The 2018 Clemson Tigers Football Preview
Dabo Swinney's Coaching Philosophy
Over the last three seasons, the Clemson Tigers are 40-4 with two of those wins coming in the playoffs. Over the course of the program’s ascendancy, Dabo Swinney has earned a reputable title for himself as an elite head coach, and has often been compared to Nick Saban as a dominating powerhouse in the world of college football. Many athletes, coaches, and even musicians often don’t like being compared to their competition or even their predecessors, Swinney, a reverent Christian seems to appreciate the comparison, as it indicates to him that he doing something right. Despite the growing rivalry between their two programs, both coaches appear to have the utmost respect for one another.
The Swinney-Saban coaching foundations
Reading and listening to how these two head coaches define their processes, I have noticed some important parallels between their leadership philosophies. According to Swinney, the culture he has installed in the Clemson program is driven by ‘The Why’ of what he, his staff and his athletes do–not just how they do it, but why. As such, his leadership style is highly focused on intent and purpose.
Similarly, in a recent speech given a camp at Alabama, Coach Saban emphasized the importance of choice to the young athletes in attendance. Much like Swinney’s philosophy of why, Saban aims to instill conscientious action and decision-making in his student-athletes. While working for a publication that also covers college football prospects, I have found these lessons are likely the most imperative in guiding young athletes. Half of the submissions we receive from high school athlete requesting help in their recruiting process show a disturbing lack of purpose and sincerity, and it’s clear that the recruit has yet to ask themselves why they want to play college football. I have also seen this pattern of haphazardness in top rated, 4-5-star recruits. I’m not saying it’s wrong or condemnable for an 18 year-old to not have a meticulous life strategy, but it is imperative for rising college football players, FBS or otherwise, to reflect on the whys:
Why do you want to play college football?
Why did you choose to play football in the beginning, and why is it still a big part of your life?
Why do you want to play in college and not in a minor professional league?
Why did you pick the school you play for?
These questions are so important in the recruiting process and in the greater realm of college football because when a young player’s motivations are driven one-dimensionally, they are setting themselves up to make destructive choices and even subconsciously sabotage themselves on the field.
The parallels in leadership between these two powerhouse programs demonstrate why they are where they are and why there will be no shortage of competitive Clemson-Alabama match-ups in future college football playoffs as long as they continue to re-install these core values in these young men.
Coach Saban and Coach Swinney - Building young men through life coaching
Offense: the QB Question
After leading Cartersville High School to two state championships and ending his high school career 52-2 with 13,908 passing yards and 161 touchdowns, breaking several Georgia state records set by former Tiger Deshaun Watson, it's no wonder Tigers fans are clamoring to see the highly recruited Freshman QB Taylor Lawrence perform at the next level. However, those set on seeing the long-haired dual-threat QB start for the Tigers this season are likely to be disappointed. In the eyes of Coach Swinney, none of the freshman's renowned high school achievements or national popularity can equate to Kelly Bryant's experience leading the 2017-18 Clemson Tigers to the playoffs and a 12-2 record (with the only regular season loss resulting from Bryant's absence due to a concussion experienced mid-game).
"Obviously, Kelly's won a conference (championship) and taken us to the playoffs, and he's got great experience," Swinney said. "The other guys are right there and battling."
Much like Saban's, Swinney's coaching philosophy stresses savvy, conscientious decision-making in players. This perhaps why both head coaches trust their more experienced college football QB over the fresher, younger choice, even when the vast majority of fans, critics and popular opinion think otherwise. Though Lawrence's ability as an accomplished passer seem like the obvious solution to Bryant's ineffectiveness in getting the ball downfield on long passes last year, the freshman will be of much better use after spending time learning from a seasoned QB with a winning record and playoff experience. Bryant's passing yards last season may have fell short of the standard set by Clemson, but he still has a lot to offer and should not be dismissed so quickly just before there is a flashy new dual-threat QB in town.
Learn the Story of Kelly Bryant and how he overcame crones disease his junior year of high school!
All-Star Defensive Line
With returners Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, Brent Venables is basically running a pro-level defensive line with a number of backups that would be starters in most other programs. Unlike other CFB Playoff contenders like Georgia who have had to rebuild essential parts of their defense after losing a number of top-preforming players to the NFL Draft, Swinney is working with a highly developed and familiarized defensive unit.
Prediction: 12-0 Before Rematch with Alabama
Last year, the Tigers' only regular season loss was handed to them by Syracuse when QB Kelly Bryant suffered a concussion mid-game. Hopefully, no injuries or harm comes to Kelly, but in case something does happen, Freshman Taylor Lawrence will be ready to step-in and ball. Sh** happens, but as long as the Tigers stay focused and detail-oriented, they should be able to put up an 11-0 regular season and an ACC Conference Title, all leading up to a much anticipated CFB Playoff rematch against Alabama.
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