Swinney happy Clemson's efforts paid off
Just three weeks ago, the 39-year-old Swinney was railed as a coach in over his head following the Tigers 24-21 loss at Maryland. Now, after a 40-37 overtime win at No. 18 Miami, Swinney's head of the ACC Atlantic Division leader with a team apparently peaking at the right time.
"It's a lot of fun seeing these guys enjoying some success and winning a ballgame like that," Swinney said Sunday.
It hadn't always been fun for Swinney and the Tigers.
The critics were out in force earlier this month, Internet bloggers posting about Swinney's inexperience - he'd never been a coach or coordinator before taking Clemson's head job - and a supposed rift between he and offensive coordinator Billy Napier.
Swinney said things were fine on his staff and, with patience and practice, the Tigers would succeed. So with Clemson delivering on Swinney's don't-panic approach, did the coach have anything to tell his detractors?
"No, no, absolutely not," he said. "People are always going to have their comments and opinions. That's just part of it. Even if we were 7-0 we'd still have critics."
"As long as you know what reality is," he said. "That's all that matters."
Clemson hadn't made crucial plays in losses to ranked opponents, Georgia Tech and TCU, earlier this season, Swinney said. This time, the Togers did.
There was C.J. Spiller's electrifying 90-yard kickoff return touchdown just before the half that sent Clemson into the locker room ahead 14-10.
The Tigers defense, trailing 34-31, got the ball back in the final minutes to set up Richard Jackson's tying field goal, then held Miami to three points in overtime.
Finally, there was Kyle Parker's winning 26-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Ford that touched off a wild Tiger celebration in south Florida.
"You look look at those critical situations yesterday, when we needed the stop we got it. When we needed the kick, we got it. When we needed the catch, we got it," Swinney said.
Clemson had scored 73 points in its first three ACC contests and 78 its past two.
The victory broke Clemson's string of eight consecutive losses to ranked opponents. It also set the Tigers up as the Atlantic Division's team to beat for the ACC title game. Clemson steps out of conference against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Coastal Carolina next weekend.
The rest of the Tigers' ACC schedule is up-and-down Florida State at home, struggling North Carolina State in Raleigh, N.C., and unpredictable Virginia at Death Valley.
Clemson defensive end Ricky Sapp said while the Miami win was big for the program, "At the same time, we're not done yet. We still got a lot to do."
The good times around campus may not let up for the Tigers despite Swinney's desire to turn the page.
Swinney said several fans and students were on hand at 1 a.m. or so to greet the team when it returned to campus. Although Swinney wouldn't say, there had to be several excited fans at his church service - and not just because Spiller walked in shortly after Swinney.
"The fun is in the winning," Swinney said. "That is what you work hard for."
Clemson's players also worked hard for their own stake in a program tradition. Outside the practice field are several tombstones marking each time the Tigers defeat a ranked opponent on the road. Clemson hadn't errected one since 2006 when it won 27-20 at Florida State.
"Oh, they'll be a tombstone," Swinney said.