How Clemson’s Football Coach Used Creed to Inspire His Players

They’ll take a lesson from Rocky himself into Monday’s national championship game.


In case you missed it in the New Year’s Eve madness, the Wall Street Journal last week published an article about Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney’s habit of having his team break down film the day before its games. Nothing new in that. But Swinney isn’t screening footage of Clemson’s opponents. He’s showing his team the latest Hollywood flicks. And since his team is undefeated and ranked number one in the nation, his method must be working. Clemson plays Alabama in Monday’s national championship game.

The notoriously optimistic Swinney uses the movies to draw lessons and inspiration for his players and encourage them to develop similarly sunny outlooks. “It makes us view things through his eyes and it builds that belief in us,” offensive lineman Ryan Norton explains. Among the flicks the Tigers have viewed this season: The Martian, Straight Outta Compton and Krampus, a Christmas horror story. (“I don’t remember exactly what he took from that one,” linebacker B.J. Goodman told the WSJ.) Which movie to see is decided by a committee of players, and their picks tend to remain firmly within certain genres; there are lots of action choices but not, says Norman, “a lot of romantic ones.”

Given the team’s spotless record, it’s unlikely the ritual will be retired anytime soon. Prior to last Thursday’s 35-17 Orange Bowl win over fourth-ranked Oklahoma, the Tigers watched the Will Farrell comedy Daddy’s Home. The week before that, for the ACC championship game against North Carolina, they took in Creed, the latest installment in the Rocky franchise that’s set in Philadelphia. Sometimes Coach Swinney has to stretch to find a movie’s message for his team, but with Creed, he didn’t reach far. “He always talks about how you have to defeat the man in the mirror before you can do anything else,” junior center Jay Guillermo says of his coach. “Then there’s a scene in the movie where Creed is looking in the mirror and Rocky says: ‘That’s your biggest opponent.’ Literally everyone in the theater groaned.”

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