If you get a chance to come to this press conference, it's been a great year. Opportunity and a privilege to get a chance to play for the overall ACC Championship. I'm proud of our team.
First of all, I'd like to congratulate Miami and Coach Richt, his staff. What a year they've had. Just really magical. To study them and to watch the season unfold the way it has, they have just done a tremendous job.
This is a special opportunity for both teams. I mean, this is two champions, both teams have earned their division championship, going to compete tomorrow night for the overall championship. We're both excited about that, there's no doubt.
But I'm really proud of our team. Every year it's a new journey, a new challenge. This team in particular has been a lot of fun to be around, to watch, mature, develop, find a way to win different ways. It's great to be back here.
Last year we were picked to be here, and we were here. That was a different type of a challenge. This year we weren't picked to be here, but we're here. The credit goes to the players and our staff.
Just really thankful for a tremendous amount of hard work and effort, commitment, dedication, belief that our team has exemplified all year long.
Just ready to get it going tomorrow night. I know it's going to be a great, competitive game. We're just thankful to have the opportunity to be here. I appreciate Charlotte, this city, everything that the host committee does to make this a great event for the ACC.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. You just mentioned the special opportunity. The season has been a lot of fun. The experience of your team where no stage is too big, is that an advantage? You mentioned earlier you can't help but notice the turnover chain. Does that have a psychological effect, do you think?
DABO: Well, as far as the first part of your question, experience. I think at this point we're into game 13. I've been saying 11-1 all week, but they're 10-1, because of the hurricane. They're into game 12.
These are two experienced teams. I know this is the ACC Championship, and they haven't necessarily played in this game, but this game is no different than the other games. Every game's big in college football. I mean, when they played Florida State, that's a pretty big stage. When they played Notre Dame, that's a pretty big stage.
Trust me, their team has big-game experience. They have come up. They've been on the road and made huge plays, huge plays, to win big games. Georgia Tech, Florida State. They'll draw on that. That's what really matters.
It's the same thing for us. We've had great experience this year in big games. It's not like we can say, Okay, we have ACC Championship experience. Well, a lot of those guys with that experience aren't here any more. We've got some guys, and I think they understand that. The same things that win all those other games, it takes that to win this game.
So that's what we focus on. We don't really get caught up in the magnitude of the moment or make one game bigger than the other. We just get ready to try to go play well, get a good plan.
We know every single week we're going to get every team's best effort. Now certainly you're playing another great football team that wants the same thing you want. It's going to come down to, you know, our plan to win, who can execute the best.
As far as the turnover chain, all that stuff, the name of the game is points. They've had an unbelievable year creating turnovers, but so have we. We've scored 77 points off of turnovers this year, they've scored 72. We haven't had a chain or anything like that, but both teams have had incredible years and have been very opportunistic to creating turnovers and scoring points off of those turnovers, both teams. I think that's a major reason why we're 11-1, and a major reason why they're 10-1. We've scored a non-offensive touchdown in all five road games. Pick-sixes, scoop score, punt return for a touchdown.
That's what we focus on every single week. I don't have any doubt this game, it's not going to come down to a chain, it's going to come down to players making plays, taking care of the ball, creating turnovers, field position, big plays. That's what wins championship football.
Q. You're bringing your third different quarterback here. What did Kelly Bryant do for preparation this week from watching last year?
DABO: Did the same thing he's done all year. Just have a good Monday practice, Tuesday practice, Wednesday practice. I know y'all want me to give you some great answer, but we just don't do anything different, whether we're playing in the championship game or we're playing in the second game or the fifth game or the sixth game.
We believe in how we prepare. It's a very systematic approach to it. We don't do anything different other than what we do every week. That's study the opponent, you know, put in the work from a practice standpoint, extra film standpoint, get yourself physically and mentally ready to go. No different this week.
We had a huge game last week. It's going to take that type of focus and confidence and mindset to have a chance in this one.
Q. About Kelly, five-star kid, comes in, sits, matures, has to trust the process. Talk about him as a young man as far as trusting in this. A lot of kids want to play right away. Take us behind the scenes and the significance of bringing you back to this point.
DABO: I don't think he was a five-star. Oh, as a person. He's a 10-star person. You way sold him short. He really is. If it's a five-star scale, he's a 10-star. You're talking about a great young man. That's why I wanted him.
I got to see him up close. My son played at a rival high school. I watched him one night. We got to game one. I'm literally leaving the stands to get back to the team, 34 seconds on the clock, this one is over. 34 seconds he takes them down the field to win the game time. I'm going, Wow! He's a winner. The best of the best make everyone around them better. That's exactly what Kelly Bryant does.
He's a special young man, just a person, who he is. He was a great student in high school. In fact, there was a young guy, just a student at the school, that wrote an essay on Kelly Bryant. I actually read it to the team, I don't know, early part of the season. I was making a point of this is who Kelly Bryant is. That's who he was then, too.
The point being to Kelly, you just continue being who you are. A reminder of how you impact other people. When you don't think people are watching, they are. To really embrace the stage and platform that he has, to continue to just be who he's always been.
When I recruited him, I didn't recruit him to be Deshaun. I just recruited him to be Kelly Bryant. That's what we do with all of our players. He came here, was a dream of his to come to Clemson. He knew when he came in here that Deshaun was already here and rolling. But he embraced that. He came in and had to continue to develop.
But I think the best part about Kelly, because one of the keys to any football program is how guys are developing when they're not playing mentally and physically, how are they staying engaged and focused on the process, developing the mindset when they're not playing. Maybe they're redshirting or maybe they are the third team quarterback. They're just not getting a lot of opportunity.
What I love about Kelly is for two years he had a front row seat to a phenomenal player in Deshaun Watson, who is also a 10-star person. But how he prepared, how he got ready, how he handled the bright lights, how you handled failure, how he handled criticism, just his weekly commitment, his preparation, all of those things. I think he really took note of that, just learned a lot.
He put the work in. He prepared every week to go be the guy, even though he probably wasn't going to play, barring an injury. I think that has paid off for him.
He came out this spring. I don't think any of us really knew. He really hadn't had the amount of reps, certainly hadn't been the first guy running out there. This spring we just kind of saw him. Early I think he was pressing a little bit. I got to look like Deshaun, this or that. I think eventually he kind of let that go.
Listen, I got here being Kelly Bryant, and that's what's going to make me be successful here as well. He just embraced who he is, just has gone on to work to be the best version of himself.
He brings different things to the table, some similar things as Deshaun, but some different things that make him special. It's been fun to watch him grow and mature.
So he's a new player this year, but he's a very mature new player. I think that's what you've seen. The team has rallied around him. He's created a confidence in our team. He's provided great leadership.
Nobody has had more pressure on them than Kelly Bryant, nobody. I mean, he wasn't even supposed to be the guy. He was supposed to be playing another position. If you listen to everything that's written or said or whatever, that's the world these young people grow up in nowadays. Decisions are made before you ever even practice in the social media world.
But this kid has put his blinders on and he's stayed focused and he's had an incredible belief in himself. He's put the work in. He came into camp, and he just separated.
As a coach, we evaluate performance, not potential. He earned it through performance. Okay, let's go see how he does on game day. It's just been one thing after another where he has risen up and provided great leadership, great decision, the great throw, the great run all year long. We're not 11-1 without Kelly Bryant.
I'm really happy for him. I'm proud. Nobody deserves it more. I know he's excited about playing tomorrow night in his first ACC Championship game.
Q. I know you're focused on this game. In your profession there's some other folks dealing with the insanity of coaching hires, rumors. You came in in a somewhat rare position of being elevated from interim coach. Has that affected at all your position with Clemson, maybe avoided some of the crazy storms that happen around coaching carrousel time? Do you have any advice for fans who sometimes get too caught up in college football?
DABO: I don't know if I understand the question. Has it affected my?
Q. As opposed to going through a coaching search. Nowadays it seems like fans are going to say when you get hired. You were promoted from within.
DABO: If there had been a cyber jury in '08, I don't get this job. No question about that. If they just did a poll, I would have been the last man on the poll. I'd be somewhere, but I wouldn't be here, that's for sure (smiling).
I'm glad that Terry Don Phillips didn't pay attention to a vote. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Terry Don. He just was convicted enough in his belief in me.
We've been very fortunate. I think that's one of the reasons that our program is where it is. We've been able to have a lot of continuity, a lot of consistency, just alignment. We have a great chain of command at Clemson. Our Board of Trustees, our president is amazing, our AD, our administration. We just have good chemistry and good alignment.
We're all on the same page. We all love Clemson. We all want to win, but we want to win the right way. We try to do it by loving our players and graduating our players. It's been a lot of fun.
Q. Last year in Orlando you talked about the difficulty of maintaining your program, keeping it at this level. I don't know if 'surprised' is the right word, but are you surprised how well your team has played to get back here, to be 11-1 in the College Football Playoff hunt again?
DABO: I am not surprised. I am pleased and proud of the performance and effort put forth by our players and our staff. Not surprised because, to be honest with you, this is what we expect. It's a mentality, it's a mindset, it's our culture. I mean, we've won 81 games in seven years. These guys think they're supposed to win. That's where it starts. You got to win in the mind before you win anywhere.
Our guys, they just believe and they think they're supposed to win. When we don't win, you know, it's like, Wow, we lost, okay. Why did we lose? Let's go back to work.
They just don't ever kind of lose focus. I think that's, again, a credit to just the culture that we have that's been established over the last eight years. Then recruiting, developing your players. In college football, you're going to have guys leave every year, you're going to have turnover. Guys, man, they got it, and they take that with them. Now you got new guys who don't have it, and you've got to start over every single year with who you are, why you do it that way, what are your core values, just really install all of that. That's what we do.
Then you have guys like Kelly Bryant. I mean, nobody knows who Justin Falcinelli is. He was a gray shirt guy. He's a fourth-year junior. He's got to step in and be the starting center. He makes first team all ACC this year. That's just development. It's stick-to-it-tiveness, perseverance, belief, it's just buying into the program.
I think our guys know if they hang in there, eventually they're going to have their opportunity in their time. They have to be good enough, because the best player is going to play. We just have a lot of guys, Tre Lamar, he's not playing in this game, but he covered kicks last year, a good freshman, who was ready for more this year. K'Von Wallace, Isaiah Simmons as a freshman.
We've recruited well. I think we've evaluated and developed well. We've gotten the right guys to help us sustain and maintain some consistency in our program.
Q. Obviously more important to be in the game as to where it's played. To be back here in Charlotte after a one-year hiatus, how important that is for the ACC and how much of a benefit is that to Clemson as well?
DABO: I think it's great. We really enjoyed our experience in Orlando. That was a crazy situation, as we all know. I thought the city of Orlando did a great job on kind of a short-term notice, if you will. So did our ACC folks, trying to pull all that together, make it a great game. And it was. It was great.
But there's something special about being here. The city, the opportunity to play in this stadium, the location of it, the people of Charlotte just do an unbelievable job. There's a great partnership between Charlotte and the ACC, and there has been for a long time. I think it's just very smooth.
Our fans love it. I'm sure we'll have a great crowd there. Look forward to enjoying the moment.
Q. It seems like there's something about this time of the year and Hunter Renfrow. What has it been like for you to watch his journey from a walk-on to seeing him step up for you guys in big moments?
DABO: I love it. Orange britches come out, Hunter Renfrow shows up. He's just amazing. I love Hunter Renfrow. He's a joy to be around every day, first of all. He's another just great young man. I mean, he is such a genuine, authentic, sincere young person. If you meet him, you'd never in a million years know that he's Hunter Renfrow. He has this persona. But if you met him, you'd never know it was Hunter Renfrow. He's just such a neat kid. Really proud of him.
He's had a phenomenal journey. It's going to continue. He's still, believe it or not, got another year. A lot of people not happy about that.
But he's still developing. He's just a guy that came in 155 pounds. Now he's 181 maybe. He's still got more in the tank. I'd like to get him up to 188, 190, continue to get him stronger. Maybe he can do 225 twice. We still got some work to do with him before he's a finished guy. He's going to be a great pro one day, he really is.
He'll be a fun guy to watch for a long time. I mean, he's just a very gifted athlete, he's explosive, got great ball skills. He's become a complete receiver now. He really understands just the intricacies of playing the position, just how to vary things up, his stems, his leases, his influence in his routes, he's eyes, his breakpoints, just technique.
Just proud of him. We just know he's going to come up big somewhere along the way. He plays relentless. Made a huge block last week on a reverse. Obviously made a couple big catches, touchdown run 60 yards, whatever. He's just a kid that loves it. He's passionate about it. Proud of him.
Q. Malik has two less weapons on offense in this year, Herndon and Richards are out. Is that an advantage for your defense or do the 'Canes have other weapons that can exploit your defense?
DABO: No, they got plenty of weapons. It's kind of like us, we got Tre Lamar out, Mark Fields is out. We have had other people step up. We've had different things like that all year long. I think that's the key to being good, is you got to have other players.
When you look at their roster, you see 18, he's 6'4", 220 something pounds. You see 81, 80, 3 and 4 can fly. Other guys get more opportunities. 8 leads them. He's the guy. He has been all year. He's been their best play-maker. And 23, two great players, no doubt about it. They'll have guys ready to go.
It's unfortunate. I hate it for those two young men really, to be honest with you, because they've worked really hard. They were a big part of their success. But it's just kind of part of it.
Both these teams have so much to be proud of. No matter what happens tomorrow night, whether we win or whether we lose, I am incredibly proud of our team and our season and what they've accomplished. I'm sure Mark feels the same way.
But they got some guys, there's no doubt about it. They're going to do what they do. They're not going to all of a sudden change and run some different offense just because one guy's out. They're going to put the next guy in there. He was recruited to the University of Miami for a reason, I can assure you.
Q. What do you think about the job Mark Richt has done at Miami? This is a team that two years ago you beat 58-0. He comes in, has them on a cusp of an ACC Championship.
DABO: It's incredible. I've enjoyed watching it. I'm a Mark Richt fan. I always have been. I've always thought a lot of Coach Richt. He's the real deal. He's a good man. He's a great football coach. He's a great husband. He's a great father. I think he's about the right things and always has been.
As a younger coach kind of coming up, watching his, you know, ascension, if you will, I've just always paid attention to Coach Richt. I mean, unbelievable job he did at Georgia. So I'm not surprised at all. I think it was a great hire by Miami, a great fit. I think he was able to come in and unite just the former players, the fan base, just bring a different mindset, structure and culture, if you will.
He's having fun. That's the other thing. I've known Mark and have been around him in different situations, but I've never been in meetings with him. To have an opportunity to sit in coaches meetings, he's a very good guy. He's very smart. But he's having fun. I think he's just really enjoying the moment down there and the journey.
Jon, his son, is there on the staff. He's a great young coach. So it's an amazing job that he's done. He's created a belief. Great energy in the program, chemistry. He's given them, like I said, just good direction moving forward.
I think it's great for our league.
Q. I talked to Dorian this week on the phone, from Baltimore. Talk about how he came to come to Clemson, talk about his development as a good linebacker.
DABO: Dorian was a running back at Good Counsel up there in Maryland. He played linebacker, too. We felt like he could be a great linebacker. But, boy, when he got there, he wasn't real interested in football, to be honest with you. He was more interested in what was going on on campus. He was a guy that I don't think ever thought about football outside of the little time we would have him. It was just a lot to learn for him. He had a lot of football to learn. It took him a little while.
He always had the skill, the physicality, the explosiveness, but he had to develop physically. He had to get stronger. More importantly, he had to develop mentally. He had to learn the game. He had to become a dependable, relentless, committed player, otherwise he wasn't going to get on the field. That's kind of his journey.
He redshirted his redshirt freshman year, he was like our special teams player of the year, always been a great special teams guy. After that sophomore year, I think there was a switch that went off like, You know what, they're not going to play me if I'm a 50/50 guy. If I play 10 plays, I get five busts, five pluses, they're not going to play me. That's kind of where he was. He would make five great plays, then make five horrible plays. You're just scratching your head.
He just really dove in, got committed. The rest is history. I've seen a bunch of guys like that. I'm a very patient guy when it comes to player development, especially when I know a guy has the ability. Sometimes it just takes a little longer.
But he finally bought in. I mean, he's a Butkus finalist. What a great two-year run he's had. Going to be a great pro. He's well prepared. He's become one of the best leaders that we have. If you told me five years ago that Dorian was going to be the guy, the Ben Boulware guy standing up in front of the team, I would have never believed that. You have to give him all the credit. Brent has done an amazing job with Dorian.
Q. You've mentioned about the consistency of the program, how tough it is to play in this conference all year. As you guys are making your third straight trip here, this is the fifth-year there's been a new champ out of the Coastal Division. Anything you've noticed why there's more diversity? What have you noticed about how much tougher the road has been to get back to this game in your league?
DABO: I don't know that I've noticed much about the other side. I mean, Virginia Tech was for a long time, they kind of had a heck of a run on that side. North Carolina popped in there. Then Virginia Tech was back. I think since Miami came in the league, you just felt like at some point Miami was going to be there. So here they are. Georgia Tech. We had them in our first championship game. They've been in it a couple times.
I think on our side, it's kind of come down to us and Florida State for whatever reason over the last few years. But it's hard, man. This year in particular it's been one of the most gratifying seasons that I've been a part of, just simply because the change, turnover. Good coaches, I lost two great D-line coaches that have been with me from day one. A new safety coach. Obviously a lot of change on offense.
It's been a very gratifying year. Again, that's why I tell you, if we ended today, I'm super proud of this group, the efforts they put in.
Q. This has been rumored for a while about Jimbo leaving Florida State. Looks like that is going to happen. Reports that he has left. Curious how that hits you, what that means from your side of the conference?
DABO: Well, I'm not going to comment on anything that I don't know. I appreciate the question, but I have no idea. Is he gone? He did what?
Q. It's out there now.
DABO: Is that like a tweet (smiling)?
Well, I mean, I don't know if that's accurate or not. I appreciate the question. If it is, I mean, he obviously feels like maybe it's the right move for him. I don't know. I know that he did an unbelievable job at Florida State.
This is a business that's very public, as we all know. From time to time you have to make decisions. Sometimes those decisions become very public, and the public is going to weigh in with how they feel about it.
If that's what he chooses to do, I mean, listen, I like Jimbo. It's been a great competitive journey. I've known him forever. When I was at Alabama, he was at Auburn. If that's what he's doing, evidently he feels like that's the right move for him and his family and the right time to do so.
Florida State is Florida State. They'll hire a great coach. I don't have any doubt about that. I guess we'll see him next year if that's what he's going to do. We play Texas A&M for the next two years. If he is, I can't get rid of him, still be a thorn in our side (smiling).
If that's accurate, I wish him nothing but the best. I'm sure I'll touch base with him at some point.