Swinney talks Steele, new coordinator

CLEMSON - Head coach Dabo Swinney talks about the departure of Kevin Steele, the search for a new defensive coordinator and more.

Opening statement…
Swinney: Coach Steele is a friend. Coach Steele has done a tremendous job here over the last three years. Really has made an incredible impact on myself, also on our student athletes, on and off the field. He's a veteran coach. He's been a good example to me as a father, a good example to me as a husband. I'm just really thankful that I had to opportunity to have three years with him. We sat down, it's just part of the business where you evaluate where you are, make decision on what's the best thing for everybody involved. As we talked, those were kind of the thoughts that both of us agreed change was the best thing, for me him, the staff, as far as where we were at the time. That's the decision that was made.

He's going to pursue other opportunities, because he does have other opportunities. I got a call the morning after the bowl game. It just kind of allows him to pursue some of those things. It allows us to try and continue to be the best that we can be. That's the bottom line. The main thing that I want to state is how thankful we are for the contribution that he made -- really, really tremendous -- forever grateful for that. We wish him the best.

"The Orange Bowl, really not going to spend a lot of time talking about that, other than to say it was a really poor performance. As I step back from it, you can't let the disappointment of a terrible night make us lose sight of the really special things we accomplished this season. It's special here."

The Orange Bowl, really not going to spend a lot of time talking about that, other than to say it was a really poor performance. As I step back from it, you can't let the disappointment of a terrible night make us lose sight of the really special things we accomplished this season. It's special here. We did some great things with a roster that had 42 freshmen on it. I'm proud of our football team -- had an opportunity to meet with them last night. We just made great progress. We've had three full years now of putting this thing together. This is the best season that Clemson's had in 20 years.

Spent some time with coach [Ken] Hatfield the other night in San Antonio...it's hard for him to believe that it's been 20 years. He's lived a lifetime since that time, it just kind of put things in perspective for me. This team is special. This team has really done something that won't be forgotten for a long time.

It wasn't perfect. We didn't accomplish all of our goals. There are things we have to improve upon. The bottom line is, this team made a ton of progress. There was nobody other than the guys in this room that believed Clemson would be standing here with an ACC Championship, have 10 wins, get to the Orange Bowl, set the school record for wins against ranked opponents. I think we were third in the nation in that category, a lot of things. We can't lose sight of that because of some of the disappointment that we had. We've got to stay focused on those positives.

Hopefully, this season, hopefully the way we performed in the Orange Bowl, hopefully it will light a fire for our guys to really strive for bigger and better things as we move forward. I talk to them all the time about our standard. Our standard is the best. That's what I expect. That's what I want. That's what I want to provide, the best. Right now, we are the best. We're the best in this league. There's not a single undefeated team in the country. There's one national champion. There's one ACC Champion. It's a 12-team league and there's one champion, and that's Clemson. It's been a long time since Clemson entered the season as the defending ACC Champion. That's where we are. We've got to do everything that we can to try to keep it that way.

We've been here three years and we're collecting some hardware. As the recruits will see this weekend, as our players saw last night, they don't just give them things away. I'm very, very proud to have two division titles in three years and have an ACC title, win 10 games, win all of our home games for the first-time in 21 years, can't lose sight that. That's where we are. It's our job to keep that trophy right here at Clemson.

We've got to take the next step. The next step is for us to try to become a consistent winner. We've got to continue to build upon the foundation that we have in place. It's a good foundation. It's been three years of brick by brick, putting it together. We have a good foundation in place. We're not there yet. We're not perfect. We've got a solid ground to stand on. We've got to continue to build upon that. We've got to continue to recruit at a high level, which we're doing and will continue to do. We've got to continue to improve as coaches and we've got to continue to develop our players with great leadership and accountability. That's what we've got to do to really take that next step and be the consistent winner that we want to be.

There's a saying, ‘A bend in the road is not the end of the road, unless you fail to make the turn.' I love that saying, because it kind of defines life. It kind of defines football. Life and football are not some just straight continue road of success. There's a lot of failures along the way. After each failure, after each season, there's opportunity to grow. That's what we've got to do. We've got to keep growing. We've got to continue to grow as coaches, grow our program, grow our players, etc. That's my focus.

I will say this. I have absolutely, no doubt, after three years, I have no doubt whatsoever that we can become the dominant team that this conference is needing. I really believe that we can be the dominant team. That's my goal. That's my vision. That's what I believe. That's what we're going to work toward every day. Every decision we make is geared toward that.

Oliver Jones is one of five early enrollees from the 2012 class already on campus.
Bottom line, Clemson football is back. We ain't going nowhere. I'm really, really excited where we are. We've got eight mid-years on their way here. We've got five that are already in school. We've got two that are coming this weekend. We've got another one that I hope to have here, hopefully he can be cleared and we can have him here next week. We should definitely have seven of the eight here by the end of the weekend. I'm really excited about those guys.

I'm excited about spring ball, getting back on the field. I enjoyed being with our team last night. They had the right frame of mind. The experience that they had this year is priceless. As I look at our roster and plan for '13, '14 and '15. We've got 11 seniors on our team. All 11 of them are players. All 11 of them are impactful people. They're all capable of being great leaders. That excites me. We don't have a lot, but we have 11, I really think, special men. They have a chance to take the reins and lead this football team. We've got 13 juniors. That counts Fajgenbaum and Catanzaro. We're going to have 61 freshmen and sophomores on this team.

Eighty percent of our roster will be freshmen and sophomores. That's exciting to me. I think that we've got the right kind of guys here. We've got to grow them up. It's going to be a blast this spring, because we've got a lot of competition, a lot of jockeying. We'll look at a lot of things, personnel-wise, to try to give us the best chance to be successful. It is fun to know that, I really believe that we've got a chance, to make a run at Clemson over the next four, five or six years that Clemson hasn't seen in a long, long time. If we'll continue to be about the right things, if we'll continue to commit to the standard of excellence, if we'll continue to grow the leadership and accountability, maintain the discipline in the program, I really think we've got a chance to put a run together that will be special.

As you sit there and begin to evaluate your roster, we're really young, but we've got some great players that are going to be fun to watch grow up. I think our future is very bright. We've got a lot of work to do and it starts now. It doesn't start in July. It starts today. Our offseason program is kicking in. Once we get done with recruiting, our coaches will get reengaged with our players.

How much did the Orange Bowl factor into your decision with Steele?
Swinney: Not a lot.

Do you anticipate any other coaches leaving your staff?
Swinney: No. I don't. I love my staff. Great group of guys. Unless somebody takes a job somewhere. I think they're all happy here. Great place to work. Great players, great resources. Certainly no changes on my part.

Was Steele given an opportunity to remain on staff in another capacity?
Swinney: No. Kevin is a very professional guy, understands the business. Here's where we are. We want to continue to move forward and these things are probably the best. That's really what it comes down to.

Did you encourage him to stay?
Swinney: We didn't really get to that. It was more just here's where we are, here's my thoughts. The discussion.

You urged him to go?
Swinney: No. We had a conversation. That's what people to do. That's everyday in business. That's a company. It's perfectly OK for two people to sit down and agree to disagree. Also, agree, you know what? We're both right, change is the best thing. For me, for you, for everybody involved. Amicably part ways and move on. That's where we are.

The change was because you felt you could find a better coach than Kevin?
Swinney: No. Change was more philosophical differences. Bottom line.

Philosophical in scheme, strategy?
Swinney: Just philosophical differences. Those are things, again, our conversation is not one I'm going to sit here and divulge to you. We both agreed that change was good. You can write what you want, interpret it how you want. It's the best thing for us, the best thing for him. He's got a great contract, which he's earned.

He's still being paid?
Swinney: Yes.

So he resigned?
Swinney: We both agreed that a change was needed. We're going to honor his contract. This allows him to pursue some opportunities that he has to look at. It's also the best thing for us. It allows us to move in another direction. That's where we are.

He didn't resign and he wasn't fired?
Swinney: That'd be correct.

He'll get his full buyout?
Swinney: We'll honor his contract…we decided that we needed to have a change. I didn't want to have to fire him. He didn't deserve to be fired. We needed to talk through some issues. At the end of that conversation, the best thing for him was to pursue these other opportunities. That's where we are. Call it what you want. We're going to honor our commitment to him and move forward.

Philosophically, what kind of defense are you looking for?
Swinney: We'll continue to be an aggressive, attacking defense. We'll continue to have that philosophy. It's got to be the right fit for the staff that's here. We may stay within staff. I don't know. All options are on the table. I've got good men here, really good football coaches, good coordinators. I want to make sure whoever comes in here, we've got the right chemistry. Those guys all have input. No decisions have been made or anything like that. I really got going yesterday.

From a philosophy standpoint, I've got the same mentality on defense as I have on offense. Let's get after people, let's attack people, multiple with our coverage.

Philosophically you don't agree, but you don't want to change philosophy. I'm not getting it.
Swinney: I can't help you there. It not as much about scheme. It's just other things. He's got his feelings on certain things. That's where we are.

Two years ago you gave him a raise to stay. Something's happened in those two years. Other than one ball game, what can you put your finger on and tell us what changed in those two years?
Swinney: I think Kevin Steele is a great coach. He's an excellent coordinator. His track record speaks for itself. He and I have some differences in opinion. As the leader of the program, that's not good, from a moving forward standpoint. That's where we are.

On the candidate search...
"It's not fun to have a job opening. There are a lot of good people out there. You've got to say no to a lot of people. You can only say yes one time."

"I can tell you this, we will hire a great football coach. A guy that's going to bring a lot to the table and is going to continue to fit the culture that we have at Clemson...I certainly have four or five names that are pretty special. We'll start there and see how it goes."

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