Note: The following appears in the NC State gameday football program
Ten years ago, Dabo Swinney became Clemson’s head coach. Well, sort of. He became the interim head coach on a tumultuous day (Oct. 13, 2008) and coached his first Clemson game five days later, a sunny Saturday afternoon against Georgia Tech and first-year head coach Paul Johnson.
The Tigers lost that contest by a score of 21-17. It was a miracle the game was that close considering the off-the-field circumstances combined with having to face Johnson’s potent option offense. That Georgia Tech squad finished the season with nine victories and a top-25 ranking.
After leading the Tigers to a 4-2 record as interim coach in the 2008 regular season, including a convincing 31-14 victory over hall of fame head coach Steve Spurrier and the rival Gamecocks, the interim tag was removed from Swinney’s title by athletic director Terry Don Phillips during a Dec. 1 press conference at Memorial Stadium.
There was much criticism of the hire locally and nationally because Swinney had not even been an offensive or defensive coordinator at his previous coaching appointments.
But Phillips had followed Swinney closely at practice, in dealing with the media, in dealing with Clemson administrators in the athletic department and across campus, in communicating with the Clemson fanbase after he received the interim title and most importantly, in working with his players.
His relationship with the players, not just the ones he coached at wide receiver, had a big impact on Phillips. He knew Swinney had personally recruited 38 of the 85 Tigers that were on scholarship when the 2008 season began.
Let’s take a look at Swinney’s first 10 years by the numbers in all areas of the program:
Clemson won the 2016 national championship, the second title for the program and first in 35 years. The season included seven wins by seven points or less, a school record and a total that represented half of Clemson’s 14 wins. The Tigers accomplished the feat against the nation’s most difficult schedule in terms of opponent winning percentage.
The Tigers have won four ACC titles (2011,15,16,17) under Swinney’s direction. Clemson had not won an ACC championship in 20 years prior to its 2011 title. If Clemson wins the ACC championship this year, this senior class will be the first in ACC history to win four league titles outright.
Five seasons in a row (2011-15), Clemson finished in the top 25 of both polls and in the top-10 percent of APR scores, the only school in the nation to do it.
Each of the last seven years, Clemson’s final ranking has been at least the same as its preseason ranking. That is an indication of a team realizing its potential. Swinney is the only coach in college football history to do that seven years in a row.
Swinney has made AP top-10 rankings commonplace. Entering today’s game with NC State, Clemson has been ranked in the top 10 for 51 consecutive polls, tied for the longest streak in the nation with Alabama. Prior to Swinney’s arrival, Clemson’s longest streak of top-10 rankings was 10.
Clemson has been ranked in the top four of the College Football Playoff for 18 consecutive listings, or every listing since the first one of 2015.
Clemson has 26 victories against top-25 teams during his tenure as head coach. That includes a 15-2 record in the last four years. Seven of those wins came against top-10 teams, including Clemson’s first win over the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation.
Clemson has 94 victories in the decade of the 2010s, already the most in a decade in school history. We still have the rest of this year and all of the 2019 season to count.
Ninety-eight percent (198 of 202) of the seniors who have played under Swinney since he became the permanent head coach in 2008 have earned their Clemson degree. All 24 seniors on the 2016 national championship team have their degrees as well.
The number of wins Swinney has versus just 30 losses, good for a 78.1 percent winning mark. When the Tigers defeated Syracuse on Sept. 29, it gave Swinney more wins at Clemson than Knute Rockne had at Notre Dame. When the Tigers won at Wake Forest on Oct. 6, it meant Swinney had a higher career winning percentage than Bear Bryant. As a graduate of Alabama, no one has more appreciation for that last fact than Swinney.