PINEHURST, N.C. — Seven questions were posed to Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney during his televised press conference in the main ballroom at Pinehurst Resort.
His longest answer was reserved for the man who had to lose his job in order for Swinney to emerge as one of the top young coaches in the country.
“I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for Tommy Bowden,” Swinney said. “He’s been incredibly supportive.”
Bowden was dismissed six games into the 2008 season, which began with a top-10 ranking and ended with Swinney’s promotion from interim to full-time head man. Bowden, who now works as a color commentator for the ACC Network and Fox Sports South, is a regular at the ACC Football Kickoff each summer, commonly sharing a table with Swinney during the annual banquet.
Swinney told the tale about the day Bowden was ushered out at Clemson. It was on that day that Bowden asked then-athletic director Terry Don Phillips to give Swinney a chance at the temporary job. The two men’s relationship goes back to when Swinney was a walk-on wide receiver in college.
“He was my first position coach at Alabama. A lot of people don’t know that,” Swinney said. “Then right after my redshirt freshman year he left for Kentucky. But we always kind of maintained a relationship.”
Bowden was later an Auburn assistant, coaching against Swinney when he was a player and a graduate assistant coach for Alabama. Then in 2003, Bowden needed a wide receivers coach on his Clemson staff.
“Had it not been for that relationship, just that seed that was planted years ago when I was just a young player, I probably wouldn’t have had that opportunity,” Swinney said. “So (I’m) very fortunate that he gave me a chance to come to Clemson. I’m very much indebted to Tommy Bowden. He’s as good as it gets as far as a person.”
What favors Clemson on paper, and likely contributed to the team’s nod as preseason title favorite, is the list of teams coming to Memorial Stadium in 2015.
Notre Dame and Georgia Tech visit in October, and the Florida State showdown looms Nov. 7.
The Tigers are 26-2 in Death Valley over the past four years.
“When the schedule came out, it became special in that regard because you got Notre Dame coming for the first time since 1977,” Swinney said. “It’s a great home venue. Our fan base will be excited about it, but they’re much more excited when we play well.”
Speaking of Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish opened the 2012 season vs. Navy in Dublin, Ireland. Penn State-UCF followed in 2014, and Boston College and Georgia Tech will face off in Ireland to open 2016.
Would Swinney ever be interested in crossing the ocean for a game?
“Shoot, yeah. I talk to (Clemson basketball coach) Brad Brownell about that all the time,” Swinney said. “He gets to go Acapulco, to Hawaii to Turks and Caicos and all them great places. I get trips to You-Name-It, USA.”
Swinney caught himself before specifically naming a rival ACC town.
For the first time in five years, Swinney could face the inevitable South Carolina questions from the winning perspective.
At this point, the only hubbub was regarding a reporter’s question on Swinney’s approach, publicly, to playing the Gamecocks each fall. Last summer’s headlines involved the coaching staff’s decision to post motivational photos from previous losses along with “0-5” signs in team rooms around the Tigers’ football building, counting down the days until the rivalry game.
“We’ve always put a huge emphasis on South Carolina,” Swinney said. “The only thing that changed there was a clock put in the meeting room by the coaches. It was just a reminder that hey, that game is out there. We didn’t prepare any differently.”