CLEMSON — Suggesting this time of year is bereft of college football news is a massive understatement.
The new four-team playoff appears to be all but settled.
Teams across America are settling into their new league homes, and the totems of further expansion/realignment, which beat so heavily in May and June, appear to have calmed down for now.
This is the time of year when coaches sneak away for vacation, to relax with their families and maybe snag a monster bass or two from a quiet dock before August, football practice and the new season beckon again.
It’s a quiet time – yet one of the most important.
These days, with temperatures spiking into the upper 90s and beyond, when walking outside feels like sticking your head inside an oven, when your friends compete to see who can tweet the most outlandish reading from your car’s digital thermometer, these are the days when teams are built.
On-field coaches can have no contact with their players: these steamy days are the domain of strength and conditioning coaches.
It’s their job to push players to improve themselves. Their job to push players to shape themselves. Their job to motivate players.
Virtually all of Clemson’s returnees and incoming freshmen are already on campus, so when they “report” for preseason practice August 3, they’re merely turning their collective fate over to a different group of coaches.
Dabo Swinney has made it clear that he believes in his current strength and conditioning staff.
We have no idea right now if he’s right – but we’ll have a pretty good idea by November or so.
Last fall, head strength and conditioning coach Joey Batson was a flashpoint following Clemson’s 2-4 finish, capped by an embarrassing 70-33 Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia.
Some fans thought that the Tigers – particularly the offensive line – simply weren’t tough enough; new offensive coordinator Chad Morris had called out his line’s toughness earlier in the season.
Following defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s departure, speculation built that Batson would be next.
“That is a joke,” Swinney said. “That’s the problem – (junk) like that. People have no clue when they make insane statements. Joey Batson is a good a strength and conditioning coach in the country. The most underappreciated guy we have here. If he wasn’t a championship-caliber guy, he wouldn’t be here. The way he handles our players every day, with discipline and accountability… he’s a big reason why we don’t have a lot of (problems) at Clemson. It’s because of Joey Batson. Players respect him and he’s incredibly loyal.”
“I have no idea where people get that stuff. That’s the problem with the Internet – people have their own agendas and they use it as a playground for their agendas. That’s why I trust it none, zero. There are a lot of good things on there, but that isn’t one of them.”
To borrow a Swinney favorite, he was “all-in” with Batson and his staff. Strength assistant David Abernethy did leave to take over Furman’s strength program, but the staffing is otherwise unchanged.
Swinney does not allow interviews with strength coaches, so it’s hard to know exactly what has changed in the program. But for Clemson to take the next step as a program, toughness will be a major issue.
To survive in Morris’ offense, the linemen need to be leaner and meaner.
Only one of those can be taught; attitude and intensity are more innate.
It is clear that Swinney has thrown his lot with Batson and Co.
Whether that was a wise move or not remains to be seen.