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Clemson's Five-Year Run

Clemson's Five-Year Run

Note: The following appears in the Troy gameday football program. To purchase a copy of the program while supplies last, send a check for $6 to Clemson Athletic Communications; P.O. Box 31; Clemson, SC 29633 with your return address.

In late February 2002, Dabo Swinney was working for a commercial real estate company based in Birmingham, Ala. Swinney’s job revolved around the development of shopping centers in various cities around the country. In some ways it involved recruiting…recruiting stores to become part of the new commerce center.

One of the company’s projects was based in Anderson, S.C. While this one was not his primary responsibility, Swinney was asked to come to Upstate South Carolina and lend a hand.

“It really was unusual that they asked me to get involved in a project that was not mine,” Swinney said reflecting on the trip before the start of this season. “So, I came to Anderson to help out. We stayed in Anderson, but I discovered Clemson was just 18 miles away.

“I got in the car one night and drove over to the stadium. I called my wife and said, ‘Guess where I am?’

“I remember going around the stadium until I found Howard’s Rock.”

The funny part of the story took place the next day.

“Part of the job was to tell people about the new shopping centers in each area. So I went back to Clemson and went down College Avenue, door to door at each business. I came in off the street and told them about the new shopping center that was going up in Anderson.”

Now, picture that today. The current head coach of the Tigers, the 2015 national coach-of-the-year, walking down the main street of Clemson soliciting business for a real-estate project.

My, haven’t we come a long way in 14 years. My, hasn’t Swinney come a long way in 14 years.

The next year, Tommy Bowden needed a wide receivers coach when longtime assistant coach Rick Stockstill moved on to a coordinator’s position at East Carolina. Bowden, who had coached Swinney at Alabama, called the young real-estate tycoon (he was making more money in real estate than he had made as an assistant coach at Alabama) to see if he wanted to get back into coaching.

In 2003, Swinney joined the staff, and five years later, on a remarkable day in October, was named head coach.

What a journey for Swinney, who now has the Tigers among the elite programs of college football. Bowden brought the Clemson program to consistency and had four top-25 seasons, but never got the Tigers to the ACC Championship Game.

Swinney has found the formula for another level.

“The first thing it takes is commitment and everyone being on the same page,” stated Swinney. “We have had a great commitment from our director of athletics (including Terry Don Phillips, who hired Swinney) and our president.

“It has led to a culture change. It has led to trust and respect among all involved in our program. You have to appreciate everyone’s role in the process.”

Swinney is quick to point out that the coaches and players have to buy in to what you are doing.

“You can have a bunch of good coaches, but the players have to buy in for your approach to work.

“I can’t thank enough the first group we had, the guys who were seniors in 2008 and 2009, for the way they bought in from day one. The success we have today is a result of what C.J. Spiller, Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Da’Quan Bowers and many others did on the field and in terms of leadership.”

The success of those players has helped significantly in the recruiting of current players. Clemson had 17 All-ACC players in 2015, and 11 are back in 2016.

The last five years have been among the best, if not the best, five-year runs in Tiger history. The program had a 56-12 record between 2011 and 2015, tied for the fourth-most wins in college football with Ohio State during that time period. Clemson and Alabama are the only programs in the nation to win 10+ games each of the last five years.

Clemson has been in the AP top 25 a total of 75 of the 82 polls between 2011 and 2015, tied with Oregon for the fifth-most top-25 appearances during that time period. That includes 35 appearances in the top 10.

The Tigers have many of those wins over top-flight programs as well. There are 23 programs (including Clemson) with at least 700 all-time wins, and the Tigers have a 17-4 record against those programs since 2011.

Only four programs have finished the season ranked in the top 25 of both polls each of the last five years. Those programs are Alabama, Clemson, Florida State and Oregon. But Clemson is the only school that has finished the same or higher than their preseason ranking each of those five seasons.

In fact, it is a landmark accomplishment in college football. Swinney joined Bill Snyder of Kansas State (1993-97) and John Cooper of Ohio State (1992-96) as the only head coaches to accomplish that feat five years in a row.

Swinney has done all this while keeping the Tigers’ nose to the grindstone when it comes to academics. Each of the last six years, the program has been in the top-10 percent of all FBS schools when it comes to APR scores. Clemson is also the only program to finish in the top 25 of both polls and top-10 percent of the APR in each of those years.