Amid his worst season in more than a decade, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney lambasted a caller to his radio show on Monday after being asked to defend his team’s performance given his status as one of the highest-paid coaches in the country.
“You’re part of the problem,” Swinney told the caller, who introduced himself only as “Tyler in Spartanburg.” “The appreciation, the expectation is greater than the appreciation. That’s the problem. We’ve won 12 10-plus-win seasons in a row. That’s happened three times in 150 years. Clemson ain’t sniff a national championship for 35 years; we’ve won two in seven years. And there’s only two other teams that can say that: Georgia and Alabama.
“Is this a bad year? Yeah, and it’s my responsibility. Take 100 percent responsibility for it. But all this bull crap you’re thinking, all these narratives you read. Listen, man, you can have your opinion all you want, and you can apply for the job. And good luck to you.”
Monday’s tirade was the latest — and most aggressive — response from Swinney amid growing criticism of his handling of the Clemson program, which will miss the College Football Playoff for the third straight year after a 4-4 start to the season.
In a radio show appearance two weeks ago, Swinney lamented the Clemson “bandwagon” fans and suggested that a few losses might help get rid of bad fans who have lost an appreciation for winning. The Tigers then lost in overtime to Miami and, last week, by a touchdown to NC State.
Swinney went on Monday to defend his salary, noting that upon his hiring in 2009, he was among the lowest-paid coaches at a major program.
“I started as the lowest-paid coach in this business [and] I worked my ass off,” Swinney said. “I’m not going to let this smart-ass kid get on the phone and tell me how to do my job.”
Swinney is in the second season of a 10-year, $115 million contract, which puts him among the highest-paid coaches in the country. In his first season at Clemson, in 2009, he was paid $816,850. He had been hired after being an interim head coach and had no prior coordinator or head-coaching experience. He has since won two national championships.
However, the 2023 campaign is Clemson’s third straight that has failed to live up to high expectations among fans, with losses to Duke, Florida State, Miami and NC State — the team’s first four-loss ACC season since 2010 — and a difficult game against visiting Notre Dame on tap for Saturday.
Swinney’s demeanor after each defeat has grown progressively more frustrated, but he has largely refrained from undercutting his players or coaching staff, pushing back against calls for coaching changes and criticism of individual players. Instead, Swinney has largely deferred to some consistently bad luck — particularly when it comes to turnovers — in each of the team’s losses.
Fans, however, have pointed to a dearth of talent on the roster as well as some jarringly bad performances from the players. Swinney has taken criticism for the past few years over his refusal to dip into the transfer portal to add players to the roster as well as for largely building his coaching staff from former players and others with Clemson ties. He fired offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter after the 2022 season, when Clemson lost in the Orange Bowl, and hired Garrett Riley as his replacement. But Riley has largely struggled to inject much energy into the offense, and Clemson is averaging a half-point less per drive in 2023 than it did last season.
Swinney also has received criticism in recent years for his stance against players being paid. He said in 2015 that if players were paid directly, he might simply quit and coach in the pros. He has distanced himself from those comments in recent years, and Clemson has created one of the more ambitious name, image and likeness (NIL) programs in the nation.
Still, Swinney reverted to a similar approach on Monday, suggesting that if the school no longer felt he was doing a satisfactory job coaching the Tigers, he would go elsewhere.
“I work for the board of trustees, the president and the AD, and if they’re tired of me leading this program, all they got to do is let me know. I’ll go somewhere else where there is an appreciation,” Swinney said, adding that he has 15 more years left in coaching. “I don’t know if it’ll be here, but it’ll be somewhere.”