PINEHURST, N.C. – Calm down. Take a deep breath. Relax.
That, in essence, was Dabo Swinney’s message here Monday afternoon.
Entering his third full season at Clemson, the Tigers’ head coach has been buffeted by talk that he is on the proverbial “hot seat,” despite support from athletic director Terry Don Phillips, following 2010’s 6-7 record, the program’s first losing season in 12 years.
While meeting with reporters at the ACC Kickoff, Swinney reiterated that he is pleased with the program’s direction, and just wants fans to give his vision time to succeed.
“The way we are right now, we just need to stay the course,” Swinney said. “Back away from the ledge. Let the coaches do their job. I think we’re on the verge of greatness at Clemson, in the near future.”
ACC writers appear confident in Swinney’s vision. Although Florida State was the overwhelming pick to win the ACC and Atlantic Division (taking 50 of 71 votes to win the league and 65 of 71 to win the Atlantic), Clemson was pegged for second in the Atlantic (with four votes to win it and two to win the league).
“People probably have a lot of questions on the outside looking in but I like our football team,” he said. “I like our chances. I like our chemistry, got a lot of faith in myself, faith in my staff, faith in these players. We’ve got a great opportunity to compete for our division. You win your division, play for the championship, play for the championship and win it you’ve got the opportunity to play for the national championship or the Orange Bowl. That’s our goal at Clemson.”
Monday, Swinney got several questions about being on the “hot seat,” but he doesn’t appear worried about his status, saying he doesn’t spend time thinking about it.
“I don’t worry about that stuff one second,” he said. “Those are things that are a waste of time to sit around and worry about. I worry about preparing a team, teaching young men, developing guys to be good players, good citizens, having discipline in the program; those are things I worry about. I’m more focused on the process of what we’ve got to do to have a good year this year. Those things are a waste of time.”
In Swinney’s eyes, the hiring of Chad Morris as offensive coordinator and the signing of the nation’s No.8 recruiting class, per Rivals.com, full of offensive difference-makers like tailback Mike Bellamy and receivers Sammy Watkins, Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant, will salve 2010’s wounds.
“I feel like we addressed our issues,” he said. “I was able to make a transition with my staff for the first time since I had the job. I’ve hired everyone on the staff. It’s exciting for me. I was dealt an unusual hand as I got this job. I’ve been blending it for a couple years, so it was good; we had some adversity but good things come from that.
“We’ve had a lot of positive change. What we’re doing offensively is a positive change as far as trying to address some of the issues we had last year. Hopefully we have gone out and recruited some answers to our problems as well.”
Sunday, junior center and Rimington Award candidate Dalton Freeman said Clemson’s players feel similarly, saying they have “all the confidence in the world” in Swinney, and adding that change doesn’t happen overnight.
A handful of players made available for interviews this summer have said that informal workouts have been intense, and although Swinney and his coaching staff can’t view them, they’ve received the same returns.
Failure, he said, is a huge motivator.
“There’s a real sense of urgency,” he said. “A lot of guys have had a little bit of a glance at the penthouse (with the Atlantic Division title) and a good smell of the outhouse in the last couple years. They’ve seen both extremes. I don’t think there’s any question which one they like better.
“People are a little nicer to you (when you win), talk better to you, girls like you more, people at home are kinder to you, people at the church smile at you more. There’s a lot of things that come with winning.”
Swinney talks at ACC media day
Tigers picked to finish 2nd in Atlantic
As at last week’s Clemson media golf outing, the Tigers’ 20-year ACC title drought was brought up. Swinney trumpeted the Atlantic Division title, and said he could only control what he could control.
“We’ve had two years of laying a foundation,” he said. “I can’t be held accountable for 20 years. I need to be held accountable for the opportunities we had here.
“We’re proud of (the division title) and felt like we did take a good step there, took a step back last year. We’re recruiting at a high level and that’s where it starts. I’ve put together an incredible staff, and we’ve got great chemistry. They’ve committed resources, facilities, we’ve got great support from the administration and president. All those things are what it takes. I don’t think it’s always been that way at Clemson.”
For now, that support is fully behind him.
“When you’re at Clemson, there’s high expectations, but not a lot of patience. Hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to do great things the next couple years.”