Critics give Swinney, Tigers exactly what they want … being the underdog

Critics give Swinney, Tigers exactly what they want … being the underdog


Critics give Swinney, Tigers exactly what they want … being the underdog


Monday Morning Quarterback

I understand the folks at ESPN and the other talking heads at the other networks have a job to do. They’re supposed to give their opinions on hot button issues and maybe fire up a fan base or two to help with the ratings.

This week, the flavor of the week happens to be Clemson, and understandably so. The Tigers struggled at unranked, and now three-loss, North Carolina, where they had to get a stop on a two-point conversion with 1:17 remaining to win the game.

It was an ugly win and the criticism that comes with it was expected. However, some of the guys have taken it a little too far in my opinion. They are saying Clemson isn’t even one of the top teams in the country.

I don’t know if I agree with that, but that’s their opinion and they get paid to give their opinion.

I remember at the beginning of the year, way back in July, when these same guys, and ladies, were looking at Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and asking what he will use to motivate his football team this season. They all said he could not play the “underdog card” anymore after the way his team destroyed Alabama in the national championship game last year.

When SEC Network homer Paul Finebaum started spatting off at the mouth about the Clemson program in July, former Clemson offensive lineman, now ACC Network analyst, Eric Mac Lain, said those were the kinds of things Dabo Swinney would grab and pass along to his players. Not necessarily to motivate them, but to just kind of pass it along, let them know what was being said out there. Kind of let it sit there, if you will.

In other words, Clemson’s naysayers, guys like Finebaum, are just adding fuel to the fire. They are putting that proverbial chip right on the Tigers’ shoulders. That “us against the world mentality” that Swinney has used so well to fire up his team.

All of a sudden, because of one game in which they did not play well, but still found a way to win, Clemson can’t compete with the big boys, again. “If they struggle to beat lowly North Carolina, how in the world will they ever compete against the great Alabamas, Oklahomas and Ohio States of the world?”

One thing I have learned in the 11 years I have been covering Dabo Swinney as Clemson’s head coach is that you never tell him he can’t do something. As a former walk-on, who went through some incredible struggles when he was a young man, he always has had an underdog mentality.

He was told he could not go to college and he went and found a way to do it. He was told he couldn’t play college football, and he went and did it. He was told he could not become a starter, and he went and did it.

More than any coach in the country, his Clemson teams fit his persona. They don’t like to be told they can’t do something.

That mentality has driven the program since the day Swinney took over on October 13, 2008 as the interim head coach. At the time, especially with two former head coaches on Tommy Bowden’s staff, people wondered why did Terry Don Phillips selected the wide receivers’ coach with no coordinating experience to run the program?

When Phillips said Swinney would be a candidate for the job, everyone laughed and said “okay, whatever.” Then the Tigers went 4-2 under Swinney as the interim and beat South Carolina to earn the job.

Everyone at the time wondered what Phillips was doing, including Clemson fans, and questioned his judgement. After the Tigers went 6-7 in 2010, everyone thought Swinney was way over his head and that the Clemson program was going to spiral out of control.

Boy, were they wrong.

Again, using his “us against the world mentality” Swinney was quietly building a sleeping giant in the foothills of South Carolina. He slowly started building a culture where his players believed in themselves and stopped listening to the outside distractions. They started believing they could do anything if they worked hard and put their minds to it.

Sure, they have lost a few games here and there. Like Swinney has said countless times in the past, winning is not easy to do. But the program has taken on his mentality.

Like their head coach, the Clemson players like being the underdog. They thrive on it. When someone says they can’t do something, they dig their heels in and they want to go prove they can do it.

So, some in the national media were asking “where was Clemson going to find its motivation this season? No one is going to tell the Tigers they can’t do something this year.” But here we are, five weeks into the season and there are some saying there is no way Clemson can compete with the Alabamas of the world.

It took just one game, a game the Tigers still found a way to win, for the national media to give Dabo Swinney what he thrives off of … being the underdog.

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