Following the Clemson Football loss to Miami this past weekend, there have been a lot of emotions from the fanbase. There have been varying types of criticism of head coach Dabo Swinney.
Some of the criticism comes from the way he has addressed the fans about the befuddling play of his team this season. He has frequently mentioned that he felt this team was just a few plays away from being undefeated. Following the Miami loss, he can no longer attempt such an argument with credibility.
Much of the criticism at this point is that Swinney is the person responsible for the current state of the program. The belief of many is that his leadership has led to the decline of a program that was legitimately challenging for national titles as recently as 2020.
The program now has three consecutive seasons with at least three losses and the very real likelihood that there will be more losses remaining on Clemson’s 2023 schedule.
Swinney is perceived by many to be stubborn, stuck in his ways, and unwilling to change. Some fans have gone as far as suggesting he has been negligent with his stewardship of the program.
I do consider Swinney to be set in his ways. I don’t think that means he is in any way negligent. Swinney has a resume that suggests he is much more qualified to make critical decisions for a football program than most other head coaches, much less fans.
Swinney’s success is why he has the confidence to do things his way. I think there is a big difference between deciding based on one’s past experiences and the decision not working out, versus making negligent decisions. I do not believe Swinney has been negligent, no matter how many fans feel that they saw this coming when he did not.
I would not agree that he is unwilling to change. It is more accurate to say he is slow to change.
Clemson used to only allow prospects to take official visits during the regular season and would not entertain prospects in the summer. When Swinney realized other programs were having success with summer visits, he changed that policy, and for the past two seasons, Clemson has had an official visit weekend at the beginning of the summer.
Since the national championships of 2016 and 2018, Swinney had leaned strongly towards promoting his staff from within, with the one exception of Nick Eason, who was also a Clemson alum. When he realized the offense needed to make a change, he dismissed a longtime assistant coach (who was also a Clemson alum) and hired Garrett Riley from outside the current staff. Riley wasn’t an alum, nor did he have any tangible connection to Clemson.
Swinney is also very capable of understanding when he has made a mistake and taking accountability. Following the Miami game, he was asked if the team utilizes sports psychologists. He tried to make a joke that was poorly received.
The next day, Swinney owned his mistake and apologized for it.
Swinney also apologized to fans following the Miami game.
"“All I can say is man, I’m sorry to our fans because they certainly deserve better.”"
Will Dabo Swinney’s conservative nature be able to keep Clemson Football ahead of the curve?
Swinney is very capable of determining he has made a mistake and owning it, or that the results of his program don’t meet expectations. The only caveat is that he sets those expectations and doesn’t feel beholden to the demands of upset fans.
While Swinney isn’t as stubborn as many portray him to be, he is indeed a late adopter. His vision of how to run the Clemson program has been conservative, and it is very fair to question if that mindset will ever be able to keep up in this day and age.
The college football landscape has changed considerably in the past five years, and all indications are that it will continue to change. Even Swinney has suggested that there will be a massive shift in the structure of the sport at some point.
My biggest concern is that Swinney’s conservative nature will preclude Clemson from ever completely catching up to the rest of its peers in a dynamically changing industry. My guess is that Swinney has already considered this, or will be giving it much consideration in the not-so-distant future.
My opinion is that Swinney expected his decision to change his offensive coordinator would be the catalyst to returning the team to elite status. That expectation has proven inaccurate.
We know Swinney doesn’t like to lose, and if three losses last year convinced him to make a change, three plus losses should lead to more change.
Hopefully, Swinney will recognize that a continued cycle of adapting only after there is definable regression will not only continue to disappoint the fanbase, but will likely never lead to a true return to elite status for the program.
My hope is that he adapts to being more willing to embrace changes to the sport and using them to the program’s advantage.
If the change that is needed is to be an early adopter instead of a late adopter, can Swinney do that? I honestly don’t know if he can, or more importantly, if he would want to.