By Ed McGranahan
This morning Dabo Swinney awoke not knowing what surprises might lurk. All he knows for sure is that there’s a system in place that works if everybody makes sound decisions.
Frankly, it is the scariest time of year for all college football coaches. Between the spring game and the official start of preseason, players have more free time, more occasions to be creative during these days without practice and meetings and film work and game planning and conditioning and classes and study hall.
Coaches have tried to narrow the window for potential mischief by insisting players remain on campus and enroll in summer classes and by creating an air of urgency through peer pressure. Missing a “voluntary” workout can have ramifications if the team’s leadership is sound.
Nevertheless, stuff happens, and not always pleasant stuff.
If Swinney allowed his imagination to run wild he could become a basket case. Camps such of those this week can be a nifty recruiting tool, but they also help keep the staff engaged while players are out doing – whatever.
Entering his fifth full season as head coach, Swinney can knock on wood. Over the past two weeks, players from Florida State and Georgia have made headlines. There have been no publicly reported incidents this spring involving Clemson players. Though, it’s still early.
A year ago Sammy Watkins strayed and it cost him. The message Swinney delivered was clear. Watkins understood. If any of his teammates didn’t they weren’t paying attention. All-American, Heisman Trophy caliber players are not excused for being stupid.
Swinney came to Clemson because of his relentless pursuit of a dream. Achieving it required discipline, determination and sacrifice. He expects nothing more of his staff and players than he does of himself.
Attending Alabama on a shoestring, Swinney earned a place on the football team and eventually a scholarship. Knowing he likely wouldn’t be an NFL prospect Swinney majored in business and twice achieved academic all-conference honors.
Now, when he pitches Clemson to prospects and their families, Swinney can speak without equivocation about his insistence on model citizens and students. He rose above a less than idyllic situation at home so excuses aren’t acceptable.
This week the NCAA released its annual Academic Progress report, and Clemson’s football team was again among the best in the country. In fact, Clemson tied for fourth in the nation trailing Northwestern,Boise State and Duke.
Clemson’s APR score has improved every year under Swinney and was the only program that ranked in the top 10 of the final USA Today poll to post at least a 980 score (985 out of 1,000).
APR serves as a measure for determining whether scholarship players are making reasonable progress toward graduation. The NCAA has another set of criteria for graduation rates, and the Clemson football program has remained ahead of the curve in that area, too. And in the spirit of full disclosure it would be fair to point out that Swinney’s contract calls for bonuses in both areas. Knowing his generosity, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that he earmarks that money for other purposes.
All that aside, it is another indication that as he continues to rebuild Clemson football’s prestige, Swinney demands the best from those around him.