Clemson won last year’s national championship long before it beat Alabama on Jan. 7 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
It happened on the practice field one day when left guard Johns Simpson and former defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence got into a fight.
“Dexter was just being Dexter, being big and strong and stuff,” Simpson said laughing.
But at the time it was no laughing matter. During one of Clemson’s good-on-good drills in the latter part of practice, Lawrence gave former All-American left tackle Mitch Hyatt a little extra push after a play was over.
The extra-curricular activity irritated Simpson for some reason, so he went after Lawrence.
“Mitch doesn’t say anything. He really does not say much. That’s my boy. That’s my buddy. He is like my brother,” the All-ACC guard said. “I was like, ‘Don’t push him!’ And me and Dex got into a little scuffle. I got out and then somebody else went in and got into it with Dexter, again.”
The pushing and shoving started to get under head coach Dabo Swinney’s skin, causing him to stop practice and let his players know he was not going to have any of it.
“It was one of those days, and it was time for me to step in, and I did,” Swinney said. “It was a long day. But when we walked off the field, we were a different team. Even though you have a veteran group, there are still times you have to, like alight, ‘this is what is needed in this moment.’”
It was not a good moment for Simpson and Lawrence. Swinney made both of them get on the ground and do bear crawls, a strengthening, stabilizing and cardio exercise that involves nearly all your muscle groups, including the ones in your lower body, upper body and lower core.
It is also very tiring.
“We bear crawled for a long time. We literally bear crawled for the rest of practice,” Simpson said.
As tough as it was, Simpson understood what the lesson was and that Swinney was not just teaching him and Lawrence, but the entire team.
“He told us we have to stick together. We have to come together,” the senior said. “There is always going to be sparks flying because it is iron sharpening iron, but we just have to be able to control our temper.”
Simpson said the Tigers were a different team after that particular practice. It brought them closer together. There were no more fights in practice after that one.
“I think as a coach you have to kind of balance that regardless,” Swinney said. “Certainly, when you have a younger team, you have to be patient. There are just certain things they do not know. They don’t understand so you have to teach. It is no different than parenting. My conversations with my 16-year old is very different than when he was nine or ten. It is no different when you are dealing with a football team.”
And just like parenting, sometimes a coach has to be hard on his team, even the one that turned out to be the first 15-0 team in the history of major college football.
“I don’t know what it was, but I was not trying to fight no one,” Simpson said laughing.