It hasn’t been one of the best weeks of Dabo Swinney’s tenure as Clemson’s head coach, and you can tell because he released a 14-minute video on Monday night where the first nine were spent responding to various scandals, rumors and allegations that have accumulated over the past week.
First and foremost, Swinney’s most significant response was to an allegation that started as a whisper campaign but eventually grew into a dull roar — that, in one of the most impactful weeks in our country’s recent history, one in which many coaches played prominent roles in supporting their players to create social change, Swinney had come in tardy and/or silent.
The whisper campaign began two weekends ago,when nearly every prominent head FBS head coach released a statement in response to the George Floyd killing, but Swinney did not speak out until last Monday.
In a week where a number of head coaches participated in marches with their team, Swinney’s only public appearance happened to be a vacation photo of him wearing a Football Matters t-shirt, which created a (misguided) news cycle of its own.
Most prominently, Swinney had not spoken publicly after it was confirmed that Clemson special teams coordinator Danny Pearman used the N-word during a drill with tight end D.J. Greenlee.
While he addressed that episode at length, Swinney’s larger argument was that actions speak louder than words, and his 31-year record in college football and his 11 and a half season run as Clemson’s head coach speaks well enough on its own.
“I always have believed that actions are a lot louder than words, and I love our team for the actions that they have already taken with a great town hall meeting and lots of communication in our position meetings,” Swinney said. “We had a wonderful senior meeting last week with just great discussion and it was just awesome to see and hear our young men speak, and just wonderful brotherly love. We’ve got a team meeting coming up and many other things, so I’m proud of the actions that our guys have already taken.”
“My calling is to coach, to teach, to inspire, to motivate, and to lead with love,” Swinney said later. “I’m going to continue to do that, and I hope that my life has been my action. I’m not a politician, I’m not an elected official — thank goodness. But I do know that I am able to play a part in helping to create generational change for many young black men that the good Lord has entrusted me with.”
On the Perman incident, Swinney said this (transcript via Matt Fortuna):
He also responded specifically to the Football Matters incident.
“Any insinuation that I was trying to mock the Black Lives Matter movement is just an attack on my character. I wholeheartedly support Black Lives Matter. In fact, I don’t quite think that’s adequate enough. I think black lives significantly and equally matter,” he said. “In the eyes of God, we are all first team, all 5-stars. We’ve all got an eternal contract.”
Clemson’s story under Swinney has become one of the most remarkable in recent college football history — a program that built itself from mediocre to monster, from pedestrian to powerhouse and done so largely without incident or scandal. That rise coincided with the rags-to-riches story of its relentlessly positive, unfailingly optimistic head coach, but the events of the past week found Swinney in an unprecedented position — on the defensive.