Clemson Football: A Different Culture


The Clemson football program has taken huge strides over the past few seasons under Head Coach Dabo Swinney. So much so that the culture of the program has changed.

Culture: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization.

The culture of Clemson football has changed so drastically over the past few years, to the point that Tiger fans haven’t even been able to keep up with all the changes. When you trace back the events, however, I think you have to look to former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden.

Most Clemson football fans don’t want to give Bowden the credit he deserved because he never could make it to the “big game,” but he was the first to begin to change the Clemson football program. Bowden continued to push for the upgrades and remodeling of the West End Zone during his time at Clemson and many did not want to believe you needed facilities to get high-caliber recruits. It also didn’t help that he consistently was making it to bowl games and putting Clemson in a place it hadn’t been in a long time, just a game or play out of being ACC Champions.

Bowden continued to fight. The turning point in the Clemson football program, at least recruiting-wise, may have came when running back James Davis, a four-star at the time committed to the Tigers. This was the first elite talent to commit to the Tigers in over a decade and the story goes a little like this:

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The work on the West End Zone had not quite begun when Davis was to take his visit to Clemson. Coach Bowden believed in these new facilities drawing recruits so much, he got a couple of bulldozers and a pile of dirt and placed them outside the West End Zone. Later, Davis committed and one of the selling points was that this would remodeled by the time you were a Junior at Clemson.

After Davis committed, it opened up a door for Clemson to begin to get some other high-caliber recruits. Bowden picked up C.J. Spiller in 2006 to begin the tandem of “Thunder and Lightning.” Unfortunately for Tommy Bowden, however, Clemson football fans (and alumni) began to get upset that the Tigers could never make it over the hump. A term also came about that haunted the Clemson football program for years. It was called “Clemsoning,” a term that used to mean losing to teams you had no business losing to. All of this, including the 3-3 start to a season that had National Championship expectations led to him being asked to step down. What was Tommy Bowden’s final order of business as the Clemson football head coach? He suggested Dabo Swinney be his replacement.

What was Tommy Bowden’s final order of business as the Clemson football head coach? He suggested Dabo Swinney be his replacement.

So, this began an era of unknown for Clemson football fans. The Tigers lost several key recruits (who ended up going to South Carolina) after Bowden left and Clemson finished the season with a record of 7-6, overall. Coach Swinney redeemed himself the next year when he, and the C.J. Spiller led offense, took the Tigers to the ACC Championship, losing to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, but creating hope.

Clemson followed that performance up with a 6-7 performance, including a loss to South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl to end the season. This put Coach Swinney’s job in jeopardy, but he made some great decisions. He hired Chad Morris to transform the Clemson offense and began to work towards the next season. The Tigers also brought in a talented class that featured names like Charone Peake, Sammy Watkins, Tony Steward, and Stephone Anthony.

Thus began the change of a culture. Coach Swinney sold Clemson fans by telling them to be “All In” to the program when he first took over and he began to sell the players alike on “Best being the standard.” Recruits loved his tenacity and Clemson football began to see an influx of talent like never before. The Tigers finished the 2011 season with an ACC Championship before they were blown out by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. Swinney got rid of defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and brought in Brent Venables to coach the defense.

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In 2012, the defense began to look a little better and the offense continued to succeed. Clemson finished with a final record of 11-2, with a win over national powerhouse LSU in the Chick-fil-a bowl. Coach Swinney has continued to push for facility upgrades and has backed those talks up with results each and every season. Clemson has gone on to win 10+ games in each of the last four seasons and, in turn, has changed the definition of “Clemsoning” from a negative term to a word meaning consistency. Dabo got over his last hump when he defeated the South Carolina Gamecocks at the end of the season last year to end the talks of never being able to beat his rival.

Each and every question Clemson football fans have had since Coach Swinney has taken over, he has answered. He has the Clemson football program ahead in almost every category of technology and facility and that, in turn, is leading to wins. The culture of Clemson football has changed from “almost being nationally relevant” to being “a winning program with national respect.”

The winning culture at Clemson University is going to continue for a while and you have to give props, not only to Coach Swinney to what he has done, but to Tommy Bowden and the Clemson Athletic Department for giving him a chance. It proved to be a great decision and we can’t wait to see what will happen in the coming years with this program.

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