Friedlander: Sorry, Dabo. Tyler from Spartanburg is far from Clemson's biggest problem
OK, so maybe you can’t win ’em all. But if you’re at Clemson, you’ve grown accustomed to winning most of ’em over the past dozen years.
Ten-plus win seasons, Playoff appearances and bringing home championship trophies have become something of a birthright. What is the hope of most other programs, especially those in the ACC, is an expectation for the Tigers.
And this season isn’t living up to those expectations.
That’s not sitting well among those in the land of orange tiger paws who have become spoiled by their sustained success. It’s a tossup as to who is handling the situation worse now that they’re getting a glimpse into how the other half lives.
The fans. Or Dabo Swinney.
Signs of the frustration that’s been bubbling since an opening week loss at Duke have become more noticeable as each of Clemson’s annual benchmarks have become unattainable.
Fans began criticizing Swinney for his reluctance to embrace change, especially as it pertains to the transfer portal and name, image and likeness compensation. The coach fired back by saying that it might be time to “lighten up the bandwagon” of those who aren’t all in with his program.
That, as it turned out, was only the opening volley of a war of words that erupted into full-blast conflict during Swinney’s weekly radio show on Monday – 2 days after a loss at NC State dropped the Tigers to 4-4, the latest in a season they’ve been at .500 since 2011.
The flash point was provided by a caller identified as “Tyler from Spartanburg,” who questioned Swinney’s staff hires, quoted a bible verse to suggest that the coach’s “arrogance” is responsible for the program’s “fall” and compared him to predecessor Tommy Bowden before delivering his coup de grace by asking: “Why are we paying you $11.5 million to go 4-4?”
Dabo Swinney went scorched earth on Tyler from Spartanburg during his radio call-in show on Monday.
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) October 31, 2023
Swinney, his switch finally flipped, let loose on the “smart-@$$ fan” with a nearly 5-minute tirade laced by several uncharacteristic “frickin’s.” He summed up his feelings by telling Tyler – who might soon become as infamous around the ACC as former Finebaum-foil “Phyllis from Mulga” once was in the SEC – that he is “part of the problem.”
It was a rant reminiscent of Captain Queeg on the witness stand in “The Caine Mutiny.”
“They were all disloyal. They fought me at every turn.”
Swinney doubled down later in the show when he said that while he believes he has another 15 years left in his coaching career, “I don’t know if I’ll be here but it’ll be somewhere (else).”
It’s doubtful he’s serious about leaving. He has to know how good he has it at Clemson and that things don’t always get better with a change of scenery.
Tigers fans should be just as careful what they wish for. Who are they going to get that’s any better — or even in the same ballpark — as the future Hall of Famer they already have?
Swinney is right about one thing. The fickleness of a fan base pushing panic buttons over 1 mediocre season has certainly added to the negativity surrounding the program right now.
But that’s more of a symptom than the cause.
If he’s truly interested in identifying and solving the most significant part of the problem currently plaguing his Tigers, he need only take a quick peek into the mirror. And his disdain for the transfer portal, while an important piece of the equation, is only the tip of the iceberg.
The recurring issues with penalties, missed kicks and turnovers that have become Clemson’s identity 9 weeks into the season are as much the fault of the coaching staff’ as the players. So is the lack of discipline characterized by quarterback Cade Klubnik (unsuccessfully) changing the play call on 4th-and-goal in overtime at Miami without being held accountable for it.
Instead of complaining publicly about being underappreciated by the fans, Swinney could use a reminder of the time-tested old coaching mantra and get back to controlling the controllables.
That starts with keeping his players from raising the white flag and going through the motions for the remainder of this season. Then once the final game is played, there are hard decisions to be made about where his program goes from here.
Along with growing a thicker skin.
Scapegoating a few staff members and a player or 2 isn’t going to cut it. He’s already tried that with Brandon Streeter and DJ Uiagalelei and things have only gotten worse.
It’s going to take some major structural changes, starting with a full acceptance of the transfer portal and NIL, to ensure that this year’s struggles are just a 1-year hiccup rather than the new normal. Otherwise those 10-win seasons, Playoff appearances and championship celebrations will start to become fewer and farther between.
Then Tyler from Spartanburg will really have something to complain about.