After a decade of success, Dabo Swinney is suddenly under fire at Clemson

PAUL NEWBERRY Associated Press

Dabo Swinney is a bit of a test these days, which is certainly understandable.

He was once the hottest college football coach in all the land, the man who looked like he could replace Nick Saban as the GOAT on the sidelines.

Now, after struggling to adapt to the rapidly changing times, ol’ Dabo is suddenly at the helm of a seemingly complete Clemson program.

So when a bold fan called in to challenge the Tigers’ state of decline on Swinney’s radio show this week, the coach showed just how thin his skin is.

“Listen, man, you can have your opinion all you want, and you can apply for the job. And good luck,” Swinney angrily lectured a caller identified as “Tyler from Spartanburg only.”

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While it’s true that a what-have-you-done-for-me mentality is a bane of college athletics, there’s no denying that Spartanburg’s Tyler was onto something with his critical assessment of Swinney’s one-power program.

Since earning their sixth straight invitation to the College Football Playoff in 2020, the Tigers have posted a 25-11 record – but just a 5-5 mark against ranked opponents.

Clemson has been in more trouble this past year.

After eight straight wins to start the 2022 campaign, the Tigers are a .500 team — seven wins, seven losses — and the orange-clad faithful certainly aren’t expecting one of the highest-paid coaches in the game.

With Swinney in the second year of a 10-year, $115 million contract that tied him to Clemson through the 2031 season, Spartanburg’s Tyler wasn’t fazed by the coach’s explanation of what’s gone wrong.

He even delivered the final dig, comparing Swinney’s take to his much-maligned predecessor.

“He was a lot like Tommy Bowden,” said Tyler of Spartanburg. “And I’ll tell you one thing: Tommy Bowden didn’t make the same amount of money as you do.”

Granted, that’s a low blow considering Swinney’s body of work, which includes a pair of national championships, two more playoff appearances, eight Atlantic Coast Conference titles and a dozen consecutive 10-win seasons.

But the level of expectation grows along with the number of zeros on the paycheck, an axiom that was lost on Swinney as he unleashed what he would later call “an Old Testament answer” to “some idiot” who tried to “go on the Old Testament. me.”

“Am I perfect? ​​Nope. Far from it,” Swinney ranted. “I’ve failed many times. But there’s not one thing in my life that I’ve failed at, Tyler. Never, ever.”

Swinney told Tyler of Spartanburg that fans like him are “part of the problem.”

“The expectation is greater than the respect,” said the coach. “That’s the problem.”

Swinney needs to do some serious self-evaluation of what the Tigers like, starting with his reluctance to take advantage of the transfer window — a necessity in today’s recruiting world.

Swinney has always preferred to develop players he pulls from the high school ranks, but the Tigers will fall further and further behind if they don’t at least change that philosophy a bit.

In the threshold era, Swinney has landed just two players, both of whom were nothing more than scout team quarterbacks who bolstered depth during the week but aren’t a factor on Saturday.

Then there’s Swinney’s well-known opposition to paying players, which has surely come back to bite him on the recruiting trail in a world where athletes can now make millions of bucks through name, image and likeness deals.

Swinney has threatened to quit coaching if college athletics starts looking too much like the pros, which it already does, of course, except for that awful part about giving actual salaries to those who do the t -heavy lifting on the field.

His attitude leaves him looking completely out of sorts and completely arrogant considering what’s going into his bank account.

Finally, there is his coaching staff. Swinney has always been far too loyal to former players and assistants he already had, promoting them to jobs they’re not ready for instead of looking for more qualified applicants outside the program.

Notably, after longtime offensive coordinator Tony Elliott left to become head coach at Virginia, Swinney was replaced internally by Brandon Streeter. The former Clemson quarterback lasted just one year in his new position, taking the fall after the Tigers lost three of their last six games during the 2022 season, including a stunning home blowout to rival South Carolina.

While Streeter looked like an overmatch, Clemson’s biggest issue has been the lack of star power at quarterback.

During three seasons with Deshaun Watson taking the snaps and three more with Trevor Lawrence lined up behind center, the Tigers went 77-8, stocked the trophy case with all kinds of hardware and certainly was a little spoiled.

Since then, DJ Uiagalelei struggled through almost two years as the starter before being replaced by Cade Klubnik. With Klubnik at the controls and Garrett Riley brought in as the new coordinator, the Tigers were held to 20 points or less in four of eight games this season.

In the major offensive categories, Clemson ranks 63rd in scoring, 66th in rushing yards, 49th in total yards and 45th in passing yards.

“Is this a bad year? Yes, and it’s my responsibility. Take 100% responsibility for it,” Swinney admitted to Spartanburg’s Tyler. But, the coach went on to say, “I don’t give a crap how much money I’m making. You’re not going to talk to me because I’m 12 years old.”

Heading into Saturday’s home game against No. 12 Notre Dame (7-2), the Tigers and their 53-year-old leader must split at least their last four contests to be bowl eligible.

That sounds strange in a place like Clemson.

No wonder the trainer is so proven.

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