Note: The following appears in the Louisville football gameday program.
When you do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”
That quote from George Washington Carver represents one of the basic tenets of the Clemson football culture under Dabo Swinney. It is a quote that he has used to make an important point to his team since he became Clemson’s full-time head coach in 2009.
However, it was not until the summer of 2022 that he discovered Carver’s connection to Clemson.
“I make a presentation to the staff each year during Dabo’s All In (preseason) meetings and I decided to do a little research on George Washington Carver,” said Chief of Staff Woody McCorvey.
“When I was searching his name on the internet, I discovered a video on his life. During the video, there was a mention about a speech he made at Clemson in 1923. The script said he was the first African American to speak to the Clemson cadets.”
Swinney was blown away by that fact during the presentation, because it gave even a stronger bond between Carver, Clemson, Swinney and his football program.
Carver was a nationally renowned agricultural scientist of the era. He was the first African-American graduate of Iowa State and its first African-American professor. He went on to a 47-year career as a professor at Tuskegee Institute.
Among Carver’s circle of friends were United States Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
He gave his speech in the chapel of Old Main on Nov. 20, 1923, 46 years to the day before Swinney was born. Over 1,000 Clemson students attended the talk about agriculture.
Swinney uses many motivational phrases and stories when addressing his team, but the Carver quote is the most used by him.
“At the last practice in Tampa before the 2016 (season) national title game, I told the team that if we did the common things (paid attention to detail), we would command the attention of the world. I cited George Washington Carver’s quote as one of the last things I said to the team that last practice.”
The Tigers commanded the attention of the college football world with a thrilling 35-31 victory over defending national champion and previously undefeated Alabama.
As recently as the Wednesday practice before this year’s top-10 battle with NC State, Swinney again referred to the quote, as he stressed the importance of paying attention to common tasks if they were to defeat the Wolfpack.
The Tigers paid attention to every detail that night in a 30-20 victory in front of a nationally televised audience.
Today, you can see the quote prominently displayed in the dining facility of the Allen N. Reeves Football Complex and Poe Indoor Football Practice Facility. The former opened in 2017 and latter opened in 2012.
“I was aware of the quote a long time ago and thought it was a great way to set the tone for one of the most important tenets of our program.
“In 2012, we had a meeting with Robert Ricketts and we were discussing graphics and displays for the indoor practice facility. He said we couldn’t put up a lot of things. He suggested I pick one quote that represented the culture of the program.
When he told Ricketts the quote he chose, he thought it was a great idea.
“I think it was a great selection,” said Ricketts, who retired in May 2013 just a few months after the indoor practice facility opened. “That quote has a lasting meaning for everyone in the program.”
“When we won the national championship in the 2016 season, I thought it was pretty amazing that a prominent and nationally respected African American from nearly 100 years ago had breathed life into our players,” added Swinney. “Now, when I hear he was on our campus and the first African American to give a speech to the Clemson cadets, it has even more meaning.”