Miss Part I? //
Get up to speed: Read the first half of our exclusive Q&A with the Clemson Tigers’ head football coach, Dabo Swinney.
How do you define leadership?
For me it’s about getting people to buy in for a common purpose, or getting people to achieve — motivating and inspiring people to work for a common goal and to work to be the best that they can be.
When was “All In” developed as your organizational mantra?
October 13, 2008. I mean literally that day. It really was an unintended consequence if you will, but I met with the team for the first time that afternoon at 4 o’clock. I will never forget it, because Coach Bowden came in and talked to the team, and then Terry Don let me come in, and I didn’t want anybody in the room. So it was just me and the team, and basically, I told the team what Terry Don Phillips told me.
I said, “Guys, here is the situation. None of us asked for this. But here is what Terry Don Phillips told me, and so here’s what I am going to say to y’all, because he told me for the next six weeks he wants me to be the head coach. I don’t want you to be the interim head coach, and whatever you think you need to do to fix us, then you do that, and I’m going to support you.” So that was my message to the team.
So I said, “Listen guys, here is the deal: For the next six weeks we’re going to do things differently. I know I don’t have much of a chance to get this job, but I have A chance.” And so I said, “I’m all in,” and that was my message to the team.
I said, “We’re going to practice tonight at six o’clock. You don’t owe me anything. You don’t owe Clemson anything. If you don’t want to be a part of it, no problem. Go turn your stuff in, and the when the season’s over, hey — you can move on, or whoever the new coach is, you can stay on with them, or whatever you want to do. But for the next six weeks, here’s how were going to do things.” And I kind of laid some things out and I said, “I’m all in, and if you’re going to be all in with me, because that’s what its going to take for this to work — for us to turn this season around — then show up to practice at six tonight. Otherwise, no hard feelings.”
They all showed up — James Davis, all those guys — they all showed up that night, and it was an emotional night.
[ Photos by Emily Price ]
And so when the practice was over, I just — going from one minute to the next minute — when practice was over, Tim Bourret [Clemson’s assistant AD/sports information director] came in and said, “OK, now you have to go talk to the media.” And I’m thinking I’m meeting with two people or something, and I walk in, and the whole room was full of media. And someone asked me what I said to the team, and I told them. I said, “Hey look, I know I don’t have much of a chance, but I got a chance, and I’m all in. For the next six weeks, I’m all in — everything I’ve got.”
So that’s where it started. The fan base kind of took that and ran with it.
Are leadership qualities related to talent or skill?
Two examples on our team right now: Robert Smith and Grady Jarrett — we weren’t going to recruit either one of those guys. Neither one of them were highly recruited out of high school. But the more I watched them when they came to our camp… Robert was a quarterback, and you could just watch the film and see what a leader he was; how he inspired his teammates. And then you look at what they did academically, and their commitment there off the field. And how they live — how they took care of their bodies.
Just their relentlessness that they played with… I was like, “You know what? I want these guys on our team.”
When you go out and you evaluate these guys, you talk to other people and try to find out as much as you can about them. You look at their academic transcript: Are they guys who show up to class? Are they cutting classes? Are they missing a lot of school? That says a lot. Are they guys that are about the little things? Because the little things lead to big things. Are they guys that are in that weight room, or are they cutting corners? You talk to some of their teammates.
I’m always trying to evaluate a guy not just from a talent standpoint — but character and leadership qualities. Those are huge things for us in this program. And part of our job will always be to teach, and correct, and develop character and leadership. That’s always part of our job.
[ Dabo sometimes has to sit at a desk like the rest of us. | Photo by Emily Price ]
But I tell you what: The more you can do on the front end in the recruiting process, the better it is when you get them here from a leadership standpoint. A guy like Travis Blanks: What a great leader he is! He was a leader when he got here as a freshman, and we saw that in the recruiting process.
So just decision-making that they’ve made — and you’re dealing with young people, so they’re never going to be perfect. And when we seen some issues, and we make the decision like, “OK, we think we can help this guy” — then we have to make sure that we have all the resources in place, and we are all doing our job to hold them accountable, teach them, and develop them as men. To teach them those leadership qualities that they need; to correct some of those character things that maybe we recognize aren’t quite what they need to be.
So we’re not going to just say: “We’re not going to take this guy, because he doesn’t seem to be a great leader.” But if he’s not, then, “Why? How can we help him?” Those are the things we look at.
How does your leadership capability transcend the football program to influence general university organizational culture and identity — or does it in your view?
Well, I mean, it just comes with the territory. I think that it’s something I try to take great pride in and understand that, first of all, I’m very fortunate to be in the position that I’m in, and I take pride in how I represent our brand. The brand is much bigger than any coach or any player or any athletic program.
Ultimately it’s about Clemson University, and making sure we do things in our football program that build our brand in a positive way — reflect things in a positive way. We’re never going to be perfect, but we have to have accountability and discipline. When we have issues, deal with them; and deal with them the right way. I think that’s very important.
I understand we have a huge platform in Clemson football. It’s sometimes the front door to Clemson University for a lot of people when they look at Clemson. A lot of people think about — or identify with — Clemson because of the football program. So I understand that, and that’s a huge responsibility: That I have to make sure that we do things the right way. Because if we don’t, then it reflects negatively on the whole university because of the exposure that we get as a football program.
So it’s important that I lead with a positive energy and enthusiasm, because we’ve got plenty of negativity out there already. So that’s what I try to do. I try to be positive and try to handle the media the right way. Try to do the right things with our players — and sometimes the right things, they don’t like — but try to use that as the filters. You know — “OK, what’s best for our players? What’s best for Clemson long term?”
And we don’t take shortcuts.
[ Above photo by Dawson Powers; featured photo at top of article by Zachary Hanby | Clemson University ]