemson handed the reigns to 39-year-old receivers coach, Dabo Swinney. His first action? Fire the offensive coordinator, Rob Spence (imagine, first day on a new job and you fire your old supervisor). His second action is what has kept Clemson united for the past 10 years; he gave them their swagger, and set a new tradition: The Tiger Walk.
Over the next six games, Dabo guided the Tigers to four wins, with just two losses for a 6-5 record. That was good enough for an appearance in the Gator Bowl. On December 1st of 2008, Dabo Swinney was named the full-time head coach. The move was quite unpopular with the fans and media. Many were quick to criticize his lack of experience as a head coach. Others questioned whether his philosophy would actually be different than Bowden’s, considering they were on the same staff.
In 2009, Clemson got off to a slow start at 2-3 that included another embarrassing loss to Maryland. The criticism poured in and fans began wondering if the administration would be willing to fire Swinney in just his first season.
Two weeks later, the Tigers traveled to Miami and flipped the script. Kyle Parker threw for over 300 yards, C.J. Spiller ran for 80 yards, had six receptions for over 100 yards with a touchdown, and returned a kickoff 90 yards for another score.
Down 34-31, with five seconds left, Richard Jackson hit a 30-yard field goal to send the game to over time. After holding the Hurricanes to a field goal, Kyle Parker struck again and hit Jacoby Ford for a touchdown. After the game, Dabo said, “We had to put on Superman capes. We made plenty of mistakes that could have lost us the game, but they played with poise and confidence. We just kept battling.” That season, they battled their way to a berth in the ACC Championship game.
Dabo continued battling. In 2011, his staff produced their first top ten recruiting class and won their first ACC Championship. A year later, the Tigers went 10-2 and beat No. 9 LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Dabo’s first BCS bowl win came during the 2013 season with a win over Ohio State.
January 10th, 2016
After initially being criticized for his experience, Dabo Swinney and his Clemson Tigers are undefeated, another ACC title under their belt and a win against Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff. Now, they have an opportunity to win their first championship since 1981. However, there’s one small problem, they face the juggernaut, Nick Saban and his Alabama Crimson Tide. After a back-and-forth game, Clemson fell victim to Saban’s dynasty with a 45-40 loss.
November 12th, 2016
Once again, the campus in South Carolina is absolutely buzzing. Wins at Auburn, at Florida State, and home against Louisville have the Tigers back in the top five with hopes of reappearing in the playoff. Yet, a pesky Pittsburgh team has other ideas. The Panthers’ offense exploded, pouring 43 on the Tigers and going on to win the game 43-42. After the game, Pittsburgh running back, James Conner, said, “We’ll remember this one forever.” Deshaun Watson remembered and led the Tigers to average nearly 40 points over their next four games.
January 9th, 2017
To this point, Clemson has survived games against fourth-ranked opponents and just smacked Ohio State 31-0. Now with, back-to-back championship appearances, Dabo Swinney has definitively proved his doubters wrong. Yet, the word “satisfaction” is thrown out from his dictionary. He wants his first championship, and what better way to get it than by way of a rematch with Alabama.
The game resembles the one from a year ago, a lot of offense and Bama with a slight edge throughout. At the end of the 3rd quarter, it looked like another title for Nick Saban as the Tide held a 24-14 lead. Then, with just over four minutes to go, Wayne Gallman punches it in from a yard out and Clemson takes their first lead, 28-24. Lane Kiffin’s offense was quick to respond and regained the lead just two minutes later after a 30-yard run by Jalen Hurts. With just a second left, the moment we all remember, a simple pick play to Hunter Renfrow. Dabo Swinney earns his first national title.
December 3rd, 2017
Fresh off back-to-back dominating performances against ranked opponents, the Tigers are announced as the number one seed in the College Football Playoff. It isn’t perfect though; they have one blemish at Syracuse.
That was a Friday night game, in a dome, which featured starting quarterback Kelly Bryant leave early and a last minute score by the Orange. Other than the blemish, Clemson has outplayed and Dabo has out-coached, every opponent this season. That’s quite the feat considering their strength-of-schedule is ranked fifth in the country.
Yes, I understand that if Clemson gets knocked out by Alabama, “dynasty” may not be the right word. Though, let’s keep in mind, 10 years ago, Clemson was considered overhyped, Dabo criticized for lack of experience and South Carolina dominated the in-state rivalry. If Clemson wins yet again, it will be three straight championship appearances, and back-to-back trophies. The purpose of the playoff was to allow for second chances, yet Clemson is establishing their dominance.
Dabo is just 48 years old, he could coach for another 20 years and no one would bat an eye. If he was inexperienced just 10 years ago now, what is he now? My point is, this could just be the beginning and if so, Dabo Swinney is on the verge of the next great college football dynasty.