After four years of Dabo Swinney, Clemson clearly better off

Dabo Swinney celebrates after Clemson's 42-13 win over Wake Forest

Photo by Mark Crammer

Dabo Swinney celebrates after Clemson's 42-13 win over Wake Forest

— For the past 12 months – and for one more week – a familiar refrain has rung out across the land.

“Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

Whether that’s true for America is best left to others, but it is certainly true for Clemson’s football program.

Four years and 24 days ago, Dabo Swinney was thrust into power as the Tigers’ interim head coach. He became the full-time head coach in December 2008. And while there are those who disagree with his style or his methods, there is no arguing with his results.

Following Thursday’s 42-13 rout of Wake Forest, Clemson is 7-1 entering 2012’s final month, with three of its final four regular-season games at home. The Tigers remain in position – with another Florida State ACC defeat – to win their third ACC Atlantic Division title in four years and play for their second consecutive ACC championship.

Even without an ACC title, a 10-win season is well within reach. With three more victories, the Tigers will have back-to-back 10-win campaigns for the first time since 1987-1990 – the final three seasons of the Danny Ford era and the first of Ken Hatfield’s ill-fated run.

The program has taken a clear step forward following Tommy Bowden’s 10-plus year tenure. Memorial Stadium’s sparkling WestZone addition is an appealing front door for recruits, and the athletic department seemingly has an open checkbook for football, with the latest example the $10 million indoor practice facility set to open in December.

The man who was thrust into power four years ago has matured into the program’s CEO. Swinney was never so much as a coordinator, but he is smart enough to know his limitations.

Elevating Billy Napier from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator was ill-advised – Napier’s system was, at best, a rudderless ship – but Swinney corrected his mistake by plucking Chad Morris from Tulsa to install a hurry-up, no-huddle offense. Powered by stars like Tajh Boyd, DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, it has become one of college football’s most potent, exciting offenses.

Kevin Steele’s defensive system proved too complicated for the Tigers’ athletes. He departed following a 70-33 Orange Bowl embarrassment at West Virginia’s hands, and Swinney smartly replaced him with Oklahoma’s Brent Venables.

While the defense’s learning curve has been slower than the offense was under Morris last year, there has been clear progress: Clemson allowed 523 yards and 37 points per game in its first three ACC contests, but only 348 and 15 points in its last two.

Given that Morris and Venables are the nation’s highest-paid coordinator duo at $2.1 million annually, that sort of success should be expected. But given how some programs run through coordinators quicker than most of us change oil in our vehicles, it isn’t a given.

Swinney is smart enough to hire good people and then get out of the way, and know when it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Besides Swinney, wide receivers coach Jeff Scott is the only assistant remaining who coached games as a full-time assistant in 2008, and he began the season as a graduate assistant, moving up to a full-time role when Swinney relieved Bowden.

Is he perfect? No. Fans would love to see a win over South Carolina –Clemson hasn’t beaten the Gamecocks since 2008, a victory that sealed Swinney’s ascension into the full-time role – but the Tigers have largely fulfilled their potential under his watch.

Even if Florida State wins out and seals the Atlantic title, a second consecutive BCS bid is well within reach. With improvement and consistent 10-win seasons, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility to think about the fall when it all comes together and another crystal trophy returns to Death Valley.

Life in Swinney’s world isn’t flawless, but Clemson fans are clearly better off with him than they were four years ago.

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Comments » 12

33dtb writes:

AMEN !!!!!!!!

richardcd writes:

Who disagrees w/Dabo's style and methods? What are their opinions? What makes them so smart?

justcurious writes:

a Tiger fan through and through, but not a Dabo fan, do not want to take anything away from him, he has done the job, but for some reason he does not get my attention as a coach.

PtownDawg writes:

If my memory serves me correctly...not too awful long ago Greg Wallace was writing about Dabo being on the hot seat! For the third year in a row! And he seldom sounded like a person who had any desire to see Dabo succeed. Amazing what winning can do for the nay-sayers...except of course for "justcurious" above! Dabo is "the man" at CU, and all real "Tigers through and through" know this. Good luck Tigers, and thanks Dabo for four great years. The best IS yet to come.

columbiabill writes:

in response to justcurious:

a Tiger fan through and through, but not a Dabo fan, do not want to take anything away from him, he has done the job, but for some reason he does not get my attention as a coach.

sennmanthetigerfan go it right in his post. Just to be curious I looked up the records of other coaches who have been coaching about the same time as Dabo.
In the ACC
Dabo 64% winning after 4 years
Fisher 75% after 3 years
Johnson 60% 5 years
O'Brian 53% 6 years
Spaziani 47% 4 years
Cuteliffe 37% 5 years
Outside the ACC
Kelly Notre Dame 70% 3 years
Chizik 64% 4 years
Mullen 60% 4 years
Phillips 32% 3 years
Dooley 42% 3 years
Spurrier 47% after 4 years, 62% after 8 years

This is just a quick sampling for comparison. With the talent on hand now and what is coming, Clemson's best days are ahead. Dabo is a super recruiter and that is the name of the game in college football. That along with assembling a top notch staff, which he has done. I respect your opinion of not being a Dabo fan, but come back after 2-3 more years with another crystal football in the trophy case and let us know if you have changed your opinion. If we support him and he stays, he will be a legend.

33dtb writes:

in response to justcurious:

a Tiger fan through and through, but not a Dabo fan, do not want to take anything away from him, he has done the job, but for some reason he does not get my attention as a coach.

He's NOT a coach! In the tradition of the great Danny Ford,
Dabo is a CEO. A hard-nosed Chief Executive Officer.
Somebody either has to dot ALL the i's and cross ALL the t's or see that it gets done.

Dabo tried at first to do it all, but came to be a bigger man and hired capable assistants and coordinators and sacrificed his own salary and bonuses to be sure they were well payed.

One heck of a MAN and when you get right down to it, one heck of a COACH.

GLADLY WOULD HE LEARN AND GLADLY TEACH.

33dtb writes:

Now just get us an O-Line !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

CUNo1Fan writes:

in response to 33dtb:

Now just get us an O-Line !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

O Line isn't that bad - especially considering where they started from this year - get me a D front 7 with some lockdown DBs!!

Oh where we could be if we had a D that was as solid as our O.

f8thwlk writes:

This ship is finally headed in the right direction...
Nuff said.

brookesdad729 writes:

One of my favorite Dabo sayings is "we play to a standard, not to an opponent"! This is so true! When you play to an opponent like we have done in the past, you play down to those who appear down (i.e. Duke, WF etc...) and you pay for it. I like the way we showed up against WF and finally played our game and not theirs. It doesn't matter who's on the field, you gotta play your game! Had there been any defense against FSU and that game would have been in the books but that's another story. If "ifs and buts were candy and nuts, everyday would be Christmas! Good job Dabo! Now our defense has to get that "killer" instinct! Right now I see Shuey starting to show some of that, even though he is getting flagged for it...lol!

33dtb writes:

in response to sennmanthetigerfan:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

alright, you ROCKET SCIENTISTS aka ARMCHAIR COACHES, what does Chad Morriss know about it??????
After all he's just the Offensive Coordinator:::::::
......"3. The offensive line still isn’t perfect: This week, Morris lamented the line’s inconsistency and LACK OF OVERALL DEPTH. While Tajh Boyd threw for a Clemson single-game record 428 yards, he was sacked three times, and the Tigers gained just 101 net yards on 45 rush attempts. Senior tailback Andre Ellington didn’t have much room to run, gaining 61 yards on 15 carries. To accomplish bigger goals, the line must be more physical and powerful in the run game"..........

33dtb writes:

Chad Morris today,
"On offensive line’s progress: “(They’ve progressed) very well. They have. I’m a typical coach. I want to line up and knock everyone off the ball. Three yards and a cloud of dust, every play. I know that’s not going to happen. I’m proud of those guys. We’ve tried to develop the continuity of those five guys. But you just wish you had a little more competition to push guys, to motivate a Brandon Thomas, to motivate a David Beasley. Which we do. Ryan Norton’s come in and give us a spark. But Ryan’s also having to give a spark at center, left guard and right guard. There’s just nobody at that tackle position that’s ready to make a push. I’m proud of them and think those guys would be a little more on edge knowing their job was at stake every week.”"......

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