Dabo Swinney made right call in Sammy Watkins suspension

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney checks out his team on the first day of NCAA college football practice on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012 in Clemson, S.C. The defending ACC Champions open their 2012 season on Sept. 1 against Auburn in Atlanta, Ga. (AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney checks out his team on the first day of NCAA college football practice on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012 in Clemson, S.C. The defending ACC Champions open their 2012 season on Sept. 1 against Auburn in Atlanta, Ga. (AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

— – When Sammy Watkins was arrested in May for possession of marijuana and pills used to treat ADHD, it created an intriguing litmus test for Dabo Swinney and how he’d handle discipline.

In his three-plus seasons as Clemson’s head football coach, Swinney had developed a reputation as being tough on discipline – but never with a prominent player, much less the program’s most prominent player.

Two hours into Friday’s first practice of the 2012 season, Swinney passed the test – with flying colors.

Clemson announced that Watkins had been suspended for the season’s first two games – Sept. 1’s Georgia Dome opener against Auburn and Sept. 8’s home opener against Ball State, eligible to return Sept. 15 against Furman.

It was a surprising move which sent a clear, unmistakable message: no player is bigger than the team.

Clemson will enter its most anticipated opener in four years without its most electric offensive weapon.

While Watkins watches from the sidelines, Clemson will be forced to fill his spot with capable but lesser-regarded options like sophomores Adam Humphries, Martavis Bryant and Charone Peake.

A year ago, Watkins had his national coming-out party against Auburn’s defense, shredding the defending national champions for 10 catches, 155 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-24 win that broke the nation’s longest current win streak.

He never looked back, setting ACC freshman records for receptions, yardage and touchdowns while becoming an AP first-team All-American and winning consensus national freshman of the year honors.

Last month, he was voted the ACC’s preseason player of the year, and there was talk of a Heisman Trophy run.

Emerging as the ACC’s best player is still possible, but making a bid for the stiff-arm trophy seems difficult, especially when you subtract a chance to perform in the national spotlight.

It is a tough but fair punishment that falls right in line with Swinney’s other major disciplinary issue. A year ago, freshman wide receiver Joe Craig was suspended for the season’s first three games after his involvement in a bloody domestic dispute with Clemson track teammate Marlena Wesh; no charges were filed (and Craig was dismissed in February following domestic abuse charges against the mother of his young child).

By all accounts, Watkins has handled his arrest with class; Swinney repeatedly praised his response, saying he has gone “above and beyond” the parameters set out.

Perhaps that’s why some were so surprised by the ruling. Upon hearing those comments, including Swinney suggesting there was “a chance” he could play against Auburn, some began to believe the suspension would be relatively light – a quarter, a half, three quarters.

Turns out that was never a true option. All that good behavior earned Watkins the “low end” of the punishment. The high end? Four games, which would include a crucial ACC Atlantic Division showdown against Florida State.

Clemson could beat Ball State if Watkins played with his legs in a potato sack.

Suspending him for Auburn says Swinney wasn’t willing to sacrifice his principles to win a football game – even a crucial tone-setter like the season opener.

Lose, and some fans will pillory Swinney for costing the team a game in the name of a moral stand.

That doesn’t seem to be a problem for him, either.

“Those people need to be the head coach,” he said. “I’m the head coach, I make the decisions and whatever decision I make, you can’t please people. I’m not in the business to please people.”

The most important factor, he said, was making the right decision – no matter how much it hurts.

“The game of football, or a game of football will never be more important to me than teaching young people important life lessons,” he said. “ I have learned that many times something that seems to be the worst thing that can happen to you can become the best thing. I know Sammy will learn from this and use this to make a difference in other people’s lives. “

You can bet that Watkins – and those who follow him into the program – will remember it, too.

On Swinney’s watch, no one – superstar or scrub - is above the law.

© 2012 OrangeAndWhite.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 13

iptaytiger writes:

"Clemson could beat Ball State if Watkins played with his legs in a potato sack"

Easy there! Let us not forget last years game against Wofford. You can't take these warm up teams to lightly, they are always looking for an upset. They will study films over and over, and dwell on them especially for an upset. Remember JMU vs Va Tech in '10

edixon1007#206064 writes:

As Clemson person I stand up to what Dabo did......life does go further than college football...!

pawpower58 writes:

It is what it is, and there is no turning back now. A new sheriff at Clemson that says the rules are the rules. And he will at all cost up hold them. Go Dabo, Go Sammy, and most of all its about Clemson, and what Clemson stands for. Winning is awesome, but winning the right way is most important....

richardcd writes:

The difference between the ACC and the SEC: Dabo Swinney suspended Sammy Watkins for 2 games. Mark Richt, when faced with a similar problem with Branden Smith (marijuana possession) punted. Branden smith received no discipline from Richt.

Bleedsorange writes:

I do agree with Dabo. Sink, swim or sail he is driving the boat. And I respect him more for acting that way.

jbwhite writes:

Hmm Now if Joe Paterno was in charge of discipline, he might have to clean up the stadium after 1 game.

kellytown writes:

Great call Dabo now every thing is alright. Sammy has taken his punishment like a true man and thats it. Sammy will be back and every player now and in the future will know that no one player is bigger than a team, and always win the right way. This is why we are ORANGE GO TIGERS!!!

gvldude writes:

2 games is way too much! For a little bit of weed? Most of America thinks marijuana should be legal anyway. I think the punishment is too harsh

zilforreal writes:

I disagree on this one. Punishing Watkins with suspension only hurts the other players and the fans. Watkins will still get his millions and the accolades. Dabo gets a scapegoat if he loses to AU. the braver thing to do is let him play and take the heat. The coaches know that most (more than half) of the players smoke pot. (on every big school team) They look the other way unless the police get involved or it is in their face. More hypocrisy. That is what college football is about.

waran writes:

Time to move on. The Coach has decided, Sammy has taken it well. The Team knows that the coaching staff and all Tigers have high expectations of them and will play well. All Tigers should rally around the Team and support the decision.

TRUETIGER1 writes:

I don't agree with the two game suspension, but the coach has spoken, let's move on. I wish we would have had this type discipline for the GT, NCSU, USC, and WV games. GO TIGERS !

BigBud52 writes:

Good job Coach. I think Dabo knows that if this team looses to AU or anybody else, it will not be because of the offense. As long as the quarterback play is good this offense will click.

clemsonrebel writes:

I fully believe that Coach Swinney made the right call on this one. Yes I know that we are all going to miss Sammy in game 1 and I hate to see him out of any game, but you can't let his actions slide just because he is the "Golden Boy". He is still a young man that needs to learn the valuable life lesson. If it keeps him away from drugs then it has done what I'm sure Dabo intended for it to do. These are all still young men, and Dabo cares for them on and off the field. Good call in my book.

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