Clemson University

Clemson's Swinney: 'We've kind of lost our way a little bit'

CLEMSON -- Usually, the night before a game, Clemson football players watch an amped-up video of the previous game's highlights.

Seeing as there were not many to cull from the Wake Forest loss that cemented Tommy Bowden's departure, Dabo Swinney audibled before the Georgia Tech game two weeks ago, his first as interim coach.

Swinney orchestrated a video montage in which inspirational commentary was collected from Tigers standouts of various eras -- Brian Dawkins, Levon Kirkland, Charlie Whitehurst, Anthony Waters, Perry Tuttle and Steve Fuller, to name a few -- and juxtaposed those words with their individual highlights.

"I wanted the players to hear the passion in their voice while they see the passion on the field," Swinney said.

That Swinney devoted ample time and effort organizing what could be perceived as a trivial matter, all things considered that week, spoke to what he viewed as the root of Clemson's problems.

Swinney said that during last week's open date, he watched the Tigers' games from the first half of the season to try to gain a big-picture sense of what had gone horribly wrong for a team that plummeted from prohibitive conference favorite to scrounging for bowl scraps.

Clemson (3-4, 1-3 ACC) has squandered three straight fourth-quarter leads, and a defeat Saturday at Boston College would match the team's longest losing streak since 2004.

From the film study, Swinney said he concluded that executing just two momentum-swinging plays in each of those losses would have made the difference.

But eliciting those two plays requires fixing a mindset in which Clemson expects and is expected to crumble under pressure.

"Somewhere along the way, we've kind of lost our way a little bit, or our confidence, in being able to make the play required," Swinney said.

"We're not a broken team. We're not an old jalopy hooptie car that we've put a paint job on and some new rims. We've got everything on this car. ... When you see this car, you're going to say, 'I'd like to drive that one.' But somewhere along the way we've caught a flat tire. We've gotten low on gas. And I'm trying to fill this tank back up and put some air in the tires."

In that regard, Swinney said he thinks players believe they are a talented team.

The trick is packaging that talent into a force so formidable "it should be a dadgum shock so big it registers on the Richter scale when Clemson loses a football game."

Which, senior receiver Aaron Kelly said, is where Swinney's bells and whistles figure to have come into play.

Swinney's first 14 days at the helm have been defined more by the changes he has made to the team's periphery than the on-field product, a philosophy that could just as easily be construed as a master recruiter trying to sell the public his bill of goods.

He instituted a pregame "Tiger Walk" that was an emotional hit for players and fans alike in its debut. The team skipped a practice last week to visit a children's hospital, then allowed students to participate in the next day's workout.

Kelly -- who has played under Swinney for five years and was recruited to Clemson through family ties to him -- said he expected nothing less from a guy he already knew as a taskmaster.

"I don't really think he was doing this to turn the season around," Kelly said. "I think this is his personality, the kinds of things that he thinks are right."

"He kind of reminds me of Bill Cowher, the kind of personality he has and the way his coaching style would be. He has his heart on his sleeve."