Being Dabo Swinney: Man, Myth, Championship Head Coach

It’s said, here in the south, if each university is a house, then the front porch is it’s football program.

At Clemson, there on that big, expansive porch, is a rocking chair. In that big, comfy rocking chair, welcoming all that approach, is Dabo Swinney. One can almost hear him bellow “Hey y’all, come on up and have a seat.”

We can’t help watching this man, with his energy, passion, and vision on full display. His Dabo-isims are the stuff of legend, The ROY bus and BYOG are just two of the most often repeated. His generosity of spirit, of time, his philanthropy shows a depth to his character. Simply put, he’s not just a noisy, empty shell, he’s absolutely real.

At it’s essence, being Dabo Swinney isn’t just his on the field success. I admit, honestly, it’s impossible to ignore that success and his rise to the heights of the head coaching ranks, it has been meteoric. However, the content of his character, who he really is down deep, is where his real value shines. His positive, upbeat exuberance is infectious but there’s no need to wear a mask nor socially distance, you actually want to catch this, whatever “this” is.

When he recruits a young man into his program, there are rules. Even for the 5-star, high profile recruits and no one, not even Trevor Lawrence is exempt. He generally likes for every recruit to visit campus before receiving an offer. His purpose is two fold, I suspect. First to have a face-to-face visit with recruits and their family. To observe their family dynamic, their interest. Then, they can get to know the campus and see Clemson. Basically, it’s a time for Swinney and staff to learn one another and how and where each young man might fit into his program, leaving both the athlete and program mutually successful.

Secondly, being the consummate salesman, Swinney understands his product isn’t for everyone. While most everyone reading these next few words can hardly believe such, It’s true. Clemson is an acquired taste, it’s not for everyone but more importantly for Swinney, not everybody is for Clemson. I believe that is the beauty of the culture.

Clemson is a small college town, not a big metropolitan area. Some young people like the bright lights of the big city. The only bright lights they will see in Clemson is the spotlight of national attention focused squarely on this elite program. Make no mistake, not everyone fits.

An offer to come play at Clemson is a coveted prize among high school athletes. Unlike most, Swinney and Clemson offers relatively few scholarships comparatively. They’re selective and the program’s success affords them that luxury.

Most folks, even though they only see a few small glimpses of “Dabo being Dabo,” marvel at this man’s life. It’s efficiency, his communication skills and he’s so refreshingly transparent, an open book. However, we’ve also seen if he’s not pleased by someone or something, he strikes quickly like a cobra, nipping it in the bud and then moves on, not to dwell too long on the negative. His time each day is so precious, he can not afford to waste even a second looking back. Like most true leaders, his eyes aren’t focused on things past, but rather in the present, and always focused towards tomorrow.

Those of us on the outside, can only imagine what it’s like to be in DaboWorld. That place, the Reeves Football Operations Center, part real, part fantasy, but all business, is a place created by the dreams, the ideas of one man.

While many are contributors there’s only one creator, only one visionary. From its replica “hill and Howard’s Rock,” the slide, it’s arcade, bowing alley and putt-putt course, all to the untrained eye looks like a wonderland filled with fun.

Then, to see its Paw Journey program, it’s world-class nutrition, strength and conditioning facilities, it’s cutting edge recovery and restorative medical facilities. All for the benefit of and care for the student-athletes, his boys, the reason for everything. It’s impressive.

The indoor football center, the Jervey Meadows practice fields where young athletes become warriors. Those green, manicured grounds where championships are born in the heat of summer. It’s all there, all for them.

Yes, it is impossible to understand what the life of Dabo Swinney actually entails but one thing is certain. Everything he, his coaches and staff does is for those young men he invited to share in his vision. While few outside this program understand it’s complexity and at the same time, it’s simplicity of purpose, few can argue with it’s obvious success. While not perfect, it stands as a shining example of what can be achieved by daring to dream and believe enough to confidently invite others along for the journey.

On being Dabo Swinney, he actually says it bests, “It takes a lot to be Dabo Swinney and not everyone can live this lifestyle but boy, is it fun.” I bet it is fun but if not, he’ll work to make it so. Who’d doubt him. Like a lot of things, he is pretty exceptional at fun.

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