Coach Swinney’s Loyalty: Costly or Critical?


There’s no doubt Coach Dabo Swinney exhibits a certain loyalty to his veterans within the football program. Is his loyalty costly or critical to the growth of the Clemson program?

Around Clemson nation, I have heard talks over and over again on whether or not Coach Swinney will play a more talented freshman over a senior. Many would argue that he will not play the more gifted player, but rather goes with experience. Others say he plays the best player, but the opponents to that argument have several examples to draw from.

Some recent examples from this season include starting Cole Stoudt over Deshaun Watson in the Georgia, SC State, and Florida State. Others listed starting D.J. Howard over Wayne Gallman and some of the other young talent Clemson had on their roster at running back.

Others went and found a few older circumstances in which Coach Swinney played experience over talent. One key example came up that involved playing Terrance Ash and Xavier Dye over Nuk Hopkins. So, I began to research just exactly what players have played for Clemson over the past few seasons and who has gotten the majority of playing time since Dabo’s first full season as the head coach in Tigertown in 2009.

Since Coach Swinney’s first season as a head coach (six full seasons), Clemson has made it to a bowl game each of those years, made it to two ACC championships, and won ten or more games in each of the four last seasons. Clemson’s football program has taken amazing strides under Coach Swinney’s watch and is in the process of becoming one of the elite programs in the nation. There is no question if Clemson is taking a step in the right direction, but rather, is the program hurting from Coach Swinney’s loyalty to his veterans. This begs the question, Will Coach Swinney play a more talented freshman over a senior?

Looking at the more recent occurrences, I would argue that if Deshaun Watson starts the Georgia and S.C. State game, Clemson possibly wins against Florida State. That would, hypothetically, put the Tigers in the ACC championship game, which, most likely, would give Clemson a chance at the College Football Playoffs, or at the very least, a better bowl game. If Wayne Gallman is in the game instead of C.J. Davidson, Clemson probably does not fumble the ball, and therefore, goes onto beat Florida State either way-assuming we make the field goal (a huge assumption for those that remember). Just those two examples, however, are not enough to say that Coach Swinney will not play the more talented freshman.

If you go back a little further, many fans were skeptical of Coach Swinney continuing to play Kyle Parker over, at the time, unproven underclassman  Tajh Boyd. As a matter of fact, it almost cost Swinney his job when the Tigers finished the season 6-7, with a loss to South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. In the same season, if DeAndre Hopkins is out at wide receiver, one could make the argument that Clemson’s offense does not end up finishing 86th in the nation in points scored.

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One example in the opposite side of the argument I would like to bring to your attention is in 2011, when Freshman Sammy Watkins got the start. Also, before the end of this past season Wayne Gallman was receiving the majority of the snaps at running back and Deshaun Watson was the clear starter at quarter back.

Most could identify who the better quarter back was in the Georgia game when Watson delivered a perfect strike to Charone Peake for a touchdown under pressure. Everyone could see that D.J. Howard was not our best option at running back from the get-go, but what does that mean?

According to Coach himself, “Whoever the good players are, guys that are going to go perform at a high level, that’s all we’re interested in. Doesn’t matter if it’s a senior or a freshman, if it’s a tie, you go to the veteran guy.”

I believe we have all experienced times of doubt with Coach Swinney; Times that we did not understand why the freshman was not playing, but you have to give him his due. He finds the players that are going to give Clemson the best chance to win and does just that. Clemson has not had this kind of continued success for a long time and even though you can find frustrating examples of lesser talented upper-classmen playing over high-ceiling under-classmen, by the end of the season, the more talented athlete is playing. I cannot find an example where talent did not end up winning out and you have to respect that the Coach shows loyalty to players that have been in his system for four to five years.

In my humble opinion, we just have to trust Coach Swinney’s decisions and results speak for themselves. Maybe I am missing something, what do you think? Is his loyalty costly or critical to growth of the Clemson program? Vote here!