Clemson coach Dabo Swinney reveals thoughts on Alabama matchup
Posted by Clemson DieHards on Saturday, December 30, 2017
NEW ORLEANS — Dabo Swinney once lived the same dream Jeremy Pruitt did, walking on to play football at Alabama after growing up in the heart of Crimson Tide country.
On Saturday, SEC Country asked Swinney what advice he would give Pruitt now that the Alabama defensive coordinator is on the verge of chasing another dream as Tennessee’s coach.
“Be who you are, surround yourself with good people, and go recruit,” Swinney said as he exited the Sugar Bowl’s team media session Saturday morning at the Superdome. “It’s that simple.”
Dabo Swinney’s great success
Certainly, Swinney has made it look simple at Clemson, staying true to his good nature while developing the Tigers into a national championship program in his 10 years leading the program. Swinney is 101-29 as coach with four prior BCS/New Year’s Six-level bowl appearances.
Clemson plays Alabama at 8:45 p.m. ET on Monday in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Superdome, the winner advancing to the CFP championship game against the winner of the Rose Bowl semifinal between Oklahoma and Georgia.
It’s the third straight year the Tigers have played the Crimson Tide in the playoff but the first time the teams have met in the semifinals.
Going way back
Swinney goes back much further with Pruitt, however, overlapping with him when the pair was a part of Gene Stallings’ championship Alabama program of the 1990s.
“I was around him a couple years as a player and he stayed a year as a student coach grad assistant,” Swinney said. “He was a tough, instinctive player. You could tell he was the son of a coach, one of those type guys. Most of my experience with Jeremy came when he was a high school coach [at Hoover]. I had the area in recruiting, so I got to observe him as I’d go by to recruit the coach, so I knew he was a bright guy with a great future.”
Swinney’s playing career with Alabama was from 1989 through 1992, where he served as a walk-on receiver. Pruitt’s playing career with the Tide was 1995-1996 after he transferred in from Middle Tennessee State for his final two years of college.
The pair were both a part of Mike DuBose’s first Alabama staff in 1997, Swinney a holdover receivers coach from Stallings’ staff, and Pruitt selected to be a graduate assistant after essentially running the Tide’s scout team defense for two years as a player.
Swinney has taken note of Pruitt’s career, as fellow Alabama players have been prone to do over the years.
“I have watched him as he moved back to Alabama and then competed against him at Georgia, at Florida State,” Swinney said, referencing Pruitt’s brief tenures at other schools as a defensive coordinator before his return to Alabama in 2016. “He’s a great coach, and he’s been well‑groomed. I think he’ll do a good job at Tennessee.”
Pruitt was defensive coordinator for Florida State’s 2013 national championship team, a Seminoles crew that beat Swinney’s Tigers 51-14 that season.
In 2014, Pruitt was Georgia’s defensive coordinator as Mark Richt’s Bulldogs prevailed 45-21.
Swinney got a break from Pruitt’s defense in 2015, but the former Alabama walk-ons were on opposite side in the national title game last season.
This time, Swinney’s Clemson program came out on top, coming from 14-0 down to score a 35-31 victory.
The competition between Pruitt and Swinney won’t end with the game Monday night — Clemson has become active recruiting Tennessee, particularly Knoxville.
The Tigers recruited elite Oak Ridge receiver Tee Higgins and Catholic receiver Amari Rodgers out of the 2017 class.
Rodgers is the son of Tennessee’s 1998 national championship quarterback — now USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin.
Rodgers had 18 catches for 107 yards this season, while Higgins had 17 catches for 345 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Pruitt pledged upon being introduced as Tennessee’s coach on Dec. 7 that the Vols would dominate recruiting in the Volunteer State.
“Recruiting …. we’re going to start right here in this state,” Pruitt said, “and we’re going to start from Knoxville and work our way out. This is going to be our state.”
Right now, however, Pruitt’s focus is on helping to lead Alabama to another title — and derailing Swinney’s bid to repeat along the way.