Chaos, confusion and long nights filled Swinney's first week as interim coach as he had just a few days to get ready for Georgia Tech after Tommy Bowden's departure.
"Played 'em close," Swinney recalled with pride Tuesday. "Had the lead with five minutes ago."
The Tigers couldn't hold it, though, losing 21-17. Clemson (1-0) and the No. 15 Yellow Jackets (1-0) meet again Thursday night with Swinney, his staff and his vision for the program solidly in place.
Things weren't so clear-cut last October.
Swinney, who fired offensive coordinator Rob Spence soon after taking over, had to rebuild fan confidence, calm player fears and prepare a game plan. Backup Willy Korn was in for demoted starter Cullen Harper while starting tailback James Davis was in tears over losing Bowden.
"That game, there was a lot of emotion," Clemson runner C.J. Spiller recalled.
Swinney understood that from the start.
He switched up practice workouts and allowed students to come out and watch for support.
Swinney demanded the players and coaches work harder than ever, all the while promising fans they would be proud of their team.
He couldn't get too complex in preparation.
"We had to be pretty simple with the situation we were fighting," he said.
Then again, Swinney had to find his bearings in an unfamiliar situation. He wasn't sure how his players would respond against Georgia Tech with so much upheaval.
Clemson played tough.
The Tigers struggled offensively, giving up a season-high six turnovers. However, Clemson's defense limited Georgia Tech's churn-it-out offense to 298 yards.
It was in the Georgia Tech defeat, Swinney says, that he discovered a team of achievers willing to do whatever it took.
The Tigers went on to win four of their final five regular-season games.
"When I saw the effort," he said. "I knew we had a chance."
STAR IS READY TO GO
CLEMSON, S.C. --- Clemson tailback C.J. Spiller said he'll be 100 percent physically for the Tigers' game Thursday night with No. 15 Georgia Tech.
Spiller practiced Monday and said on Tuesday he was able to run and accelerate with ease. He played less than two quarters of the Tigers' 37-14 victory over Middle Tennessee last week. Spiller was bothered by what he said was a tight hamstring and a bruised toe.
Spiller took the game's opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. He injured himself on a 50-yard punt return early in the second quarter and played sparingly the rest of the way.