Clemson began playing football in 1896. Twenty-four head coaches combined for seven years with 10 or more wins in the program's first 115 seasons. The 25th coach, Dabo Swinney, has won at least 10 games seven times in the last seven years.
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Clemson was an average program — at best — for those first 115 seasons. They had a few periods of sustained success, including 73 wins and national championship between 1977-83 and four straight 10-win seasons between 1987-90, but they mostly labored through five-, six- and seven-win campaigns that amounted to a 59-percent overall winning clip through the 2008 season.
Then Swinney took over.
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The then-39-year-old first-time head coach had been a little-known receivers coach on Tommy Bowden's staff the previous six seasons and was interim head coach during the second half of the 2008 season after Bowden was fired. He was not a popular hire but hit expectations in year one with a 9-4 mark and narrow loss to Nebraska in the 2009 Gator Bowl.
Then things got bad — like "Fire Dabo!" bad. The Tigers went 6-7 in 2010, their first sub-.500 campaign since 1998, and university trustees wanted him gone. Then-athletics director Terry Don Phillips refused to fire Swinney.
"I was lucky to have a great president," he said of Jim Barker. "He was under pressure — from the trustees all the way up — to fire Dabo in 2010. There would have been a lot of presidents to acquiesce to public sentiment."
Barker and Phillips' decision tor remain course paid off big time. Swinney transformed a middling program in rural southwestern South Carolina into a powerhouse. Eight years after the pair refused to fire him, Swinney has raised the program's all-time winning clip nearly two full points in the last seven seasons (.591 to .609), doubled their 10-win seasons (seven to 14), twice set the program record for single-season win totals (14 each in 2015 and 2016) and won their first national championship since 1981 (2016).
Bright lights and skyrocketing expectations, among other things, make it easy to forget Clemson's standing in college football for most of the last century. Enjoy the excitement of another title run but we cannot forget how Swinney transformed the Tigers into one of college football's premier programs.