The Clemson football program has had some truly remarkable head coaches in its existence. The man behind the Heisman Trophy, John Heisman, spent four years of his early career coaching the Clemson Tigers in which they won 3 conference championships. College Football Hall of Famer Frank Howard coached multiple Clemson sports and was the head football coach for 30 years. He contributed greatly to the athletic department as a whole, so the current football field in Memorial Stadium was named after him. Danny Ford helped to lead Clemson to their first National Championship in 1981, and totaled a 6-2 Bowl record in his 12 seasons as head coach.
Current head coach Dabo Swinney came to Clemson in 2003 where he became the recruiting coordinator and coached the wide receivers under Tommy Bowden. Prior to that, Swinney had been a walk-on wide receiver at the University of Alabama, where the team won the 1992 National Championship. He was a recipient of the Academic All-SEC Award twice and a SEC Scholar Athlete Honor Roll Member. Swinney continued school to get his M.B.A, and then spent a few years coaching Alabama’s wide receivers and tight ends before he landed a spot coaching the Tigers.
At Clemson, Swinney quickly proved himself to be an excellent recruiter, earning a spot in Rival’s 2007 list of top 25 recruiters. He also had 5 top 20 ESPN recruiting classes in a row, with the last 2 being in the top 10. In that time, he landed commits from the iconic Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins who would help lead the team to where it is now. Partly because of his early recruiting successes, Swinney was promoted to interim head coach when Bowden resigned early in the 2008 season. Clemson was on a losing streak, but Swinney led the team to beat Boston College, rival South Carolina, and gain bowl eligibility. He was officially named the 27th head coach later that year.
In Swinney’s first full season, the Tigers went 9-5 and won the Atlantic Division title of the ACC, won the Music City Bowl, and finished in the top 25. Since 2011, Swinney has led the team to win over 10 games each season, gone to two Orange Bowls, won the ACC championship, won the Chick-fil-A Bowl against LSU, and won Clemson’s first BCS Bowl. In 2012, the team had the most wins in a season since they won the national championship, and they continued the high level of success into 2013 with another 11-win season.
In Swinney’s years of coaching at Clemson, 36 players have been contracted by NFL teams, and 5 of those players were drafted just this year. One statistic mentioned that in Swinney’s time at Clemson, there has been at least 4 players drafted each year. That adds Clemson to the elite list of Alabama, LSU, and Oklahoma, which are the only other schools that can say the same. Swinney has gotten some incredibly talented players to commit to the Tigers, and has helped them develop their skills to ultimately land them in the NFL.
Under Swinney, Clemson has been attracting some terrific players. In fact, the 2015 recruiting class is the second best in the nation according to ESPN, and some people believe that Clemson is building a team that could win another national championship.
Swinney has not only set the standard for recruiting and cultivating elite players, he also focuses on maturing the players into respectable student athletes with good character. He makes it a point to ensure that his players maintain the level of academic performance that is expected of them, and also to use their fame within the community to give back to those less fortunate.
Swinney’s emphasis on having well-rounded athletes shows as the Clemson football program has been nationally ranked in the top 10 percent for Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores for the last four years. In those four years, senior football players had a 93.1% graduation rate as well. These statistics show Clemson to be ranked in the same caliber as other academic-oriented programs like Duke, Northwestern, and Stanford. However, Clemson is the only team to have been ranked in the top 25 for on field performance and in the top 10% of APR scores for the last 3 seasons.
In 2011, Swinney was named the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year. The award goes to a head coach who pushes his team to do well in all aspects of life, including their performance on the field, in school, and in their community. The award was established in 1976, and Swinney is the first Clemson coach to receive that honor.
Swinney is more than just a talented player developer and recruiter; he is a developer of character and good men. He runs his program with the highest standards for what his players do on and off the field, and helps lead them to have successful lives. Swinney has done a number of things to rebuild the Clemson football program and further establish the famous “Clemson Family” atmosphere. One of the first things he did as head coach was introduce the Tiger Walk tradition, which allows fans to feel more connected to the players and coaches as they walk by Memorial Stadium prior to every home game.
With the recent amount of success that the team has had with recruiting, wins per season, and academic performance, Clemson has truly arrived at Swinney’s goal of building an elite program. Clemson has something special in their head coach, and it is no doubt that the Tigers will continue to do great things under the directions of an outstanding leader.