Mutual respect: Urban Meyer opened up on personal journey at private dinner with Dabo Swinney
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Separated by an 18-mile commute on Interstate 95, an hour and a half apart, Dabo Swinney's and Urban Meyer's post-practice interview sessions were clearly a contrast to one another.
Swinney, the chatterbox, was in true form with a dozen or so reporters waiting to check on Clemson's first official practice Monday. Swinney greeted them with a smile, and a tongue-in-cheek question on whether the media were staying out of trouble in south Florida.
Meyer, the businessman, took his time making his way to a designated mark in front of 40 reporters, anxiously waiting to hear about the status of some defensive players for Friday's Orange Bowl. Most of Meyer's answers were under his breath and to the point, limited to a precious few words.
There's no right or wrong way for head coaches to go about their business. Both Swinney and Meyer are considered winners, even if Meyer's much further along in his career with two championship rings to show for it.
They're their own men, who consider each other a friend.
Swinney has constantly voiced his admiration for Meyer's accomplishments, and Meyer has spoken favorably of Swinney and their relationship as well.
"Our families are very good friends, and we do that Nike trip together every year," Meyer said. "I think he's one of the top coaches in the country. Lot of respect for him."
They've gotten to know each other mostly through those Nike coaching camps around the country each February.
"I got some good stories on him. If I ever need 'em, I got 'em," Swinney said, again with that boyish laugh. "No, but it's always good when the guy on the other side, you got a decent relationship with him and it's not awkward or uncomfortable or anything like that."
Going back a few weeks, when Swinney had more time after a Clemson practice to reflect on the Ohio State matchup, he spoke of a private dinner with Meyer on Dec. 11 at the Hard Rock Cafe Miami, when both head coaches were in town for an Orange Bowl function.
It was an eye-opening experience for Swinney, 44. He let Meyer, 49, speak openly about his transition three years ago, when he abruptly resigned from Florida for family and health reasons.
"Just like everybody else, I thought, wow, boy, that's a big job, and that's a big decision to see a guy step away," Swinney said. "But he's very candid."
Meyer and Swinney each have three children. Two of Meyer's daughters play college volleyball; Swinney's three boys are approaching their high school years.
"It's one of the things I try to be mindful of," Swinney said, "and I'm as guilty as anybody in how I try to keep a balance and not let the job consume you as a human being, because that's what happens sometimes.
"In fact, we talked about that (at dinner.) He said, I was crazy. It about killed him, for him to be at that point and have to step back."
Meyer took a year away from coaching in 2011, before taking over Ohio State just two hours away from his native Toledo. Meyer shared with Swinney some advice about how he goes about managing the all-consuming grind of college football head coaching.
"Just balance and priorities, keeping things in the proper perspective," Swinney said. "He had some good advice for me as I'm trying to keep my career going here and maybe avoid some of the pitfalls."
One way Meyer and Swinney were a tad intertwined years ago was after the 2000 season, when Meyer got his first head coaching gig at Bowling Green, creating an opening after five years as Notre Dame wide receivers coach.
"I was just leaving Alabama, and I tried to get his job at Notre Dame," said Swinney, a former receivers coach himself at Alabama and Clemson. "Didn't get it. Glad I didn't get it, because they all got fired the next year, so I'd have been one-and-done."
Shortly after landing at Clemson in 2003 following his own two-year coaching hiatus, Swinney first met Meyer on a visit to Utah, where Meyer had taken his second head coaching job.
"Then when he came down to Florida, it was more adversary at that point, recruiting against him. Didn't have a lot of interaction with him," Swinney said. "But over the last three years, I've had quite a bit, and he's really changed. A lot.
"It's been good for me to see that, and it was good to hear him talk about it the other night (at dinner.)"