Clemson's Dabo Swinney: The most interesting coach in college football

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is 'the life of the party'
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Story highlights

  • Dabo Swinney leads the undefeated, No. 1 Clemson Tigers
  • The Tigers will face No. 2 Alabama for the national championship
  • Swinney, who played for Alabama, is known for his colorful quotes

(CNN)He says he didn't even know his own name until the second or third grade. He's a reporter's dream for a quote, and he's arguably the most interesting coach in college football.

William Christopher Swinney -- who has been known as Dabo since birth -- is the head coach for the 14-0 and No. 1 Clemson Tigers. He will square off against his counterpart Nick Saban and No. 2 Alabama (13-1) on January 11 for the College Football Playoff national championship.
But back in elementary school, when a teacher would call him William Christopher, Swinney would just look around the room.
"There's another Swinney in here? I got a cousin?" Swinney said.
In a world where "It is what it is" has become a cliché quote, or when we hear athletes or coaches refuse to answer questions (see: Marshawn Lynch's evasive answer during Super Bowl week: "I'm here so I won't get fined," or the time when Bill Belichick repeatedly used the answer "We're on to Cincinnati" to answer questions about his team's woes), it's refreshing to hear a coach like Swinney actually answer questions honestly and colorfully.
Let's start with his media session Tuesday, when Swinney was asked what it would mean to go a historic 15-0.
"It'd mean we're the best ever, that's what it would mean," Swinney said to reporters. "And who's going to argue with that? Somebody -- one of y'all will. You'd lose in a court of law. I promise you that. I'd love to be the lawyer on that one. 'Cause you know why? There ain't never been a 15-0 team."
But there's another plot line to the Swinney story: Prior to his 13 years at Clemson as an assistant and then as head coach, Swinney's life was in Alabama. He was born in Alabama. Raised in Alabama. Alabama was all he knew growing up.
"I always told everybody, Alabama's the smartest state: Four A's and a B," Swinney said.
Swinney walked on at Alabama as a receiver. In his final game of his college career, the 1992 season, he won the national championship under head coach Gene Stallings and became the first member of his family to earn a college degree. Swinney later worked for Stallings as an assistant coach.
So when it became clear on New Year's Eve that Alabama was going to beat Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl (one of the College Football Playoff semifinals) to face Clemson for the title, it became clear to Swinney: This is going to be fun.
In fact, Swinney said, if he could have scripted who he could play against for the national championship, it would be against his alma mater.
"I think God's got a sense of humor," Swinney said. "I really do. I think it's great. You're looking at a guy who grew up in the state of Alabama, and my dream was to play there."
The loquacious Swinney added: "I've been trying to get back to the national championship as a coach for 20-plus years now. To have the opportunity to be in my first national championship game as a coach, and it comes against Alabama, I just have to smile at God on that one. I think it's special."
Swinney has a lot a friends in Alabama, and a few of them are conflicted on which team to root for on Monday.
"I've kind of found out how I stand with some of them," he joked.
But, at the same time, being from Alabama, Swinney still gets it: "You leave the hospital, they stamp your birth certificate Alabama or Auburn; that's just how it is," he said.
But when it comes to rooting interests for his family, there will be no "Roll Tide" sentiments.
"Not if they're in my family," Swinney said. "I've got a lot of people that want to be in my family right now, by the way. It's a big family. I've got a bunch of cousins and nephews that I didn't even know I had.
"But no, it's all good. It's all good. All I know is they're not getting a ticket from me unless they're wearing orange. It'll be a lot of fun."