Filling shoes at Clemson

Over at The Athletic, both Stewart Mandel ($$) and Bruce Feldman ($$) now rank Kirby Smart third on their respective Top 25 Coaches Lists.  Number One is obvious.  Number Two for both is Dabo Swinney, whom Smart bested last season.

I’m not here to mock the choice.  After all, as Feldman put it, “The Tigers just had a really down year and still won 10 games and finished No. 14 in the AP Top 25. Before that, Swinney led them two two national titles and six top four finishes in the past six seasons.”  Not exactly chopped liver, that.

It’s easy at times to throw snark in Dabo’s direction, but to give credit where credit is due, he has been an elite program manager.  He’s had remarkable staff stability over time and maximized returns from recruiting perhaps better than any other head coach in the country.

But… (you knew a “but” was coming, right?) he’s facing a big challenge in 2022.

After years of being mentioned as a potential target for head coaching positions, defensive coordinator Brent Venables was hired by Oklahoma to replace Lincoln Riley. Venables arrived at Clemson in 2012, and by 2014, he had the Tigers checking in as one of the best defensive units in the country. Swinney’s choice to fill the vacancy left by Venables came from internal options with Wes Goodwin being elevated to the position after 11 years in off-field roles across two stints. Goodwin will be the co-defensive coordinator along with Mickey Conn, who has served as both safeties coach and special teams coordinator since first joining Swinney’s staff in 2017. Another notable defensive adjustment was the hire of Nick Eason, a former All-ACC standout at Clemson, as defensive tackles coach to replace Todd Bates, who left with Venables for Oklahoma.

Tony Elliott similarly had been mentioned as a potential candidate for power conference jobs in the past, so it came as no surprise when he was introduced as the next coach for Virginia. Elliott is the third offensive coordinator since 2014 to leave Clemson for a head coaching position, and just like the previous instances, Swinney has elected to promote from within, elevating quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter to the OC role. The pipeline of home-grown coaching talent again provided for Clemson, as Thomas Austin moves into an on-field role overseeing the offensive line with longtime assistant Robbie Caldwell transitioning into an administrative role. Kyle Richardson, a member of the support staff from 2016-21 and a three-time state champion as a high school coach in South Carolina, takes over tight ends and serves as passing game coordinator.

That is one helluva bet to place on your program’s culture.  Sitting here right now, though, who’s to say Dabo’s right or wrong about that?  After all, he should know his own folks better than anyone on the outside does.  But, boy, does this have a certain potential to be a giant swing and miss.

Let’s just say I’ll be interested to see those two coaching lists next year.

63 Comments

Filed under Clemson: Auburn With A Lake

63 responses to “Filling shoes at Clemson

  1. Won 10 games and finished #14 in the polls … with a team that was widely considered to be the nation’s consensus #2 team entering the season and played an Almost Competitive Conference schedule.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Cool. Now do “two national titles and six top four finishes in the past six seasons”.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Sure. His team also dramatically underachieved in 2021. I question whether the Tigers are in the playoff in a few recent seasons if they didn’t play in their joke of a football conference. There’s a reason I call it the Almost Competitive Conference. It’s Clemson and the 13 dwarfs. Just like it was Florida State and the dwarfs before them.

        Liked by 3 people

        • RangerRuss

          That’s right, Double E. I remember when the Carthaginians gave Rome all they could handle too. Ancient history. Hannibal made his bones beating poorly trained Mediterranean armies and got a few victories against an exhausted Legion or three. Turns out that he was just another goober that couldn’t run with the Big Dawgs long term.
          At $58/ton and hijacking the available tractors at Clemson I figure we could salt Death Valley-Memorial Stadium on the cheap. Shut that shitty place down for a couple of millennia at least.
          😉

          Liked by 2 people

      • Derek

        Doesn’t count. Alabama didn’t have Metchie or Williams.

        Liked by 4 people

  2. RangerRuss

    Rather than argue that list allow me to retort with this question.
    Who would you pick to run your program now?
    For the next ten years?
    The answer is obvious.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Corch Irvin Meyers, Former Jags Corch (2021)

      Saban, still. Dude will coach until he dies.

      Kirby after him.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Derek

        I guess Kirby found “it” eh?

        Never say never I suppose.

        Like

      • RangerRuss

        Saban? That fuckn loser. Next to the last time I saw him he was smiling and shaking the hand of the Man whose team had moments before thoroughly imposed their will on his. Last time I saw him he was throwing his backups under the bus.
        Did I mention Saban was a fuckn loser?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Corch Irvin Meyers, Former Jags Corch (2021)

          Yeah, you know who isn’t discounting Saban or saying that? The guy who beat him in January.

          There’s a reason why Saban is the greatest to ever do it. He probably has one or two more in him before he dies in the middle of a practice some Wednesday in October in the future.

          Liked by 1 person

          • RangerRuss

            The only one discounting Saban is Archmartyr and Uncle Got beat her with a clothes hanger for it. FD thought there was an off-Broadway audition for a “Mommy Dearest-Better Off Dead” mashup play going on behind the Waffle House dumpster.
            “No wire hangers!”
            “Two dollars!”
            CCPD applauded the performance. “That bitch had it coming.”
            33-18
            Saban is a fuckn loser.

            Like

            • Got Cowdog

              Turns out that wonky-eyed heifer ain’t a heifer at all. Just a skinny dude in makeup and yoga pants.
              Either way she knew better than to hold out on me…

              Like

  3. practicaldawg

    Dabo’s 2021 team would be 7-5 at best in the SEC. Defenses in the SEC would have loaded the box every play and teed off on DJU since there was absolutely no threat of a downfield pass. I doubt he would be survived the season given their awful OL play. Their 10 wins speaks way more to the strength of the Atrocious Coast Conference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Uh hunh. Georgia didn’t manage an offensive touchdown against Clemson, but they’d have gone 7-5 last season in the SEC.

      Did you forget how mediocre the SEC was last season, outside of ‘Bama and Georgia?

      Liked by 2 people

      • jcdawg83

        Georgia, Kentucky, Bama, Ole Miss, Arkansas and aTm were better than “mediocre” and every one of them would have steamrolled through an ACC schedule. Clemson’s out of conference schedule is generally embarrassingly easy on top of the cupcake ACC schedule. Having to really play well in two games a season, and those games being in the playoff, makes that six year stretch a little easier to pull off.

        Like

      • practicaldawg

        How many games did Clemson win by a miracle late FG against really, really bad ACC teams? I think those are losses in the SEC, and I think team morale really dips causing them to lose another game or two in a hostile stadium. I also think the probability of DJU getting hurt is way higher in the SEC. They had no one behind him.

        Obviously all speculation, but the SEC has a long history of chewing up teams that get down on their luck. Ask Dan Mullen.

        Like

      • Russ

        Clemson got lucky. They didn’t have to face The Mailman.

        Liked by 3 people

    • PTC DAWG

      I think UGA and KY were the only SECE teams they would have lost to. Maybe UF if they had played them early.

      Like

      • jcdawg83

        Depending on who they drew from the West, they could have easily lost 4 games in the SEC. ACC football is a complete joke outside of Clemson.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Harold Miller

        That is a better way to view this. What SEC teams do you think would have beat them. I would say from the west TX A&M, Bama obviously and probably Ole Miss.

        Like

        • jcdawg83

          Arkansas probably would have and even Auburn would have given them all they wanted. Georgia, Kentucky and UF before the Georgia/Florida game would have probably all beaten them as well. If you add them all up, there are about 8 teams in the SEC that could/would have beaten Clemson last season. Obviously Clemson would not have faced all 8 but they could easily have faced 4 of them.

          In the entire ACC, there may be one other team each season with a realistic chance of beating Clemson.

          Like

      • RangerRuss

        I wonder how many games Clemson would’ve lost had the Dawgs not broke those bitches?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I have a higher opinion of Dabo than most here, based on his staff building. I don’t consider him a great X’s and O’s guy, but he’s a great example of successful people who you hear say that the reason for their success was they surrounded themselves with people smarter than them.

    His move to get rid of Steele stood in stark contrast at the time to how long Richt let Martinez hang around, and even Grantham who was probably kept around at least a year too long. Yes, Clemson had just been embarrassed by WVU, but their body of work for that season had resulted in 10 wins, a conference championship, and a BCS bowl (back when such things mattered). Few coaches would have fired a coordinator after a season like that, but he made the decisive move and went and got Venables.

    When the OC role proved to be too big for Napier at the time (Napier was very young then), he didn’t let that drag on, he got rid of Napier and grabbed Morris who was arguably the hottest name at the time.

    When Morris moved on, Dabo already had 2 guys groomed and ready to go, and their offenses actually got better (part of that was who their QB was, for sure, but still gotta give the coaches credit too). Contrast that with the meandering process when Bobo left that resulted in us watching a painful year of Brian Schottenheimer offenses.

    I know the context of this post is comparing Dabo to Smart, but I think the points I’ve made are still relevant, being as we all lived them. People like to mock Dabo as a goofy guy who fell ass backwards into some teams, but the reality is he’s easily one of the best program builders out there, despite not being an X’s and O’s mastermind.

    I agree with Bluto’s point that this has the potential for a big backfire, but until it does actually backfire, he’s more than earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to hiring/firing/promoting.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ll take Kirby Smart over Dabo Swinney 9 ways to Sunday right now for a program builder, a recruiter and an Xs and Os guy.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I agree with that, but you and I had some discussions back in the day where you felt the same about Richt too, compared to Dabo. I think your red tinted glasses were on for that argument. 😀

        Like

        • Dabo got Deshaun Watson. That changed everything. Richt and Bobo totally screwed the pooch on Watson’s recruiting.

          On Richt vs. Swinney head to head, I think Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb just scored another TD on a toss sweep. If Richt and Georgia were in the Almost Competitive Conference, I doubt it would have been Clemson and the dwarfs. Swinney has benefited from the post-Jimbo Florida State era and the fact that Miami hasn’t done anything since joining the ACC. North Carolina isn’t a real threat.

          Has he taken advantage of it? Yes.

          Liked by 1 person

          • 81Dog

            The UGA offense did smoke Venable’s D in 2014.Heck, the 4th UGA RB to enter the game ran all over them Some freshman named Chubb, iirc.

            Has Dabo done a great job at Clemson? Absolutely. Has he been better than Kirby the last 5 years? I would argue no. Would you pick him today over Kirby to run your program going forward? I would argue no.

            It is possible to acknowledge Dabo is an elite coach, and admit that he underachieved in 2021. He won 10 games, in a very weak ACC. Clearly, he hasn’t suddenly forgotten how to coach. No one is saying he’s about to become Mike Shula. But “staff continuity” has been a big ingredient in his recipe. Maybe he adapts, maybe not. He’s great with an elite QB. Without one? Good enough to compete in the ACC, tops.

            Liked by 1 person

      • charlottedawg

        So setting aside who you would want to build your program looking forward, looking backwards at the body of work from the past, dabo has the better resume than smart, to disagree is to throw away objectivity behind red and black glasses. Is the ACC a much easier path than the SEC? Yes absolutely, but Clemson has won two national championships and gotten all those top 4 finishes by beating great teams in the playoffs including Alabama twice which oh by the way is more than we have. The wins against elite competition are what differentiates Clemson as a great program that happens to play in a weak conference as opposed to a paper tiger who’s record is a function of its level of competition.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Why does Swinney have a better resume than Smart? He has 2 national titles over Kirby’s 1. He has the exact same winning percentage in national championship games as Kirby (50%). He coaches in a weaker league than Kirby does. Kirby has 3 top 4 finishes in 6 years. Swinney’s overall winning percentage is .806. Kirby’s is .815.

          I stand by my premise. Kirby right now is a better head football coach than Dabo Swinney.

          Liked by 2 people

          • charlottedawg

            You literally just outlined why dabo has a better resume than smart.

            National championships: dabo 2, smart 1
            Top 4 finishes since 2016, 5 to 3 (6 in a row for Clemson if you include 2015)
            CFP wins 6 to 3
            Wins vs top 10 teams 13 to 12

            So yes, if you ignore those data points (because how relevant are championships and wins against top level competition?), dabo definitely does not have a better resume than Kirby /s

            Liked by 1 person

            • I am not disputing Dabo has an excellent resume. 2 national titles is impressive. I’m not impressed by the playoff appearances because of the conference quality (and generally, he has been in the top 2 entering the playoff reducing the risk of falling from the top 4 after a playoff loss). I am saying I believe at this time when you see everything Kirby is proving to be a better coach than Dabo.

              Would you switch Kirby for Dabo right now on March 8, 2022? I doubt it, so I’m guessing you think Kirby is a better head coach than Dabo.

              Liked by 1 person

              • charlottedawg

                I’m not counting playoff appearances, I’m counting playoff WINS. You can get playoff appearances by playing weak competition you can’t get playoff wins that way.

                As far as who I would pick to lead a program right now It’d be a coin flip between smart and swimmer maybe still slight edge to dabo. This is kind of rarified air as you’re talking about the 3 best current head coaches in cfb but to say that smart is definitively better would be based solely on recency bias. Last year could be the beginning of Clemson coming back down to earth or it could be a one year blip and the greatness of the 6 seasons before that returns.

                On a broader point, I don’t understand why some Georgia fans feel the need to call Clemson overrated as it basically dawgrades our success against them. From my perspective, on Labor Day weekend, we beat a program that has dominated college football in the CFP era in their own backyard which was one of many impressive wins on our romp to a national championship. They may not have been the elite teams of the Watson and Lawrence eras but a pretty good team nonetheless and one of the 14 damn impressive scalps in our national championship season.

                Liked by 1 person

                • I haven’t called them overrated. I think they have made their hay in a weak conference where they pretty much play a bunch of tune-ups including their conference championship game prior to getting to the playoff. I do think they dramatically underachieved in 2021.

                  Liked by 2 people

                • 81Dog

                  My feeling that night in Charlotte was their D was almost as good as ours, but our D smothered them all night. It felt like we could have played until Halloween and they weren’t getting a TD. Our O was kind of in bludgeon/clock eating mode in the 4th, but it felt like we could move their D. It was indeed a great win (soon to be downgraded by the national media when they nearly gacked a desultory performance up to a pathetic GT), and their D did suffer significant injuries after we played them. To me, Dabo has a longer resume, and an excellent resume, just not a better resume. Especially the last 5 years. He’s still elite. I think he will keep Clemson at a very high level. But he’s not out recruiting Kirby, and he’s not out-accomplishing him, either. Your opinion is well stated, and you could be right. I just weight some of the factors differently. 🙂

                  Plus, Metchie and Williams got hurt, we probably don’t beat Clemson if that hadn’t happened. 🙂

                  Liked by 1 person

    • miltondawg

      I thought Schottenheimer was He Who Shall Not Be Named.

      Like

  5. Hogbody Spradlin

    I want to say something snide because I live in South Carolina and put up with “Klimpsen is inherently better, and doesn’t cheat” all the time, but let’s wait and see if the Lordly Dabo can reload coordinators Saban Style.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I’m right there with you…can’t wait to piss on Dabo’s grave, but I’m not sure he’s dead yet…

      Liked by 1 person

      • RangerRuss

        While what y’all and the good Reverend say about Dabo may be true, it ain’t gon even slow me down from pissing all in that Cheeto jerking goober’s Frosted Flakes.
        Clemson sucks.

        Liked by 2 people

    • rigger92

      I also live on the other side of the Savannah river, 90 miles E of Athens and I am moved to change the name of Clemson from “Auburn with a lake” to “Alabama with a lake”. People around here have their smugness cranked to 11 with our championship being “gifted” to us by injury.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Ran A

    I guess the article leaves out that Ted Roof was promoted to DC after Venables left, only to turn and leave with Venables. They can paint that anyway they want – but that was an absolute slap in the face to Dabo. (personally do not think this guy is all that and a box of chocolates – but Dabo clearly did – as does Venables).

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Corch Irvin Meyers, Former Jags Corch (2021)

    For Feldman, having Ryan Day at No. 4 is a forking joke.

    Dude took over what Corch built. It’s like a legacy getting into an Ivy not because he earned it, but because his parents donated a new library.

    Liked by 1 person

    • godawgs1701

      That was my first reaction, too, but then I went further down the list and I didn’t have a good answer for the question, “OK, but who are you going to put at #4 if not Day?” Brian Kelly? Meh. I guess we’ll see what he does with LSU but his Notre Dame teams wilted every time the lights got bright. Lincoln Riley? Day did at least win one of his semifinal appearances. And then when you go further down his list you get to Jimbo territory. So who’s #4? Me, I’m really happy to have an indisputable Top 3 guy.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. W Cobb Dawg

    Seems to me that promoting from within has it’s drawbacks. Coley was a fine WR coach who was promoted beyond his abilities. And it took Bobo a few years as OC before he actually became effective at the job.

    But hey, if you’re going to bring coaches up via OJT, the ACC is a good place to do it.

    Like

  9. classiccitycanine

    I know a lot of folks on here love to hate on Dabo, but I’m not digging his grave just yet. He’s an elite culture builder and I have a lot of respect for the success he has had. That said, I’m fascinated to see whether all the turnover takes a toll, and I think the bigger challenge is whether Dabo will adapt to the transfer portal and NIL. The great ones stay great by adapting.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. godawgs1701

    Dabo’s move is a gamble, but it’s easy to bet when you’re playing with house money. Dabo Swinney is a legend at Clemson and they’re probably going to name something big after him there someday. He’s got a long way to go before he’d ever get Chizik’d. And if you’re looking at coaches who have been trained by the guys who led you to the greatest heights, I’d believe in them, too. There’s a lot of Clemson disrespect in this comment section, but you won’t hear any of it from me. Dabo isn’t a great x’s and o’s coach? Well, he doesn’t have to be and he never claimed to be. When Bobby Bowden was dominant at Florida State, he wasn’t drawing up the plays, either.

    Also, Clemson has some great athletes. That makes a pretty big difference. A lot of their guys were hurt last year. They’re getting a lot of them back, and the ACC’s other “powers” are probably looking at some more years before they are reloaded. If I have to bet, I’m betting on Clemson in that league.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Dylan Dreyer's Booty

    Here is the way I look at it: Neither Mandel nor Feldman really know that much about football. What they know is how to write and what will draw attention. Case in point: recently read a Feldman article highlighting 40 (forty!) defensive freaks and the article did NOT include JD99. I can’t get worked up about what they say.

    And speaking of Dabo, Richt had a team that beat him, and while I don’t know how long Dabo has been at Clemson, in the last 8 games we have played against them we are 7-1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clemson%E2%80%93Georgia_football_rivalry

    Liked by 2 people

    • miltondawg

      Mandel and Feldman are similar to Peter King. King knows more about the NFL ins-and-outs than any fan or local media outlet covering a team could ever know. But serious fans and local media outlets covering the Falcons, for example, know a helluva lot more about the Falcons specifically than King does.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Word got out about Clemson stealing signs, and SURPRISE . .all of a sudden they lost more games and the staff bails at the end of the year. This is the beginning of the end for Dabo.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. ASEF

    Dabo has made the crucial error of buying into his own mythology. I’ve seen it in executives – they start think they just exude success pheromones, like magic pixie dust. They misread their prior successes and so badly stumble trying to recreate them. And end up a dog chasing its own tail.

    Clemson has SEC resources in a conference that often performs closer to the Sunbelt than a top-end P5 outfit, when you deduct Clemson’s presence. They’re guaranteed 9 Ws a year with even minimally competent coaching.

    Liked by 1 person