Named interim head coach on Oct. 13, 2008, Swinney had less than a week to get Clemson ready to host Georgia Tech and first-year head coach Paul Johnson.
Clemson lost that afternoon, but went on to win four out of the final five games left on the schedule. Never more than a wide receivers coach, Swinney was given the full-time job that December.
"There were so many things that needed to be done in trying to just start a process and a journey," Swinney said, earlier this week. "Five years later, we're different."
Five years ago, Terry Don Phillips was a believer. He was all in with the plan that Swinney thought would restore a once proud program to national relevance.
So far, it's worked.
Since 2009, Clemson is 42-18 with a home record of 28-4. They've won an ACC title, two Atlantic Division crowns, part of another division and two bowl games.
This Saturday, third-ranked Clemson will take on No. 5 Florida State in what some are calling the biggest game in ACC history. About five years in the making, Swinney believes there are many more like this one on the horizon.
"We were a good team in '09 but we weren't a good program," Swinney said. "We're a good program now. We're not just a good team. We're a good program. This program is set up to have a lot of success for many years."
Sustainability is the key word, and Swinney think he's got it.
"A couple of years ago, when we won the league, that was great, that was a great accomplishment," he said. "But my message was we've got to have consistent success. We've got to go and put three, four and five really good seasons together. That's why last year was so big.
"We had a consistent performance and it carried over to this year, trying to cut that margin down a little bit more, take another step. But the biggest thing is we're set up to sustain success here, because of the culture that we have, because of the things we have in place that I believe with all my heart that you've got to have, to be successful."
No matter the number players that go on to become first-round draft picks or the coordinators that move on to head coaching jobs, Swinney thinks all of the right pieces are in place for Clemson to make a run that rivals the one they went on a couple of decades ago.
"It's bigger than any player. When Tajh Boyd leaves, we'll have another great player. We have a coach leave [and] we'll have another great coach," Swinney said. "It's about the program. I really like where we are, from a program standpoint. I think we're set up to have success, consistently."
Built to last
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