By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Though they were coming off a 6-7 season and fans and media alike were questioning whether Dabo Swinney was ready to be a head coach anywhere, much less at a school like Clemson, the program did not let the outside influences seep into the walls of the locker room, the meetings rooms or anywhere inside the WestZone at Memorial Stadium.
They stayed as Swinney likes to say “football focused.”
“My second year here, we did not have a very good season, but we knew how close we were,” Swinney said during a teleconference with the media Tuesday morning. “None of that mattered. You just go back to work.”
And boy have they worked. Since that turbulent season in 2010, the Tigers have won 21 games, an ACC Championship, two divisional championships and a Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over No. 7 LSU.
“We came off an ACC Championship last year and lost a bunch of veteran offensive linemen off that team. We lost some really, really critical defensive linemen off that ACC Championship team and a lot of veteran leadership and experience, but the guys just went back to work,” Swinney said. “They came back and won 11 games this past year.
“This is a young team and there is no doubt about that. We only have 10 seniors on scholarship, but there is a bunch of guys that have won 21 games so they know how to win, but more importantly they know how to prepare to win and that’s the process that they understand.”
Clemson will begin that process on March 6 as the 2013 Tigers start spring practice, which will conclude with the Annual Spring Game at Death Valley on April 13at 4 p.m. Clemson will finish up its mat drills this week as players have been working out with the strength and conditioning staff the last few weeks to get ready for spring practice.
“This is a group that wants to be great,” Swinney said. “Our job as coaches is to help them get there and correct them, discipline them, encourage them and teach them. That’s what we do.
“Then it goes to the leadership of your team. There can’t be any satisfaction, and I don’t think there is anybody here that is satisfied with what we have accomplished, although we have done some great things. There is no question that a lot of good things have happened over here the last few years, but our goal is to compete for the national championship. We want to be in the mix for a BCS bowl every year and be in the top 10 multiple times.”
Last year, Clemson finished the season at 11-2 and ranked No. 9 in the final USA Today Coaches Poll after beating then No. 7 LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. At one point, the Tigers won seven straight games and finished the year averaging a school record 41.0 points and 512.7 yards per game, which led the ACC.
The 11 wins marked the first time since 1981 that a Clemson team won at least 11 games in one year, while its seven ACC wins tied for a school record for conference wins in a season. Now as the 2013 season starts to crank up, it’s time to not only do it again, but to do it better.
Swinney’s goal for his program isn’t to just be good every now and again, but to be one of the elite programs in the country.
“Our guys understand that the margin of error is very small when you are trying to be one of those great elite teams,” he said. “There is not a sense of satisfaction amongst these guys and that is a sign of good leadership and a coaching staff doing a great job on a group of guys that are focused on the right things.”
Swinney says they have good experience coming back at Clemson, they have recruited well and they have the talent to be all they want to be.
“We are not hoping to go have a good season, we are expecting to have a good season,” he said. “There is a lot that goes into that. It is not just talent. It is not just experience. It is commitment. It’s paying the price in the spring, in the summer and all season.
“It is kind of a journey that you go on every year and that January to March period is when you kind of get ready. From April to June you are kind of transforming your team and July to September is primetime. That’s when the lights are on, and October to December is championship season.
“It is just a journey,” he continued, “and as long as we are staying focused on the day-to-day things we have to do to get where we want to go, then certainly we have an opportunity to be a special team.”
New & Notes: Swinney says defensive back Garry Peters will miss the first couple of practices in the spring because he has not committed himself to being a better student athlete.
“We think Garry made huge strides this past year as a football player, but he is a guy that hasn’t still fully commit and have his attitude right,” Swinney said. “He has to understand team commitment. That’s really where it has to start for him.”
Peters will go to team meetings and participate in all team functions except for practice. When practice starts, he will head over to Vickery Hall to study.
“It’s not anything bad, his attitude just has to be better,” Swinney said.
Besides Peters, Swinney also announced that backup quarterback Tony McNeal will receive a medical hardship. McNeal has suffered severe knee injuries the last two years and has decided to hang up his cleats. He will stay on as a student assistant coach until he finishes up his school work.
Freshman kicker Ammon Lakip isn’t with the team, currently. He had to leave the team for medical and personal reasons and has applied to get a medical clearance to withdraw from classes this semester. Swinney hopes to have him back on the team next season.