Clemson Football experiencing growing pains in the transfer portal

Dabo Swinney made it clear that Clemson Football would utilize the transfer portal, but they haven't found success with their first trio of targets. Does the staff have a core competency for using the portal?
Nov 25, 2023; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney coaches against the Gamecocks.
Nov 25, 2023; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney coaches against the Gamecocks. / Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson Football keeps its business in recruiting, both with high school prospects and players in the transfer portal, as quiet as possible.

Insiders will often reveal tidbits they have learned behind a paywall, but sometimes even they don’t find out until much of the behind-the-scenes groundwork has been laid by the staff.

Publicly, we are aware that Clemson was recruiting two offensive linemen: Alan Herron from Shorter and Keylan Rutledge from Middle Tennessee State. Both players have committed elsewhere (Penn State and Georgia Tech, respectively).

Now we have public confirmation of a third target, and that he is also going elsewhere.

On the surface, missing on three prospects doesn’t mean the sky is falling. The Tigers missed on plenty of high school prospects on the offensive line this recruiting cycle as well.

It is fair, however, considering that Clemson has little experience recruiting from the transfer portal, to ask an important question.

Does Clemson Football possess a core competency for the transfer portal?

More plainly, does Clemson have anyone on staff who has experience with recruiting players from the portal? Does Clemson have anyone on staff who has had success recruiting players from the portal?

Can anyone on Clemson’s staff say they have proof of concept that they know what they are doing when they try to recruit a transfer?

We know Danny Pearman is on staff and in charge of researching the portal. As far as I know, he is perfectly capable of scouting, but I am not aware he has any practical knowledge on how to successfully recruit transfers.

That goes for the balance of the staff that has been with Dabo Swinney for years now. Clemson didn’t fully engage with transfers, therefore no one learned that core competency.

Keep in mind that the portal in its current form is relatively young. Then consider this:

  • Nick Eason was in the NFL before one season at Auburn. He then joined Clemson, so he has one practical offseason of experience at a school that uses the portal.
  • Matt Luke hasn’t been coaching for the past two seasons, and it is debatable how engaged he was with portal recruiting when he was at Georgia.
  • Chris Rumph has been in the NFL as well since the advent of the portal, so he has no practical experience.

The one exception to this is Garrett Riley. Riley was at SMU and TCU at a time when the portal was in use, and in theory, would have the practical experience.

Riley arrived at SMU at the same time Tanner Mordecai transferred from Oklahoma, where he played for his brother Lincoln Riley.

Even if we give Garrett the benefit of the doubt that he was responsible for Mordecai’s decision to transfer to SMU, as opposed to the fact he simply had an inside angle because his brother was his first head coach, we are still talking about one member of the Clemson staff that can say they have recruited and landed an impact player from the portal.

That includes Swinney, who also might be learning on the fly that he can’t recruit the same way from the portal as he has from high school.

As far as we know, Clemson applies the same principles to portal recruiting as they do high school recruiting: observe the prospect up close, speak with them and develop a relationship to make sure they have the character qualities that the program values, and only then will they make an offer.

If that is the case, Swinney might be finding out that the portal moves too quickly for all of that. I don’t think most players in the portal are looking for a new ‘relationship’ with a school.

Dabo Swinney won't be able to build the same relationships with transfer prospects as he and his staff do with high school recruits

We know that NIL plays a big role in recruiting the portal, and maybe Herron and Rutledge were more interested in NIL than we thought. We know Swinney has spoken out against tampering, and maybe other schools weren’t as concerned about the consequences of reaching out to these players before they officially entered the portal.

Those are both maybes. Another maybe is that other schools were simply better at landing Herron and Rutledge because Clemson doesn’t have any practical experience landing a transfer outside of veteran quarterbacks who are more interested in future coaching opportunities than actually getting on the field and playing football.

We have seen Swinney adapt with his coaching staff. He doesn’t do it on a whim, so it seems slow to many observers, but he does adapt.

When he saw his offense didn’t have an edge or momentum, he made a change and brought in an outside voice that did have that edge.

When he saw that there needed to be changes for the offensive line and defensive ends, he made the changes, but he needed to see them. He didn’t care if an account on X or a part-time podcaster predicted the outcomes of the season. He made the decision when he actually saw it with his own two eyes.

It is still early in the offseason, and fortunes could change for Clemson. Other names have already popped up behind those paywalls.

If Clemson’s fortunes don’t change, Swinney will make a couple changes. He will need to get that core competency for how to recruit the portal on his staff somehow. Then he will have to accept that if he wants to recruit from the portal, he might have to do it in a way that doesn’t fit with his pre-established values.