Clemson Football: What ‘Best is the standard’ really means

Nov 5, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Clemson Tigers tight end Davis Allen (84) is tackled by Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker JD Bertrand (27) and cornerback Benjamin Morrison (20) in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Clemson Tigers tight end Davis Allen (84) is tackled by Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker JD Bertrand (27) and cornerback Benjamin Morrison (20) in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports /

Head coach Dabo Swinney has built a strong culture for Clemson Football since 2009. He coined a few phrases in that time that have become part of the Clemson Lexicon: ‘BYOG – Bring your own guts’, ‘The ROY Bus’, etc.

One of those phrases that has become well known within the program and among the fanbase is ‘Best is the standard’.

From 2015 to 2020, when the Tigers were qualifying for the playoffs on an annual basis, the phrase was used by many fans with pride. Following back-to-back three-loss seasons, some fans now use the phrase as a criticism of the results of 2021 and 2022.

Those fans believe that ‘Best is the standard’ means Clemson should be the best among their peers, and if they fail to achieve high enough, then the coaches and/or players have failed.

A few years ago Coach Swinney explained the meaning of the phrase and why it is displayed in locker rooms:

"“Sometimes people may take that the wrong way. You don’t see win national championships up there. That’s not our goal. Our goal is to be the best we can be,” Swinney said. “We want to be our best. Whatever God gave you, be the best you can possibly be. That applies in every area whether it’s the best coach you can be, the best player, whatever.”"

Swinney further explained:

"“If you’re a walk-on, commit to be the best you can be. You probably won’t be a starter, but be the best you can be with what God gave you and you can live with whatever the results are. When you’re trying to be THE best, that’s comparing yourself to other people. We want to be the best Clemson can be. It’s effort, preparation, work ethic, attitude – -all the things that you can control and relevant to you being your best. It’s sleep, nutrition, what you do when no one is watching.”"

The phrase isn’t an expectation of achievement. It isn’t a prediction of performance. It isn’t an expression of ability or self-worth. It is about effort. ‘Best is the standard’ is a goal that isn’t defined by records or statistics.

Is it fair to question if everyone within the Clemson program gave their best effort all season long? Absolutely. Focus can waiver. Priorities can get out of order. It happens to almost everyone. To err is human.

Was there a lack of effort to the point of negligence? I don’t see that from my vantage point. I think one needs to be in the locker room to know if someone was dogging it to the degree that the person wasn’t living up to the ‘Best is the standard’ expectation.

Gene Sapakoff is a veteran journalist who has written on both Clemson and South Carolina for the Charleston Post and Courier. He wrote an article following the Tigers’ disappointing loss to Notre Dame and asked a lot of valid questions about the performance. Most of those questions pertained to decision-making or a lack of ability.

He then followed those valid questions by asking these two questions:

"“Is it OK for Clemson fans to be madder than Jerry Seinfeld at the rental car counter after a three-touchdown loss in a game that really wasn’t even that close? When “Best is the Standard” is the program slogan?”"

The use of the ‘program slogan’ in this context is where I would disagree with Sapakoff’s wording. It’s fair to criticize the staff’s decision-making leading up to and during that game. It’s fair to criticize the players, individually or as a team, for a disappointing performance.

‘Best is the standard’ doesn’t refer to outcomes. That’s not what Swinney is promising the fans when he uses the slogan.

‘Best is the standard’ is being twisted and used against Clemson Football by critics and by fans

It’s bad enough when fans bastardize the meaning of the phrase to justify their negativity. I have a hard time respecting a veteran journalist like Sapakoff when he misconstrues the meaning to suggest Clemson is an elitist program that isn’t delivering on promises to the fans.

The team has never promised results. They set their best effort as their goal. I don’t think that the team lacked effort that night. I don’t think the problems stemmed from not trying.

I do agree that the team lacked something that evening. I think they lacked intensity. I think they lacked swagger. I think they lacked an attacking mentality.

I use the phrase “Do they have that dog in them?” That night, it was clear the team didn’t have any dog in them. I don’t think that is a lack of effort. I think it is a lack of toughness.

I don’t think this team, either the coaches or the players, were very tough that night. I think they tried their best. They just couldn’t respond to Notre Dame’s intensity. I think this is a big problem with this program right now. I can’t say I think the 2022 squad was nearly as tough as the 2018 squad that won a national championship.

That opinion doesn’t apply to every individual. Will Shipley is tough. Nate Wiggins does not lack for intensity. When it comes to the team as a whole, I think we have seen a steady decline in toughness over the past four years.

I don’t think this team failed to live up to the expectations of ‘Best is the standard’. It wasn’t effort that was missing. It was something else.

Next. Decisions, decisions!. dark