Some players were not buying into the cultural that has made Clemson so dominant in college football
Dabo Swinney has always said the 2010 football season played a big role in the success of the program’s present state. However, until Friday, no one truly knew why.
The 2010 football season was a tough year for Clemson as it lost five games by five points or less. The Tigers went 6-7, which concluded with back-to-back losses to South Carolina and South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte.
Swinney has even admitted he was worried if he still had a job after the Tigers were beat 29-7 at home that year by the Gamecocks. Then athletic director Terry Don Phillips met Swinney in his office after the game and told him he was never so sure he was the man for the job than he was that night.
The next year, Clemson won its first ACC Championship in 20 years and has been on a roll ever since, winning 82 games, seven straight 10-win seasons, six bowl victories, four ACC Championships and one national title.
However, not everybody in 2010 was as confident in Dabo Swinney as Phillips was. Of course the fan base was upset, but that’s no surprise, they should have been.
But what was shocking to learn on ESPNU Radio Friday morning was how there were players in Clemson’s locker room who did not believe in Swinney. In fact, former Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd told ESPNU Radio’s First-Team Show with Greg McElroy and Taylor Zarzour that senior players on that team told him and the other underclassmen not to believe what Swinney and the coaching staff were telling them following the Tigers’ embarrassing, 31-26, loss to South Florida.
“I was in the locker room after that game in Charlotte, and I sat there as a young player, and our whole team was young at that particular time, but we had some seniors, guys who have been involved with the program for a long time that were not under Coach Swinney’s regime and just did not buy in,” Boyd recalled. “Some of those guys got up after the game and said ‘That you guys will never win anything here. They are going to lie to you and tell you they are going to win ACC Championships. That is not going to happen.’ That was a true statement right there.”
Fortunately for Clemson, Boyd and the other younger players on the roster did not listen to those seniors.
As everyone knows, the next season Boyd and company led the program to its first ACC Championship in 20 years, the starting point of what has become one of the most consistent football programs in the country.
“It was almost that whole … we were so young we did not know what to believe so we just believed what Coach Swinney told us, if that makes sense,” Boyd said. “We bought into the culture. Coach Swinney said, ‘Look, you can let those guys have an impact on what they say and what they experienced, but that is not going to be this team right here.’”
Clemson went 10-4 in 2011 and Boyd was named the Most Valuable Player in the ACC Championship Game. The Tigers were also headed back to the Orange Bowl for the first time in 30 years and won 10 games in a season for the first time in 21 seasons.
“That off-season (in 2011) was so huge and so important,” Boyd said. “I thought I had a decent spring practice that year throughout the whole spring, but Coach (Chad) Morris told me one thing, he said, ‘Look, I thought your spring was piss poor and if you cannot find a way to get it done, I will find someone that will.’
“That is just kind of the staff they had. They lit a fire under you. They expected the best, even though we did not know what to expect from ourselves. We just continued to follow their lead and believed in the guys we had in that room. You have to believe internally before everyone believes externally. I think that is what you see when you see this staff, this team and you see the trend that Clemson is pointing upwards.”
The next season Boyd won ACC Player of the Year honors, while leading Clemson to an 11-2 season which included a 25-24 win over No. 9 LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Tigers again went 11-2 in 2013, which included a 40-35 victory over No. 7 Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.
After a 10-3 season in 2014, which included a 40-6 win over Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl, Clemson began its current run of three straight ACC Championships, three straight College Football Playoff Appearances, two appearances in the national championship game and one national championship.
“Everything that we did was a first,” Boyd said. “We won the first ACC Championship in 20 years. First ever BCS Bowl bid. First Orange Bowl win (since 1982). In that (2011) season when we started 8-0, we just did not know how to handle certain things. As we were growing as players, Coach Swinney and his staff were growing as coaches.
“I was a part of Coach Swinney’s first recruiting class. That was a special moment. But you have seen the maturation process and everything else that has come along with it.”
Fortunately for Clemson, it was a good thing Boyd and his fellow underclassmen in 2010 chose to listen to Swinney instead of the seniors.