CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney loves to talk about character, and chemistry, and how much they mean to a football team’s composition and success.
We’re about to find out just how much he believes those words.
Swinney faces the biggest disciplinary crisis of his three-plus years as Clemson’s head coach, thanks to Sammy Watkins’ arrest early Friday morning on drug charges.
After the 2008 Cadillac Watkins was driving was pulled over for scraping the curb and having a burned-out license plate tag, police discovered he possessed a bag of marijuana as well as a pair of pills which are controlled substances. They are Adderall and lisdexanfetamine (Vyvanase), both of which are prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
He was charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of marijuana
In a statement, Swinney said he was “mad and hurt” by Watkins’ arrest, adding that Watkins is a “model student, citizen, player and teammate. But there are consequences for your actions... and there will be in this case.”
How severe they are will say plenty about how strongly Swinney values discipline.
While we don’t have all the facts in Watkins’ arrest, it appears worthy of a suspension.
90 miles away, star Georgia tailback Isaiah Crowell got a one-game suspension last fall for failing a drug test, and Watkins was caught with not one – but three different drugs.
If so, how long should it be? A game? Two games? Three?
And when would that punishment be served?
Here’s the biggest elephant in the room: Sept. 1’s season opener in the Georgia Dome against Auburn.
Both teams are expected to be ranked in the preseason top 25, and given Clemson’s 2011 ACC title and Auburn’s dual coordinator change, the game will be hotly anticipated and debated.
A year ago, Watkins had his national coming-out party against AU, catching 10 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-24 win that snapped its national best 17-game win streak.
He is the most explosive player on virtually any field he steps on.
If Swinney sits Sammy for Auburn, it would send a distinct message: missteps simply aren’t tolerated. No player is bigger than the team.
If Sammy sits against, say, Ball State or Furman, it sets an entirely different tone – that such errors are forgivable, and correctable in “voluntary” offseason workouts, running stadium steps or gassers away from prying public eyes.
Before Friday, Swinney’s biggest disciplinary quandary was wide receiver Joe Craig, who was suspended after allegedly striking Marlena Wesh, a member of the women’s track team, with a broken-off towel bar, bloodying her face; Wesh also slashed Craig’s tricep with an eyebrow razor.
No charges were filed, but Craig was suspended from summer workouts and the first three games of the 2011 season.
In February, Swinney booted Craig after he was arrested for domestic violence against his girlfriend, the mother of his young child.
Craig was fast, and talented, but nowhere near Watkins’ five-star, game-breaking level.
Former coach Tommy Bowden liked to talk about a player having “money in the bank,” and it is clear Craig’s second arrest caused an overdraft.
By all accounts, this is Watkins’ first major misstep. Friday, Grant Redhead, who coached him at South Fort Myers (Fla.) High School, said he had one minor disciplinary issue in four years – late paperwork that forced him to miss one practice as a senior.
Last fall, Swinney and teammates raved about Watkins’ maturity and ability to quickly pick up the offense, in sharp contrast to fellow five-star recruit Mike Bellamy, who struggled with disciplinary problems and spent this spring just trying to earn his way back onto the roster.
Now, they’re both trying to get back in his good graces.
Clemson has a deep, talented wide receiver corps, led by junior DeAndre Hopkins, whose freshman records Watkins smashed last fall on his way to becoming an first-team All-American and national freshman of the year.
But after Watkins suffered a sprained shoulder in early November, the offense wasn’t the same.
It can survive without him; whether it can thrive is an open question.
Swinney likely knows the answer, deep in his heart.
Whether he is willing to let the world find out will tell us plenty about him – and how much he values discipline.