Last spring, Clemson's head coach was sitting next to Stanford's David Shaw in an airport when Shaw pulled out his IPad and started watching spring practice film.
"I'm going, what the heck?" Swinney said. "We're missing the boat here."
Months later, Swinney and Clemson are on that boat in a big way. Shortly after preseason practice began, Clemson handed out IPads to every player on the roster. It's a major innovation that Swinney believes is a game-changer for how his team learns, reviews and game-plans.
"It's fascinating the advantages we have in technology now," he said. "If you're not keeping up with it, you're losing your edge or falling behind. That's why we always have to ask ourselves, what's next? How can we get better and maybe it's something like that from a development standpoint. There's always some way to get better."
Since he took over as full-time head coach in late 2008, Swinney has consistently pushed for more funding, staffing, facilities and innovations for Clemson's program, and the IPad program is only the latest move to stay ahead of the curve.
Players can watch practice film, game footage and "cut-ups" – footage specifically designed for their study – at any time, day or night.
"It's great," backup quarterback Cole Stoudt said Wednesday afternoon, just after Clemson's situational stadium scrimmage had wrapped up.
"This practice, this scrimmage we had, will be on in about 30 minutes. We can be eating lunch (in the WestZone) and just pop it on and start watching."
Stoudt said it eliminates any excuse for not watching film, because players can do it anywhere – on the road, at home, on a plane, or sitting in a team meeting room.
Sophomore defensive tackle Carlos Watkins agrees.
"It makes it a whole lot easier on you," he said. "We've got our plays on it now, you can watch film at home. That helps you out. It's like a cheat. You don't have to come (to the stadium). You can watch plays and watch film at home. It's actually helped us a lot. When I watch film at home, I can focus on the things I need to work on."
Such technology is truly effective, Watkins said.
"I can tell a difference, because I'm improving on the things I need to work on just by watching film at home. It's a really good thing to have."
And don't worry – Clemson's coaches ultimately control the technology in case anyone goes "rogue" with the playbook.
"It's all password protected and we control it," Swinney said. "If a guy wants to jump the train and head out of town on us, we can delete everything. So it's a fascinating tool."
Swinney said the iPads were "a big expense" that Clemson's administration had to commit to. A quick check online shows a new iPad 4 costs approximately $600. If every player on the Tigers' 105-man roster – plus staffers – received one, it would cost approximately $75,000, give or take a potential bulk discount.
For his part, Swinney can't believe how far technology has come since he began as a graduate assistant at Alabama in 1993.
"We did it all," he said. "We had to do everything. Drew every card, broke down every game, we did it all. I think back to those days, they were the hardest two and a half years of my life, going to get my masters (degree) and doing that. Thinking about where technology was, it blows my mind. I know there's other people going, ‘Yeah, how about cutting that tape up?"
Now, that technology is in the palm of his – and his players' hands.
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