CLEMSON, S.C. (CHRISTIAN EXAMINER) — As the Clemson Tigers take the field tonight to play head coach William "Dabo" Swinney's former Alabama Crimson Tide, the No. 1 ranked team will be led by the same man who told his parents he would one day play for the veritable team. And he did.
But Swinney has done much more. First earning a spot as a walk on, he was later hired as a full-time coach for the Crimson Tide before he became the head coach for the Clemson Tigers.
Swinney seems driven.
After a nearly flawless season this year, Swinney was the first Clemson coach to earn the title of Associated Press Coach of the Year. Four other organizations also gave him that title: Maxwell Football Club, Walter Camp Foundation, Sporting News, and Home Depot (ESPN)
"I am very honored to receive the AP National Coach of the Year award," Swinney said after winning the AP award. "Football is a great team sport and any individual honor is a result of having a great group of players and staff. I am blessed to have student-athletes and coaches that believe in what we do. This award is a reflection of their hard work and commitment."
At the same time, Swinney knows how much more there is to coaching than is winning awards. After all, he has experienced firsthand the influence a coach can have in a player's life.
In high school in Palham, Alabama, Swinney attended an event where Alabama receiver Joey Jones (currently the head coach at the University of South Alabama) spoke.
"I was fired up to hear him and thought he would talk about football," Swinney said, "but, instead, he talked about what God had done in his life. He offered us the opportunity to be saved, and the next thing I knew I was praying with Joey Jones and accepting Christ as my Lord and Savior. I went home that night and wrote in my Bible, 'February 3, 1986—I dedicated my life to the Lord today, and He will be with me forever.'"
Swinney went on to play for Alabama as a wide receiver from 1990-92. He became a graduate assistant for the Crimson Tide and then a full-time assistant coach through the 2000 season.
He took a couple of years off to go into business before joining Clemson in 2003 as an assistant coach. He was named head coach during the 2008 season.
At his first press conference, he was quick to share his faith.
"To be here as the head coach at Clemson, that doesn't just happen," he said at the time. "I hope people will really listen to me when I tell them what my secret to success is, and that is to put your eyes on the Lord in everything you do, and believe in yourself, and don't quit.
"It's really that simple. And if you do that, then you'll know true success, and you'll know true happiness. You may not be the head coach at Clemson, but that's not what defines success and happiness."
"I hope I can be the head coach (at Clemson) for a long time, but, more than anything, I hope I can make a difference in the lives of young people by how I live my life," he told the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. "Billy Graham once said that a coach has the opportunity to influence more lives in one year than most others do in a lifetime. Having the word 'coach' beside your name is an awesome responsibility."
In the years since taking over at Clemson, he has done everything he could to make sure his staff and players do indeed put their eyes on the Lord.
A 2013 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education said the coaching staff gathers for devotionals three times a week, and nearly every player shows up at a voluntary chapel service the night before each game. He also keeps a stack of Bibles in his office to hand out to players who are interested.
Since Swinney has taken over the helm, Clemson has gone on a winning streak, going back to last season — the longest active winning streak in the nation.
And tonight, as he prepares to play his home-state for the national title, for sure Swinney will be glancing upwards.