On June 1, 2017 our football head coach, Dabo Swinney, made a trip to Atlanta to pick up the MacArthur Bowl, the trophy given by the National Football Foundation recognizing its FBS national champion for the 2016 season. It was the last of all the national championship trophies hoisted by Swinney for his team's performance last year.
I have often been asked, “What is it that makes coach Swinney guide the team as he does?” The answer is really very simple…he serves the players hearts and not their talent. He loves them.
If you have ever had the privilege of hearing Swinney speak at an event or clinic, you will often hear him say he is always looking for ways to love his players deeper, serve them greater and care for them more. It is this formula that he believes is the simplest, most powerful and greatest success model of all time. It is because of this that he gets his players to be “All In” and he recruits at the level he does.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard Swinney tell his players and coaches that he needs them just as much if not more than they need him. He knows that he sets the tone for everything that is Clemson football, or as he likes to say, “It's my daily mood that determines the weather.”
Attitude is everything to Swinney, and he knows that he has the power to make a player's life full of joy or absolutely miserable. In each and every situation, it is his response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, whether a moment is joyful or tense and whether there is laughter or not.
All he asks of his players is to give their best…not someone's expectation of their best, but the best they have each and every day. He wants 100 percent of their best, not 99 percent. He uses some great stats to back this up.
If 99 percent was good enough, 12 newborns would be given to the wrong parents daily. If 99 percent was good enough, electricity would be off for 15 minutes every day. If 99 percent was good enough, two planes would crash each day at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. He is not asking for perfection, Swinney is just asking his guys to autograph their work with excellence.
“Only you know when you are giving 100 percent, everyone else knows when you are not,” is a quote you will find in the Dabo Swinney “ALL IN” book. Other favorite sayings are, “When you can't change the direction of the winds, adjust your sails,” “The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor,” “There is no way to do the wrong thing the right way,” “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit,” and “If you want to know what your beliefs are, take a look at your actions.”
When Clemson won the national championship in Tampa, Swinney told reporters that his team won because they loved one another more. He believed that the first time his team played for the national title in January 2016, his team left the field with regrets. In 2017, one of the team mottos was “No regrets.” He told his players love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.
Love was the difference…love of commitment, love of wanting to be great, love of hard work, love of taking coaching, love of going to class, love of teammates and love of Clemson.
Not every player is going to be a great player, but they can all want to be a great player. You need a lot of love for such commitment. You need a servant leader who is not afraid to show others how much he loves them.