Is Clemson Football slipping?

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney raises the ACC trophy near Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry (5) after the game with North Carolina in the ACC Championship football gameat Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina Saturday, Dec 3, 2022. Clemson won 39-10.Clemson Tigers Football Vs North Carolina Tar Heels Acc Championship Charlotte Nc
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney raises the ACC trophy near Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry (5) after the game with North Carolina in the ACC Championship football gameat Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina Saturday, Dec 3, 2022. Clemson won 39-10.Clemson Tigers Football Vs North Carolina Tar Heels Acc Championship Charlotte Nc /

Clemson Football completed their 2022 season with an 11-3 record. The Orange Bowl loss will likely cause them to finish outside the Top 10 of the AP Poll. They won the ACC Championship this season, their seventh in the last eight years. While they had their second season in a row with three losses, they did add a victory over their 10-win mark in 2021.

There has been an element of Clemson Nation that has pushed back against people who complain about the results of the last few seasons. This element is primarily made up of fans who have been following Clemson Football for a long time, often decades.

These fans have seen few losing seasons (only four since the Tigers’ first national championship – 1992, 1994, 1998 and 2010), but they have seen plenty of years when Clemson hovered just above the .500 mark. They are quick to point out that even 10-3 is a lot better than results they have seen over years, even if it was considered Dabo Swinney’s worst team since 2014.

I am a member of this element. I grew up in the Ford years, attended Clemson at the tail-end of Hatfield’s tenure and the start of the West era. If you know, you know. I’m not often publicly critical of fans who complain about a 10-win season, but I do think the theatrics of those that find anything less than a national championship to be silly. I think the longer-tenured fans are less likely to overreact to a little adversity.

Marc Ryan recently asked this question on Twitter:

Ryan is usually trying to press somebody’s buttons to get a reaction, so I did find this tweet amusing, especially the part about “the required way”. His first line about Clemson being past it’s prime is akin to what I see from a lot of the crowd that expects championships every year, which can be summarized as “Clemson is slipping”, followed by a bunch of complaining from triggered fans that Swinney must be blind if he can’t see that he must change the way his program does things.

Has Clemson slipped from where they were in 2018 when they won their last championship? Yes. Anytime a program fails to achieve what they previously achieved, that is slipping.

If Georgia fails to win a national championship this season, will they have slipped from where they were a year ago? Yes.

When Alabama didn’t win the 2016 title, did they slip? Yes. What about in 2019 or 2022 when they didn’t even a make the playoffs. Yes again.

What about Ohio State failing to make the playoffs in 2021 and losing to Michigan twice in a row after years of beating them. Yes.

All these circumstances are slipping to some degree, and all of them triggered the same reaction from their respective fanbases: frustration and calls for change. Forget the fact that none of the afore mentioned programs failed to win less than ten games in the years they “slipped”.

What is “the required way”? Is it firing coaches if the teams fails to make or win the CFP? Is it going hard after every transfer from a team that has never sniffed the playoffs?

Sometimes the “slipping” examples cited above made changes to the staff. Some of those changes worked well. A lot of people cite Nick Saban as an example of someone who makes changes at the single hint of decline in his team. This simply isn’t true.

After a 2019 season when the Tide failed to make the playoffs, Saban didn’t change either coordinator. There were two changes to his staff from 2019: the defensive line coach (who left on his own for a job in the NFL) and the strength and conditioning coach (who left on his own for a job at Georgia). No firings from Saban at all after 2019. In 2020 they won the national championship.

When you look back at changes on the Alabama staff over the past six years, most of the changes are reactions to coaches leaving for promotions. There are some examples when you can make an argument that the coach might have been fired if they hadn’t moved on (like Tosh Lupoi) but there are fewer examples of those than people think.

As for the transfer portal, sometimes the teams that “slipped” used the portal to get better. That Alabama example that slipped in 2019 and then won the national championship following no firings by Saban? They took two transfers before the 2020 season: a tight end and a punter, neither of whom I suspect any of you could name without looking them up.

We know Saban is willing to take transfers, as well as make changes to his staff if he feels something isn’t working. The point is that he doesn’t always do either of those things. He evaluates the situation and makes decisions based on the circumstances. He doesn’t necessarily engage in knee jerk reactions just because his program didn’t achieve to the standard he himself created.

We know that Coach Swinney has moved to a mindset of building from within. He hasn’t always operated that way. The two coordinator hires that generally get the most praise were both from outside the program. He went that route after Clemson’s third losing season since 1981 (when he hired Chad Morris) and after the 2012 Orange Bowl (when he hired Brent Venables). In other words, after actual disasters. He saw the need for change, and he reacted.

If you think 2021 or 2022 were the actual disaster of a losing season, you lack perspective. If you think the 2022 Orange bowl was the actual disaster of the 2012 Orange Bowl, you lack perspective.

I don’t think long-time fans are any better or worse than younger fans, but I do think they tend to have perspective of exactly where things stand for the program.

I don’t think the Clemson program is a disaster because it has slipped a little, and I don’t think Swinney does either.

Just because Clemson Football isn’t on top of the mountain every season doesn’t mean they should change for the sake of change

I agree that Swinney is far less likely to engage in the kinds of changes others might engage in if they slip, even in the slightest. What I don’t agree with is that the Clemson program has slipped to the point that change is mandatory.

Clemson isn’t LSU after the 2019 national championship, or Auburn after Cam Newton went to the NFL. You can’t call those two situations “slipping” or “past its prime”. Those were legit collapses. When you put it in that context, slipping isn’t nearly as bad as some alarmists make it seem. LSU and Auburn fans would be quite satisfied in hindsight if all those programs did was “slip” a little.

Triggered fans don’t want to hear it, but 2022 was, in fact, the first season Clemson didn’t slip since the 2018 National Championship season. They improved over 2021. That might not be enough for them, but I think Coach Swinney understands where this program is right now and he isn’t as clueless as some suggest.

Whether Swinney thinks changes are warranted or not, I doubt we will have to wait too long to find out. I honestly don’t know if he will make a change. The only thing I am certain of is there is no such thing as “the required way”.

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