CLEMSON — Ah, the good ol’ days.
When Dabo Swinney was a receiver at Alabama from 1988-92, inclement weather wasn’t exactly a major concern.
“It’s not like it used to be, and that’s a good thing,” Clemson’s head coach recalled recently. “When I was playing, the lightning bolt would have to strike right next to you. ‘OK, boys, let’s go in.”
That isn’t the case anymore.
Like many campuses, Clemson has sophisticated lightning detection systems which warn of oncoming storms. If a lightning strike is detected within a certain distance of campus, weather sirens blare and outdoor activities – including football practice – grind to a halt.
“Now it’s a day like this a siren will go off, you’re going what the heck, and you’re shut down for 45 minutes before you can even think about going out,” Swinney said. “Well, we work on a 20-hour rule. (Players have) study halls, tutors, a lot of stuff. We go to class here. It’s a lot to balance. You have a certain window to get your work in.”
This fall, doing so will get a lot easier for Clemson. A $10 million indoor practice facility is rising inside Clemson’s football complex, and it is expected to be completed in time for December bowl practice.
It is only the latest in a seemingly never-ending stream of facility improvements that include the WestZone project at Memorial Stadium and the stadium’s new HD scoreboard and state-of-the-art sound system.
These improvements are funded by private donations through IPTAY, Clemson’s booster arm, as well as the increasing stream of TV revenue from the ACC’s new TV contract. Last spring, the ACC signed a new 15-year deal with ESPN which totals $3.6 billion, and will pay each ACC school an average of $17.1 million annually over the deal’s lifespan.
“Everyone is always trying to improve themselves competitively from an edge standpoint,” Swinney said. “In recruiting, you have to constantly get better. Facilities are a part of that. You can’t sit still. We’ve got things we still need to do with the WestZone. For me, at this level, (the indoor facility) is a huge need for us. Because of the edge other people are gaining by having that. They never miss a day. So for us, we’re never going to miss a day of work.”
The new facility got a kick-start from an embarrassing 2009 NFL pro day. With dozens of NFL coaches, scouts and general managers on hand to watch top-10 pick C.J. Spiller and wide receiver Jacoby Ford, among others, athletes were forced to work in a driving rain because turf in Clemson’s indoor track facility – the football program’s weather backup – was deemed unsafe.
“Our pro day is the biggest day of the year for our senior athletes. You all remember a couple years ago, we’ve got C.J. Spiller out here and I’m standing under a golf umbrella with (then-Carolina Panthers coach) John Fox and we’re getting poured on,” Swinney said. “Them guys are out there trying to work and be the best they can be.”
Practicing in the rain, he said, is a major safety hazard.
“We had a skills and drills (summer workout) they were supposed to do, they weren’t able to come out because it was just a mess, dangerous for them to come out here,” Swinney said. “You talk about injuries happening, you come out here on a slick field. When we have (the indoor facility) next summer, they don’t miss a day.”
Clemson officials put new turf in the track facility following the pro day debacle, but conditions are far more cramped and specialists can’t work effectively, either.
“I’m thankful we’ve had a place to get in but we can’t go full-speed,” Swinney said. “And you can’t practice this game half-speed. Just doesn’t work. Not on a Tuesday, Wednesday, you’ve got to play an opponent on game day. Especially if they’ve been able to practice at a tempo at which you need to practice. It’s going to be awesome. Many other things we can benefit from, and we’re going to use it for a lot of other things.”
Along with the WestZone, which includes sparkling new offices, locker rooms, team facilities, a team dining room, club seats, and soon, a Clemson museum, it’s another sign the Tigers are committed to keeping up with college football’s facilities arms race.
“We talk about being the best at Clemson, and this is a further step in that direction, also another sign to our student-athletes that we’re committed to providing them with the best,” Swinney said. “We want them to be the best, want to provide them with the best. There’s a lot of benefits and I’m excited about it. We’re appreciative to all the folks who raised the money and we’ll be good stewards of it.”