SUNSET, S.C.—Offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell has had the opportunity to coach in a lot of big games during his 39 seasons coaching college football.
Caldwell has been a part of six Peach Bowls, three Orange Bowls, two National Championship games and a Fiesta Bowl—among numerous others. But the coach from nearby Furman never put much stock in winning and losing on the field, because the way he was raised it was all about doing the best he could do—regardless of the results.
“I was raised in the business to do the best you can. You work and you let the chips fall where they may,” Caldwell said. “Now, I used to not want to talk to anybody, see me or anything after a loss. Then my child was born, and when my daughter came along all that changed for me. She didn’t know whether we won or lost, she just wanted to see her daddy. That’s how I learned. When you see me on the sideline, I don’t get too bent out of shape. That’s Thursday, I coach hard during the week and Saturday is the fun time for me and I’m just there to fix problems. So that’s how I’ve learned to handle it.”
While just rolling with the punches and having “fun time” on Saturday’s is nice, there are two instances where the losing lingered a little longer than maybe it should have.
The first was back in 1985, while serving as offensive line coach at his alma mater Furman, which saw his Paladin squad lose to Georgia Southern 44-42 in the NCAA I-AA Football National Championship game. The second took 30 years—when the Clemson Tigers lost to Alabama in the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship game.
However, the Tigers were able to avenge the loss in 2015 last season—outlasting the Crimson Tide in dramatic fashion, with 35-31 victory in the 2016 National Championship.
Now, six months removed from the magical night in January, Caldwell admits that as incredible as that night was he still fights the old habits of a seasoned coach.
But that championship game, we played for one in ’85 and lost much like we did the year before. To be there so close, and then all the sudden you sit there and think we just won,” Caldwell said. “And my daughter said the year before, daddy you realize you’re playing for a national championship? I really hadn’t thought about. I’m in there trying to get ready for practice. So, in answer to your question, it just kind of rolls along, you don’t really have time to enjoy it.
“You know, you remember the losses more than you do the wins and that’s the sad part about this business sometimes. You’re always thinking about what we could have done better to have a different outcome. But I’ve learned to enjoy more and that comes from Coach Swinney. The fun’s in the winning, and that’s why we dance and celebrate and have a big time. But it’s a short period and it’s back to another one, ready to go. But that being the last one, that’s the first time I’ve ever won the last one. And man, it’s just awesome.”
The job of the Tigers’ team and coaching staff now becomes simple—do it all again.
As difficult as it is to climb to the top of the college football mountain one time, the Tigers will attempt to do something that is nearly impossible—playing for a national championship three straight years—a task that is made more difficult with the loss of the greatest quarterback in the history of the program, Deshaun Watson.
But if there is one group that can help, whoever wins the starting quarterback job, it is a dominant offensive line—and Caldwell’s group may be one of the best to ever suit up at Clemson, losing only center Jay Guillermo off last year’s squad.
“Well, I don’t ever talk much about it until after the season, but I do think–my deal is we got an opportunity to be good. Obviously, we got everybody back, got some playing experience,” Caldwell said. “We’re a little untested at center, losing Jay Guillermo. But I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Justin Falcinelli. You know, Justin had never snapped a ball. He agreed, reluctantly, but he went over and tried it and it was really difficult to do, when you’ve never snapped a ball.
“But he has adjusted to it well. Very smart young man. You wouldn’t believe it, but he can put a computer together with spare parts. He’s a video guru. This is a little bit easier than that, you just point and we go that direction. So, he’s had a lot of fun doing it.”