Brian Kelly, Dabo Swinney sit for joint press conference Friday before Cotton Bowl
Elizabeth Greason | Friday, December 28, 2018
DALLAS — On Friday morning, Irish head coach Brian Kelly and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney sat for a joint press conference, their final opportunity to address the media before their two teams face off Saturday in the Cotton Bowl, the first half of the College Football Playoff Semifinal.
One of the hottest topics of discussion was that of the suspension of Clemson junior defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, freshman tight end Braden Galloway and redshirt-junior offensive lineman Zach Giella. The suspension was upheld Thursday, after the results of the B-test also came back positive for the presence of the banned substance ostarine.
The loss of Lawrence is a blow to the Tigers defense. He is a first team All-ACC player and has recorded 44 tackles, three pass breakups and 1.5 sacks on the season so far. The junior has averaged 33 pressures per season and is widely projected to be first-round Draft pick.
“[Lawrence] was, obviously, disappointed. All three of those guys were disappointed but not surprised,” Swinney said. “I mean, it’s not like it was a different test. It was the same urine. Sorry about that, but that’s what it was.
“Different tube, same urine.”
Swinney said the preparation for the game in Lawrence’s absence has not changed — the squad has prepared without him throughout the week and feels ready to play.
“And you’ve just got to treat it like an injury. The next guy has got to go play. They’re not going to cancel the game. Nobody is going to sit around and have a pity party or feel sorry for you. You’ve got to go play. And we’re fortunate, very fortunate, that we’ve got a guy like [senior defensive tackle] Albert [Huggins] that in our eyes is a co-starter for us that can step in,” Swinney said. “I don’t want to lessen the impact of Dexter. Obviously, he’s a phenomenal player. And we’re going to miss him. But it’s opportunity for Albert and Nyles [Pinckney] and Jordan [Williams]. Those guys have played all year long. They have a ton of experience. They hurt for their teammate. But you best believe they’re excited for a little more opportunity for themselves.”
Each head coach was asked about what he admires most about his counterpart. For Kelly, the answer was clear: Swinney’s ability to return to the pinnacle of the sport year after year.
“I think for Dabo, his ability to create consistency in a time where inconsistency is everything around us. It’s easy to get distracted. And to keep that within your culture in your program requires just to have an eye on it every single day,” Kelly said. “So his ability to continue to keep his program year in and year out at the top of college football requires more than just recruiting good players.”
Kelly said that Swinney has the ability to motivate those around him to be their best, which is something he aspires to do.
“It’s an understanding of the smallest of details that we could probably talk hours about,” he said. “And, again, I admire people that can look at things from much more of a perspective of people first and the ability to motivate people, not just players but everybody around them. And he’s done a great job with that.”
Swinney said he felt the most impressive thing about Kelly is his ability to succeed at each level of the sport, for such a long time.
“He’s been incredibly successful at several places, which is really hard to do in this business,” he said of Kelly. “To win the amount of games that he’s won, to be able to – wherever he’s been, to take what’s been there and make it better and to win.
“Whether it be Central Michigan, the Chippewas, or Cincinnati. I remember watching him first time at Cincinnati. And, man, what they were doing there. And then come right to Notre Dame; obviously different standards at Notre Dame. But to be able to win at the level that he’s won at everywhere and have the type of longevity that he’s had in his career, I think that’s what every coach aspires for. Longevity is not a common thing in this business.”
Swinney also noted every Brian Kelly-led team he’s ever faced or come across has been disciplined and a well-oiled machine.
“And then just how well-coached his teams are. I mean, this team’s a great example. They’re disciplined. They’re accountable,” Swinney said. “They’re where they’re supposed to be. They don’t hardly give up any big plays. They take care of the ball. They just play very smart and intelligent football.”
However, in typical Swinney fashion, he could not resist leading off with a joke about what he admires most about the Irish head coach.
“Well, for me it is his golf swing. I don’t know if you’ve seen his golf swing,” he said.
The No. 3 Irish (12-0) and the No. 2 Tigers (13-0, 8-0) will face off Saturday at AT&T Stadium at 4 p.m EST in the Cotton Bowl.