In ten short months, Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney has gone from being on the hot seat to being one of the hottest coaches in all of college football.
The downward spiral
New Year’s Eve 2010-the clock had just hit zero as Swinney’s Clemson Tigers had suffered an embarrassing loss to South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. With a final record of 6-7, the former insurance salesman turned charismatic coach who always seemed to say all the right things was becoming aware that many of the Tiger faithful were no longer “All-In.”
What had started off as a promising year with a 2-0 start quickly spiraled out of control into a nightmare season full of close losses and a stagnant offense. After arch rival South Carolina’s November victory gave the Tigers their first losing streak to the Gamecocks since Richard Nixon was in office (1971), the uproar amongst the fanbase only became louder. By late December, many devoted Tiger fans questioned if Dabo Swinney was the right man for the job.
Righting the ship
In his post-game conference following the bowl game loss to South Florida, Swinney accepted responsibility for the outcome and promised to do everything in his power to make the program better.True to his word, he wasted little time in making good on his promises and began to make changes.
Just two days later he began his house cleaning by firing offensive coordinator Billy Napier and running backs coach Andre Powell. Offensive line coach Brad Scott also announced that he would be stepping down following the end of the recruiting season.
With the hiring of former Tulsa offensive coordinator Chad Morris, Swinney brought in a man who had led his offense to top ten national rankings in both scoring and yardage. He then brought in highly regarded offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell whose 33 years of coaching experience would be invaluable in correcting the offensive line woes of the previous season. With the additions of new running backs coach Tony Elliott and defensive line coach Marion Hobby, Swinney had managed to upgrade much of his coaching staff in a very short time.
Coaches weren’t the only thing that would new in Clemson in 2011. A top ten nationally ranked recruiting class full of highly-touted recruits would also be heading into Death Valley. Perhaps most importantly, Swinney and his Tigers filled their two biggest needs at wide receiver and linebacker by bringing in the nation’s top rated class at each position.
Translating off field success to on field success
Between the new coaches and incoming freshmen, there was plenty to be optimistic about heading into the 2011 season. The lingering question was how quickly this new talent would translate into success on the football field.
After opening the season with two less than decisive victories over weaker opponents, the fan base was keeping internet message boards lively and sports radio shows inundated with callers ready to write off the season and show Swinney the door.
Luckily for the Clemson faithful, something changed in the following game, and the Tigers became the first team in ACC history to win three consecutive games against AP top 25 opponents. Swinney and his Tigers have continued their winning ways ever since and now sit comfortably at 8-0 with the #5 ranking in the BCS.
If they can continue winning, they will not only play in their first ever BCS Bowl, but they even have an outside shot at playing in the BCS Championship game with the opportunity for their first National Championship since 1981.
Dabo Swinney is now a leading contender for National Coach of the Year honors from numerous national services. The national pundits are quickly falling in love with Clemson as they continue to defy all preseason expectations. Swinney’s exuberant personality shows through in each of his interviews, and he has even become something of a YouTube sensation.
It’s amazing how much the scenery has changed in these short ten months. As long as these Clemson Tigers continue to win ballgames, job security is something Dabo Swinney won’t be worrying about for a long time. Once again, everyone appears to be “All-In.”