CLEMSON – Dabo Swinney’s on record as declaring how badly he wants to beat South Carolina and end Clemson’s four-game losing streak to its chief rival.
But Swinney won’t let one particular game each year, no matter the opponent, define him or his performance leading the Tigers.
“The thing for me, I want to see us play well. People don’t like it when I say that. I’m not really focused on the scoreboard,” Swinney said in his Tuesday press conference. “I’m more concerned about how we play, because I know if we play the right way, consistently, the scoreboard takes care of itself. That’s why we’ve been one of the winningest teams in the country the last three years, that mentality.”
Clemson has 31 wins since the start of 2011, tied for the sixth-most in the country with LSU and – guess who? – South Carolina. But since the start of 2009, it’s Gamecocks 4, Tigers 0 against each other.
“Don’t get so caught up in what’s on the scoreboard or worrying about some particular outcome that you’re not focused on what it takes to win and the type of preparation you have, the type of execution on each play, handling adversity within the game,” Swinney said. “As far as how people judge our season, people are going to do that regardless. We win games, people are still going to say we had a bad year because we lost one. That’s just the nature of this deal. I’m proud of our guys, it has been a great year, but we need to finish, and then we need to go and win our bowl game.”
Swinney was asked if it’s been personally “painful” to recover from each of the past four defeats to Steve Spurrier and South Carolina.
“Painful, a relative term in a football sense, yeah. But I don’t draw my joy in life from a football game,” Swinney said. “My joy in life comes from my faith and my family and whether I can look in the mirror and know I’ve done the best I can do and I live my life the way I’m called to live it. So there’s a lot of people that have real pain. There’s a perspective there you’ve got to have.
“Painful, if you feel like you let everybody down? Sure. Everybody wants to win. That’s the way it is. I’ve been a part of rivalry games forever. They’re great when you win and really disappointing when you lose, and you live with it, literally, for 365 days. But I also have a perspective that keeps me grounded and focused on the big picture.”
It’d be fairly preposterous to judge Swinney’s job security solely on the basis of Clemson’s lack of triumphs against South Carolina, especially since the Gamecocks have been right on par with the Tigers’ consistent success.
But Swinney’s stated goals for how he’s remembered someday differs from many major-conference football coaches.
“What I hope my legacy to be at Clemson, is that I did the best I could, I left this program better than I found it, and I made a difference in people’s lives. And I did it the right way,” Swinney said. “Other than that, what people want to judge me on, a game or whatever, really doesn’t bother me at all. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished here. As many things you’re proud of, we’ve had disappointments too.
“But all I can do is give credit to South Carolina too. They’ve been the better coached team, they’ve played better, there’s really no excuses. It’s not like we’ve lost to Eastaboga Community College. They’ve had a very good football team that has beaten a lot of people. They’ve been better than us.”
South Carolina hasn’t simply won the last four matchups; it’s done so by an average 17.5-point margin, and no fewer than last year’s 10-point spread in a 27-17 win at Memorial Stadium.
“That’s my job and responsibility, and my failure in that area. Wish I could go and change it, but I can’t,” Swinney said. “It’s not from a lack of effort, that’s for dang sure. The one thing you’re never going to question is my effort and our team’s effort. We’ve had good preparation, we’ve worked hard, we’ve just not gotten it done in this timeframe.
“As far as my legacy, the only thing I would want people to remember me by is what I just said. Other than that, it doesn’t matter.”
None of this is to suggest Swinney’s passive about the task at hand.
“It’s huge. You’ve gotten beat four years in a row, nobody wants it to go to five,” Swinney said. “We need to win the dang game, that’s the bottom line.”