Sometimes, a small thing can create big change. Just ask anyone who felt the effects caused by a tiny bit of friction along two tectonic plates—also known as an earthquake—in Oklahoma that spread across the Great Plains a couple of weeks ago.
People can have that type of impact, too. This is especially true of leaders. A small shift in perspective from an effective leader can lead to a seismic shift in performance from the group. This is true in families, in businesses, in churches, in organizations—and in the Clemson football team.
When Deshaun Watson apologized to the media for his negative energy on Monday, he looked the part. He was sincere and thoughtful and personal, qualities that Watson has undoubtedly always possessed but rarely delved into with cameras and recorders rolling. His gesture was unnecessary in the moment, since no one in the media knew exactly what he was apologizing for, but it also felt very much necessary given the melancholy attitude that has permeated the Tigers’ offense over the past two weeks.
Missed opportunities can create that kind of environment, but this gloomy exterior seemed to have roots much deeper than a three-and-out or a holding penalty. Fans began to notice a unit that resembled a patient awaiting a root canal, not the fun-loving bunch that gripped the nation a year ago.
Watson’s apology to media could have been extended to his coaches, teammates, and fans, as well. It felt that way in the moment, as if he understood—even better than those he was addressing—how many people were affected by his moody start to the season. It also seemed like he was anxious to turn the page and start having fun playing football once again.
Making football fun again could be the right cure for what has ailed Clemson’s offense thus far. This is especially true if the root cause of the problem was the starting quarterback’s poor attitude. His adjustment, if it’s sincere—and there’s no reason to believe it isn’t—should trickle down to the younger and less experienced players on the roster.
Watson’s apparent transformation needs to trickle down in that way, because Clemson’s offense needs for football to be fun again. Actually, if the players were enjoying themselves, one could argue that many of the mental mistakes that frustrated fans on Saturday may not have happened.
If football were fun, Deon Cain wouldn’t have short-armed two touchdown passes. If football were fun, Ray-Ray McCloud wouldn’t have tried to make it fun with his drop-the-ball-at-the-goal-line celebration. If football were fun, the offensive line would play with aggression, not the passive, penalty-ridden style we all witnessed on Saturday that allowed Troy to live in the Clemson backfield.
It’s clear from Tuesday’s press conference that Dabo Swinney wants to move past the malaise that surrounds the program. He was feisty with reporters and preached patience regarding his team. It stands to reason that he feels better about things given the talk he had with Watson earlier this week, especially since he called the star quarterback “the least of my worries.”
Time will tell whether Watson’s apology to the media will matter, or whether his teammates will follow his lead. It may not be the famous Tim Tebow speech immortalized at the Florida football offices, but Watson wouldn’t give that kind of fiery rah-rah address. Instead, he coolly signaled to the world that he’s going back to the way he was—a nightmarish thought for anyone who thought Clemson was about to take a step back in 2016.