CLEMSON — When in Rome, Dabo Swinney did what the Romans do; take Italy in with a passion for life, food, history, the arts.
And without talking much about college football.
Which might give Clemson one more little edge as the Tigers go into the 2019 season as defending national champs.
“Amazing,” Swinney said Tuesday of his 11-day European vacation last month. “I mean it was just a life-changing experience for me. I’ve never been out of the country. I’ve been to the Bahamas. I did get to go to Toronto. That’s kind of attached to America, right?”
Clemson football with two national titles in the last three seasons is on a roll. Or, as athletic director Dan Radakovich said Tuesday while channeling Carly Simon, “These are the good old days.”
Still, few major college coaches can find the time to squeeze an international trip into a ridiculously crowded calendar. Most are glad to do what Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables and family just did, enjoy a Rocky Mountain National Park vacation.
But Swinney, 49, seems hooked, buoyed by his experiences in France and Italy and eager to share. A stamped passport might add to an unusually well-rounded resume that includes an MBA and commercial real estate sales experience.
Added perspective is good for any CEO, even those at the top.
Kathleen Swinney gets credit for this idea. Dabo’s energetic wife began aiming for such a grand adventure a few years ago, timing the trip to coincide with the couple’s 25 anniversary.
She made sure the passenger list included the three Swinney boys — Will and Drew, Clemson football players, and Clay, a Daniel High School student. And Dabo’s mother and step-dad and Kathleen’s parents. Her father, a geography professor, offered expertise.
“It’s just phenomenal to see Rome,” Swinney said at Clemson’s annual Media Day. “To see Florence.”
A year ago, he would have been talking about a recruiting trip to Rome, Ga., and a Prowl and Growl speaking at the Florence Civic Center.
This time, the itinerary included Portofino. Also the French Riviera, St. Tropez and Cannes.
“Euro Dabo” could be a great reality series, starting with the Italian job.
“I mean, they have chairs older than America there,” Swinney said.
And to think, before the trans-Atlantic flight, Swinney thought Charleston was old.
Of course, the nation’s most famous sports facility got major attention.
“Just to see how things were built and crafted all these years ago,” Swinney said. “To go to the Colesseum, which was built in year 80.”
By contrast, Clemson’s Death Valley opened as Memorial Stadium in 1942, or almost 2,000 football seasons later.
“It’s fascinating to me to see how smart people had to be, architecturally,” Swinney said. “And the engineering. They didn’t have CAD (computer-aided design) machines and computers. How about power? They didn’t have that.”
Roman Empire and Clemson
Heisman Trophy odds for Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne rarely came up in discussions at other tables at Italian restaurants.
But, yes, Swinney was recognized a few times.
He was asked to sign some autographs, though nothing like a trip to the Wal-Mart in Anderson.
Of course, there were the typical touristy moments. Among the Swinney’s many photos is the obligatory shot of Dabo holding up the leaning tower of Pisa.
Perhaps most fascinating, Swinney said, was the contrast of cultures within Italy.
“It’s almost like South Carolina and Georgia (being) different countries (with) different languages,” he said.
What a country.
What a positive impact on Clemson in the summer of 2019.
After the Swinneys established a beachhead, Brad Brownell’s Clemson basketball team went to Italy and won the World University Games, culminating with a gold medal victory over Ukraine on July 11.
Alas, Swinney knows the once dominant Roman Empire eventually crumbled. As will Clemson’s football stranglehold on the ACC, someday.
But probably not before the Swinney family gets many more summer opportunities to tour the non-college football world.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff