CLEMSON – Dabo Swinney says he’s just as excited for his 15th birthdayth Spring training as a Clemson football coach, like he was in 2009 when he threw himself headfirst into his first.
“It never gets boring when you get a chance to go back on the field and start over and build a new team,” Swinney said.
The fun is in the construction, says Swinney, and the fun started in earnest this week.
It’s a bit like working on a big jigsaw puzzle – looking at what lies in front of you, starting with a solid foundation, calculating which pieces seem to fit perfectly, and then purposefully cobblering together to create a good masterpiece.
Or at least a semblance of it.
Swinney also seems a bit dizzy when fall training kicks off, but it’s spring – and the groundwork that signals the start of a new season – that really gets his blood pumping.
“You don’t know what’s coming,” Swinney said. “But it’s always exciting to start and see if you can pull it all together.
“That’s my favorite part — this challenge of building a new team and seeing if you can help this guy get to a different point. I love this transformation and every year you sort of figure out where the guys are and how they can take the next step.”
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In that regard, Swinney may be more of a teacher and mentor than a coach and trainer, perhaps of greater utility in a 2023 college football world increasingly influenced by NIL, the transfer portal and social media.
Swinney has had to adapt, sometimes kicking and shouting, but here he is, continuing to realize his once seemingly far-fetched goal of producing a football program that would permanently be in the mix around national honours.
There’s no question Swinney has come a long way and many players have come and gone since then – sporting director Terry Don Phillips spotted something special in the real estate agent-turned coach all those years ago.
That “something special” was the ability to connect with, relate to, and inspire players, whether they were a five-star running back or a walk-on-long snapper, and that gift has always paid off.
This week he has started nurturing his rising generation of young men and he is delighted at this opportunity.
“You’re changing — young people are growing,” Swinney said. “Who are the new people taking the next step from a transformational standpoint, a leadership standpoint? It’s a new dynamic.
“You walk onto the field and suddenly a guy who didn’t really have a voice last year is the next thing you know he has a voice. He has confidence. He has those skills now. Its basics are better. It’s fun to see.”
Yes, 15 is jumping into his head coaching career and Swinney is still having fun.
He still dances in the dressing room after every win, still sprints down the hill on Saturdays game day like he’s been shot out of a cannon.
And even with two national titles to his credit, he’s still looking for more perfection.
When building a team, there are times when everything falls into place and the finished product is something that needs to be appreciated and appreciated.
Then there are times when the puzzle doesn’t always fit perfectly and at the end of the season a few pieces are still missing.
But if you find your joy in building, both outcomes can be rewarding.