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When Clemson football won the 2011 ACC championship—the program’s first in 20 years—Dabo Swinney recalls 5,000 fans waiting for the Tigers outside of Memorial Stadium to greet the team.
“It was unbelievable—we couldn’t even get off the bus,” Swinney said during a press conference Friday, per the Greenville News.
The Tigers have captured seven more conference crowns since the first of Swinney’s tenure, and now those days are gone.
“Now there ain’t nobody there, ain’t no big deal,” Swinney said. “And I think that’s sad.”
Swinney lamented the loss of enthusiasm and what he believes is a lack of perspective within the fan base, after an unprecedented level of success for the Tigers program dating back to 2011. The year before the team broke through to win the conference and head to the Orange Bowl, Clemson was an also-ran, going 6–7 in Swinney’s second full season as coach. Now, a conference title and a non-playoff New Year’s Six bowl constitutes a disappointing season for the program, and Swinney doesn’t love the dearth of enthusiasm by fans for anything less than a national title.
Swinney laid out just how wild the run the program has been on, even with back-to-back seasons without a College Football Playoff appearance entering 2023.
“If I would’ve said to y’all, coming off six wins, here’s what’s fixing to happen the next 12 years: ‘I know we haven’t won 11 games in 31 years, but we’re going to do it eight times in 11 years. I know we haven’t won 10 games in 20 years, but we’re going to do it 12 years in a row.
“I know we haven’t won a national championship since 1981, but we’re going to go to six final fours and win two national championships … y’all would have looked at me like I was crazy and all the Clemson fans would’ve said, ‘Sign me up for that!’” the coach said.
“Sometimes people can lose perspective,” he added. “We’ve raised the bar here. We’ve changed the standard. We’ve elevated the expectations and I love that. But as we strive to meet and exceed those expectations every single year, we’ve got to keep the right perspective. We’ve got to have joy in the journey.”
Perspective is important, but college football remains a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. When a program raises its standard the way that the Tigers have, fans are extremely reticent to take any steps backwards.