Dabo Swinney has a plan.
A plan to win.
Hoping and dreaming play no part.
It's measurable, attainable, and has become a framework for everything the Tigers do when they step onto the field on game days.
The 'plan' was born in Swinney's early days as a head coach, as he sought to formulate a set of immediate, teachable goals whose results would be self-evident to his players.
"I was just sitting there at my desk, writing notes, trying to give our guys something tangible and measurable that we could talk about as a team every week," Swinney recalled. "We have offensive goals and defensive goals, but this was about what we, as a team, have to do, and helping them realize that if we do a good job in these areas, we're going to win a lot of games.
Swinney recently described the six elements of his 'plan to win.'
1. Play with great effort: "Everything starts with effort for us. I normally have no problem with guys unless they don't give effort, are bad citizens, or if they don't go to school. If they do those things, we'll get along. Some of them you wish were a little bit better players, but that's football. Sometimes you wish some of them were a little more serious about it, but that's maturity. But effort is non-negotiable...We count 'loafs,' and it's very important. We can't loaf. Every play is an opportunity to impact the game. There are too many guys standing on the sideline that deserve to play for you to go loaf on a play, or take a play off. We put a lot of emphasis and we hold them accountable. That's year-round, in everything we do."
2. Win the turnover margin: "If you protect the ball and don't turn it over, and if you create turnovers on defense, then we're going to be a tough out...Effort leads to creating turnovers - stripping balls, guys rallying to the ball and getting into fights for it, competing on the back end, getting tips. All those things."
3. Have more big plays than the opponent: "The NFL has compiled stats. If you win the turnover margin and have two more big plays than your opponent, it's between 85 and 90 percent that you win the game. That's just common sense, and so we put a huge emphasis on that...We chart big plays, ours and the other team's. Defensively, you look for breakdowns and busts and technique, and you learn from it. We gave up a lot of big plays last year, and we've cut down on those so far."
4. Limit missed assignments: "You don't give yourself a chance to be successful if you have a bunch of missed assignments. We have to eliminate mental errors. We may physically get beat on a play, because other people have good players, too. But to not know what you're doing and not give yourself a chance? That's been a big emphasis for us defensively because so many of our issues last year were pre-snap. It's pre-snap, and we're already beat, whether it was communication or eyes or whatever. So it's all about being a smart team and not beating ourselves. I tell our players all the time that Clemson is our greatest opponent. Don't lose to Clemson."
5. Win special teams: "We put a huge emphasis on special teams. They impact the game, big-time. We have to impact the game there. Our guys are doing a great job so far this year. We're benefitting from all the youth and the depth that we have."
6. Be the least penalized team. "It's all about eliminating stupid penalties, and we've done a good job with that. We've had some penalties here and there, but we've played a lot of young guys. We had 12 men on the field the other day, with a young guy. It's just about coaching him up. Jayron (Kearse) roughed the punter, but it was great effort. We'll coach off that. But overall, we've done a good job from a penalty standpoint."
Swinney says his players can relate to the framework, and that a review of the 'plan' is part of the Tigers' post-game routine.
"It's something tangible that every one of them can understand, and that the team, as a whole, can relate to," Swinney said. "It's a way for us to measure ourselves each week."