Lifting spirits and doubters, Clemson's Dabo Swinney has 'zero doubt' the season will start on time

The world … not just the football world … needs Dabo Swinney at this moment. It was only a faceless Zoom teleconference Friday, but you could almost sense the Clemson's coach's agenda: lift the gloom that has descended on the country because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

"I have zero doubt [we're going to play]," Swinney began. "This is America, man. We've stormed the beaches of Normandy. We've sent a car and drove around on Mars. We walked on the moon. This is the greatest country and greatest people in the history of the planet."

Wait, Mars? Nevermind. Dabo was on a roll.

"We've created an iPhone. I can sit here and talk to all you people and all these different places. We got the smartest people in the world. Listen, we're going to rise up and kick this thing right in the teeth."

Where do we sign up, coach?

For one shining moment, Clemson's coach -- entering his 13th season with the Tigers -- made us believe. Believe that we can think about football again as the greatest game in the world without looking over shoulders at an invisible pandemic.

Swinney did it in a tasteful manner lauding his faith and first responders while trotting out a new acronym to live by: T.I.G.E.R.S. This. Is. Gonna. End. Real. Soon.

"I'll let all those smart people figure out those doomsday scenarios," Swinney added. "I've got one scenario: That is running down the hill and kicking it off in [Death] Valley."

All of it was a hint of what makes Swinney and Clemson so successful. There's no doubt the man can motivate. Look at his recruiting, look at his record, look at his championships. The Tigers enter 2020 with seven of their 16 All-ACC picks returning to a program that leads the country ranked in the top five for 39 straight weeks.

But for a few precious minutes, there was nothing wrong with a South Carolina state employee entering revivalist/preacher mode.

"I would tell everyone to keep the faith," he said. "We're going to get on the other side of this. God is going to be glorified through this." 

Swinney made online coaching sound like a blessing.

"Never, ever, ever, ever, ever in my life have we spent this much time together," Swinney said of his wife Kathleen.

The coach also noted that his family has traveled once to Florida via private plane for vacation and may do so next week for Easter. "The plane was sanitized," he said. "We don't have any concern."

Clemson is scheduled to kick off the season on Sept. 3 at Georgia Tech. That Death Valley opener is Sept. 12 against Louisville. Before then, the coronavirus has to loosen its grip on a college football season that seems like it is slipping away.

More and more schools are going exclusively to online classes for the rest of the summer. A drop-dead date for starting the season on time from scratch seems be around Aug. 1, the beginning of fall camp.

Like every other school's players, those at Clemson have been sent home while the school has closed for the rest of the semester. Ever the optimist, Swinney said he would like to see players back on campus for the start of the first summer school session in mid-May.

However, it's becoming clearer there isn't going to be football on campus until rank-and-file students are on campus.

"If you don't have college football? There's going to be major impact," Swinney said. "But I don't imagine we're not having college football."

Don't even ask if the coach has considered if quarterback Trevor Lawrence or tailback Travis Etienne have taken their last snaps.

"I haven't considered that one second," he said.

Before the coronavirus shot everything down, the Tigers got nine spring practices in. Saturday would have been glorious -- Clemson's spring game in front of 70,000 fans at Death Valley.

Swinney's intent was to sit back and watch freshmen quarterbacks Taisun Phommachanh and DJ Uiageleilei battle for the backup job with Lawrence, who would be wearing "a ballcap on" the sideline.

Now, the superstar entering his last season (Lawrence) and the next star up entering his first season (Uiageleilei) are communicating virtually separated by 2,200 miles.

Lawrence went home to Georgia. Meanwhile, Uiagelelei -- 247Sports' No. 1 pro-style quarterback -- returned to Southern California. While Lawrence enters 2020 as a Heisman Trophy frontrunner, Swinney can't wait for the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Uiageleilei

"He's an unbelievable talent," Swinney said. "To see a guy that big, he sometimes makes Trevor just kind of look normal with his ability to rip that football."

We've heard of "Angry Alabama" rebounding after the Crimson Tide missed the College Football Playoff for the first time. What does "Angry Clemson" look like after a championship game loss to LSU that ended a 29-game winning streak?

Keeping with the theme, Swinney reminded that, in the big picture, things aren't that bad.

"Angry, huh? I wouldn't say I'm angry. I'm happy. I'm too blessed to be stressed. It's all part of it. We got our butts whooped. We move on."

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories