Having once lived in a small town in South Carolina, ESPN The Magazine senior writer Ryan McGee already had a connection to Clemson before tackling his recent story on the rise of the school’s football program under coach Dabo Swinney.
McGee gives Front Row some insight on growing up in Tigers country, profiling Swinney as well as the “time machine moments” he shares with ESPN Radio Marty & McGee partner and bureau reporter Marty Smith.
On the Clemson he knew growing up in South Carolina:
I graduated high school in Travelers Rest, S.C., in the late 1980s when Clemson was Clemson: It was 10 wins a year and they were playing in giant bowl games and they won a National Championship, and they won an ACC Championship it seemed like every year. Everybody got a little comfortable and you kind of start resting on what you’ve done in the past. There were bumper stickers everywhere with “1981 National Champions” and all of a sudden one day you wake up and all those bumper stickers are faded – the font looks old – and you don’t realize Clemson hadn’t won a conference championship in like 20 years. Until Dabo took over.
On Dabo’s success at Clemson:
Dabo, on paper, shouldn’t have been the head coach at a program that big. But he convinced the AD to take a chance on him, and he convinced his recruits to take a chance on him, and he’s convinced the donors who, quite frankly, hadn’t ponied up to Clemson in a long time to take a chance. He’s a sales guy. [EDITOR’S NOTE: McGee discusses Swinney’s rise and more in this video.]
On podcast partner Marty Smith:
Marty and I – he’s one of my best friends in the world. Obviously, we have the radio show together and we’ve been to so many race tracks together for almost a decade and a half now [McGee and Smith have covered NASCAR for ESPN]. We joke all the time about getting in a time machine and going back to our little 12-year-old selves and going “Man, you ain’t going to believe that you’re going to be on the sidelines of the ACC championship” or – in Marty’s case – riding to work with [Alabama coach] Nick Saban or eating breakfast with [LSU coach] Les Miles or me getting to hold [former USC coach] Steve Spurrier’s Heisman in my hands. We call them “time machine moments.”