CHARLOTTE— A football coach is always searching for that one thing that can provide his team with that extra something that will ultimate push them over the hump and put them on the track for greatness.
For some coaches, it is bulletin board material provided by opponents. For others, it is challenging their team with video of last season’s disappointment.
For some it is a challenge from a former player, but for Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney the person that he may have to thank if his Tigers climb back to the pinnacle of college football this season would be—the media?
“To be honest with you, ya’ll (the media) have really helped me out a ton,” Swinney said. “Ya’ll have made it easy, because all spring and all summer everybody just talks about the guys that are gone. That really, to me, creates a great hunger for a lot of these kids that I’ve got and gives us a great edge. We’ve got a lot of guys kind of sitting in the back going ‘Hey, you know what? I was recruited to.’ That are eager to go prove that they are eager to take that next step, and have that big role.”
That “big role” will be filled by, mostly, a young team of Tigers.
As the Tigers lean on their youth to lead them this season, for Swinney there is a confidence about the 2017 Tigers team. In part, due to the process that is in place, and also, due to experience of these young Tigers.
“For us, I know that you all hear me say it all the time, we start over. And we’re fortunate that we’ve got good leadership,” Swinney said. “We’ve only got six seniors on scholarship, we’ve got 27 juniors on scholarship and those 27 guys have played in 30 games in two years and played in two national championships, won one and lost one. So, they understand what it takes.
“So, we’re really relying on that group. Then we’ve got a good group of sophomores—21 or 22 of those guys. So, we’re really counting on those guys, plus the six seniors to kind of lead the young guys coming in, some of those guys that redshirted last year that we’re expecting to help us out.”
It is that leadership and experience, combined with the commitment that Swinney has seen since the Tigers began the 2017 journey back in February that has the head coach tired of answering questions about who is no longer on the team, because he is excited about who they have returning.
“We’ve got a guy like Justin Falcinelli, nobody’s asking about our center and he’s a fourth-year junior that had a great spring, and we’re really excited about him,” Swinney said. “Then you look at our three running backs—I think we’ve got three really good backs that people are still talking about Wayne Gallman. These guys are eager. I mean, they had a role on our team last year, now these roles are going to be bigger for these guys. There’s an excitement and a sense of urgency that I really, really like, because they all have their own individual goals as well.”
Whether it is the “windshield mentality” or “not looking in the rearview mirror” or simply understanding that “last season’s touchdowns don’t win this season’s games”, anybody that has heard Swinney speak understands that he does not live in the past with anything.
Be it positive or negative the Tigers head coach is going to use whatever it is to learn and grow, and then he is going to move on—which is exactly what he expects to happen with this Tiger football team.
“I think the biggest thing is that we start over,” Swinney said. “When we go out in matt drills at 5:30 in the morning in February, there’s nobody in there patting us on the back about, ‘Oh good job. You won the National Championship.’ I mean, it’s just competing and getting after it. You don’t do that and go through that unless you are really committed. And then we just start over, we re-evaluate everything.
“We’ll have our coach’s meetings here starting next week, and we’ll go through the program as if nobody knows anything about it—like they all just fell out of the sky to get here—to make sure that they all understand who we are and what it takes. I think that we’ve done a good job from that standpoint. Our leaders have done a great job.”
It is that leadership that has led the Clemson Tigers to unprecedent success under Swinney’s leadership—and it is not going to change just because they won the National Championship last season.
“We hold them accountable, we go through our steps in our program that we believe in and when it comes time to play we’ll be ready,” Swinney said. “It’s not any different than it was last year. We’re going to control what we can control. We’re going to prepare our tails off every week to play our best game that we can possibly play and if we do that for 12 weeks when it’s all said and done—we’ll get more good results than not.”