FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A year’s end is the perfect time for reflection. Judge where you’ve gone wrong, what you’ll change when the calendar flips to January.
Billy Napier never had that chance with Clemson’s offense.
A year and two days ago, Napier stood in front of reporters in the bowels of Bank of America Stadium, telling reporters he had a plan to fix the Tigers’ moribund offense.
Two days later he was sacked by Dabo Swinney, replaced by Chad Morris as part of a total revamp of his offensive staff.
My, how quickly things can change.
A year ago, Clemson trudged its way through a cold, snow-packed week in Charlotte, giving a desultory effort in a 31-26 Meineke Car Care Bowl loss to South Florida.
Their year was over nine hours before the giant ball dropped in Times Square.
Saturday, I stepped off a plane into 80-degree, sunny south Florida weather, beginning my Orange Bowl coverage on New Year’s Eve.
What an amazing turnaround.
367 days after Clemson’s worst season in 12 years wrapped up, the program’s momentum has completely changed.
Morris’ hurry-up, no-huddle system pumped new life into the offense, and he recently signed a six-year contract extension which will pay him $1.3 million per year, making him college football’s highest-paid assistant.
The Tigers’ brand is hot; Swinney’s Bobby Dodd national coach of the year award was only the latest in a postseason award haul which has seen tight end Dwayne Allen, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and defensive end Andre Branch, among others, carry home national trophies and All-America honors.
Sunday, ESPN’s Ron Jaworski was at practice; he, Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden – the network’s No.1 NFL team – will call Wednesday’s Orange Bowl, a marquee crew for the program’s first-ever BCS bowl and first BCS-level bowl since the 1982 Orange Bowl.
Following the game, Swinney and his staff will focus on wrapping up another stellar recruiting class; Rivals.com currently ranks it 10th nationally and Scout.com 11th.
You’d better believe Miami’s sun is a major inducement. Recruiting coordinator Jeff Scott’s Twitter feed has looked like a visual recruiting guide all week, featuring Clemson’s bowl swag, sights, and south Florida’s beautiful terrain.
Clemson and Swinney hope those recruits will experience many similar trips in their careers.
Since their last ACC title 20 years ago, the Tigers have been a slumbering giant. Tommy Bowden laid the foundation by securing top-notch facilities and funding; Swinney has put the program over the top with Morris’ hire and stellar recruiting.
It is truly remarkable to think this was the same group that would sooner shoot its toes off than score in the red zone, finishing 110th nationally in red-zone scoring a year ago.
The mood is different. The vibe is positive.
There’s a feeling that this Orange Bowl could be a stepping-stone to a BCS national title shot, which some fans have felt the program’s birthright since 1982.
Funny what a new year can do.