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Dabo Swinney doubles down, says critics won’t ‘steal my joy’

Dabo Swinney doubles down, says critics won’t ‘steal my joy’
  • David Hale, ESPN Staff WriterOct 31, 2023, 01:02 PM ET


    • ACC reporter.
    • Joined ESPN in 2012.
    • Graduate of the University of Delaware.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney doubled down Tuesday on his emphatic monologue from a day earlier, saying too many fans had grown unappreciative of winning and insisting he would not allow the criticism surrounding the Tigers’ 4-4 start to “steal my joy.”

“I’ve got a long way to go in this profession,” Swinney said in response to a question about the difference between fair and unfair criticism. “If they want me back here, I’m going to fight like crap to get this back to the standard.

“But I’m not going to let anything steal my joy of what I do. It doesn’t mean I’m happy, but I’ve got a lot of joy in what I do. I’m not going to let winning become a relief. I’m not going to allow that to happen. The fun should be in the winning, and if it gets to where it’s not fun anymore, hey, we’ll go from there.”

Swinney ranted Monday night against a caller to his radio show, who introduced himself only as “Tyler from Spartanburg,” about a lack of appreciation after so many years of success — a tirade he referred to as “an Old Testament answer” to an “Old Testament question.” Swinney later suggested he would continue coaching for another 15 years, even if that wasn’t at Clemson.

On Tuesday, Swinney picked up where he left off, arguing a section of the fan base had become overly critical in attacking his coaches and players.

“I’m not going to let one season, when I know exactly what the issues are, and a bunch of great kids and great coaches, I’m not going to let one season dampen that,” Swinney said. “I’m going to fight for this program, and hopefully we can get back to some appreciation around here.

“It’s frickin’ hard to win. All you’ve got to do is look around the country. What’s happened here is historic. We’re having a bad year. That’s my responsibility. Ain’t nobody happy about it. It’s on me, 100 percent. I ain’t asking nobody to be happy, but let’s not eat our own.”

Swinney emphasized that he believed the vast majority of Clemson fans remained supportive of him and the program, but enough had grown vocal about their frustrations that he felt it was impacting the program.

“It’s gotten to a point where, even if you win, people are miserable,” he said. “I said when I got here [in 2008], you’ve got to be all-in. Too many people are only half-in.”

Swinney has endured significant criticism for, among other things, his lack of use of the transfer portal to address roster weaknesses as well as hiring a coaching staff comprising almost entirely assistants with little experience outside of Clemson.

Swinney didn’t address either concern Tuesday but said he wouldn’t change who he is or how he runs his program, just because the team had lost more games than he’d like this season.

“I always do what I think is best for the player, what is best for the long term of our program, and do what’s best in the moment. Ain’t nothing going to change,” Swinney said. “Some people say I’m stubborn, but I say I’m convicted in my beliefs, and there aren’t enough people convicted in their beliefs.”

With last week’s loss to NC State, Clemson is assured of ending a 12-year streak of seasons with at least 10 wins, and the 2023 campaign marks Swinney’s worst record in conference play since 2010.

Clemson plays Notre Dame on Saturday, with games still remaining against Georgia Tech, North Carolina and rival South Carolina. The Tigers need to win at least two of those games to avoid missing a bowl for the first time in Swinney’s tenure as head coach.

Swinney argued Tuesday that the issues with his team are minor, and “if we didn’t lead the country in fumbles, we’d be 8-0.”

“No. 1, we’re last in the nation in fumbles,” Swinney said. “No. 2 is we’re last in the nation in fumbles. And No. 3, we’re last in the nation in fumbles. And I’ll give you a No. 4: Because of where we’ve had the missed plays, we’re near last in red zone scoring.

“So there you go, right there. Leave everything else the way it is, normal football stuff, but you’re not going to win football games when you turn the ball over at least twice a game.”

Clemson lost its opener to Duke 28-7 after turning the ball over three times, including two fumbles. Three weeks later, Clemson lost in double overtime to Florida State in a game where Seminoles linebacker Kalen DeLoach dislodged the ball on a sack of Cade Klubnik and returned it for a touchdown.

Against Miami two weeks ago, Clemson turned the ball over three times, including twice deep in Hurricanes territory, before losing in overtime. Last week, the Tigers fell to NC State by 7 in a game in which Wolfpack linebacker Payton Wilson returned an interception for a touchdown.

Swinney said this season represents the most adversity Clemson has endured in more than a decade, and he hopes it serves as an opportunity for his team to grow.

“It’s a season of what could’ve been,” Swinney said. “But if you’re a competitor, you want to go play your butt off and compete to win. We’ll learn a lot these next four weeks. I’m really looking forward to it actually. We’re going to learn a lot about a lot of people, see how these guys are going to fight.”

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