Clemson University

Clemson interim football coach Swinney gains team's trust

CLEMSON -- If Dabo Swinney had not captured players' attention when he first addressed the team as Clemson's interim coach, he apparently did shortly thereafter.

Swinney opened by declaring that it did not matter who was at quarterback -- Willy Korn, Cullen Harper or whomever -- the Tigers were going to throw the ball deep.

We might overthrow it, Swinney said. But guess what? The Tigers were going to throw deep again.

Seemingly unanimously, players have contended that Swinney's blend of charisma, optimism and sincerity had earned their individual trust and infused new life during Clemson's two practices since he replaced Tommy Bowden.

In the short sample available, Swinney has appeared to justify the belief he stands a better chance than typical interim appointments of earning the job at season's end.

But the proof is in the product, and here are four things Swinney figures to need to accomplish if he is to still merit consideration come December.

1. Wear a lot of hats

Swinney's most daunting task arguably is organizational.

As the interim coach, Swinney is in charge of making all managerial decisions during the course of a game.

He also is sharing play-calling duties with former tight ends coach Billy Napier, who likewise has never served in that capacity.

That is a lot to put on the plate of any veteran coach, much less a 38-year-old career position coach.

2. Score, then score some more

The prevalent criticism of Bowden was he got less out of more, and Clemson's offense stands as Exhibit A.

The unit has failed to score more than two touchdowns in each of the team's last seven losses -- a fact that is hard to rectify with the star-studded riches at vanquished coordinator Rob Spence's disposal.

The knocks on Spence were that he was both predictable and conservative. His passing game worked off a productive running game, and if the running game was not effective, the Tigers were screwed.

This stat speaks volumes: When facing third-and-7 or more this season, the Tigers have gotten a first down on just two of 34 chances (5.9 percent), which ranks 118th out of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, according to ESPN.

3. Create the perception this team is tough

Toughness is probably one of those traits that can only be measured by knowing the trait when one sees it.

No matter how you define toughness, it would be hard to argue the Tigers have consistently shown it.

From a physical standpoint, opponents with bulky, stout defenses have owned Clemson in recent years. In terms of mental toughness, the Tigers' defense always seems to yield that one costly, fourth-quarter drive, and big picture, Bowden's teams have routinely struggled to handle prosperity.

4. Overcome the schedule

It sounds well and dandy that Swinney and athletics director Terry Don Phillips still consider the Orange Bowl an attainable goal.

But with the mess Swinney inherited, the Tigers might be fortunate to reach any bowl.

Only one of two wins against Football Championship Subdivision teams can count towards bowl eligibility, so Clemson must finish with a 7-5 record to have a postseason. Without a postseason, Phillips logically moves forward with his replacement search.

That means the Tigers must win four of their final six -- and none of those looks like gimmes at this stage.


GEORGIA TECH (5-1, 2-1 ACC) AT CLEMSON (3-3, 1-2 ACC)

• When: Noon Saturday

• Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson

• TV: ESPN (cable channel 25 in Rock Hill)

• Tickets: Available at 1-800-CLEMSON