The 2008 Palmetto Bowl: Dabo Swinney’s make or break moment

Published: Nov. 23, 2022 at 7:42 PM EST
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CLEMSON, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - Dabo Swinney has brought two championships to Death Valley and has become one of the greatest coaches in college football history.

However, if Swinney didn’t get that first, crucial win, he may have not gotten any further.

“I’m probably not here if it weren’t for the 2008 game.” Dabo Swinney, Clemson head football coach, said.

Back in 2008, Dabo Swinney was the Tigers interim head coach. He took over for Tommy Bowden.

“I wish them nothing but success,” Tommy Bowden, former Clemson head football coach, said back in 2008. “And I will be their biggest fan on Saturday.”

Bill D’Andrea worked for Clemson Athletics along with Athletic Director Terry Don Phillips. They told Dabo that he would take over.

“When Terry Don told him, he said, who me?” Bill D’Andrea, former Clemson Associate Athletic Director, said. “He was very surprised.”

It was a shocking choice at the time. Dabo was the team’s receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. He had no head coaching experience

“The media reaction was, who was this guy?” Tim Bourret, former Clemson sports information director, said. “Who was it Dabo?

“We just felt Dabo was the, the natural choice,” D’Andrea said. “Naturally we got a lot of pushback from IPTAY donors at that time that we deserved a quality head coach. Dabo really didn’t have that experience. We just bared through it. And, and of course he did pretty well.”

Swinney posted a record of 3-2, with the most important game of the season up next.

“You lose this game,” Swinney said. “It stinks. Period.”

Tim Bourret was there from the beginning as the football sports information director.

“He knew that this was a very important game,” Bourret said. “We all knew it was a very important game that if he was gonna get this job, and a lot of us who knew him, thought he could do a good job. We all wanted him to win.”

On November 29th, 2008, Dabo led the Tigers against Steve Spurriers’ Gamecocks.

“Clemson jumped out to a 24-0 lead,” Bourret said. “With that big lead the fan base got behind it and thought he’s got a chance to do this.”

The Tigers won 31-14. Two days later, Dabo Swinney was officially Clemson’s head football coach

“I’d like to tell everyone to dream big,” Swinney said in 2008 at the hiring ceremony. “And to believe because dreams do come true.”

How would that have looked if they didn’t get the win?

“It’s my personal feeling that if Clemson had lost that game, Dabo wouldn’t have gotten the head coaching job.” Bourret said.

“A big relief,” D’Andrea said. “It kind of quelled some of the rabid fans who were upset with our decision.”

Now 14 full seasons and two National Titles later, the Tigers are more than happy with their choice.

“I would say it’s one of the all time right choices by an athletic director at any school.” Bourret said.

“I’ve always said Dabo is like Halley’s Comet,” D’Andrea said. “Guys like that come around once every 80 years. Clemson is very fortunate to have Dabo as their head coach.”

Dabo Swinney is 8-5 all-time in the Palmetto Bowl. Clemson has won the last 7 straight rivalry matchups. The Palmetto Bowl is scheduled to kick off at noon on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. Clemson leads the all-time series 72-42-4.