I’ve been a Clemson fan since I can remember. From Danny Ford to Dabo Swinney, I’ve faithfully pulled for the orange and white and I have the stomach ulcers to prove it. If you’ve ever watched my YouTube Channel (shameless plug), you’ve heard me refer to the 2005 Bowden-led team who lost four games by a total of 14 points. Yeah, that took a major toll on me. Then, I looked at the 2009 season, which was Swinney’s first full season as the head coach. Aside from a 17-point loss to South Carolina (I just threw-up), Clemson lost four games by a total of 15 points including the ACC Championship to Georgia Tech. So, what changed? How did Clemson turn the corner from okay to great?
Let’s begin with coaching. Swinney had never been a head coach, but he made a move that most coaches (who are full of arrogance) wouldn’t make: he realized the team was not all about him and in turn, made great hires. This includes hiring offensive genius Chad Morris, defensive wizard Brent Venables, and employing former Tigers, Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott, as the OC replacements for Morris (now Arkansas head coach). Unlike other teams, Swinney has retained his coaching staff. His staff doesn’t change coaches like I change my underwear! His coaches want to work with him and for him because he is hardworking and goal-driven while having fun. Swinney doesn’t degrade his coaches just because of his success. He knows he has success because of his staff, and he treats them with respect. The staff’s tenure creates a culture and a mindset that lures recruits to Clemson and in turn, the results are seen on the field.
Next, Swinney and his staff recruits great players and they develop them into NFL talent. Dabo Swinney is the dice-roller who convinced all-world CJ Spiller to come to underachieving Clemson. Since then, Swinney and his staff have brought in ridiculous talent like Sammie Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, Tajh Boyd, Martavis Bryant, Shaq Lawson, Mike Williams, Dorian O’Daniel, Deshaun Watson, Mitch Hyatt, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant,
Tee Higgins, Trevor Lawrence, Xavier Thomas, Justyn Ross, and many many more. Also consider, Kevin Dodd signed with Clemson as a two-star player out of a high school who totally sucks at football and they developed him into an NFL player. This staff knows how to bring in talent and they know how to develop them.
Last, they built this house on a strong foundation of consistency. Gone are the days of beating number 10 Miami one week only to lose to Duke the next week. Except for upset losses to Syracuse in 2017 and Pittsburgh in 2016, Clemson consistently wins. As I stated earlier, Clemson was the king of inconsistency. Like it or not, the Tigers deserved the “Clemsoning” insult. But now Clemsoning has a new meaning: you play Clemson and you get steam-rolled. That’s how Clemson went from okay to great.