clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ron throws us another gem

Typical Ron Morris, he makes it sound like we'd fire Dabo if he loses to Sakerlina no-matter-what.

THE SOUTH CAROLINA-Clemson football rivalry might mean more to Dabo Swinney than to Steve Spurrier. And why not? Swinney’s job might just depend on how well his Clemson Tigers fare each season against Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks.

"That’s an important game to people in this state," Swinney said Thursday before he and men’s basketball coach Oliver Purnell addressed a gathering of about 800 Clemson fans at Lexington High School.

"It’s important to me because this is my livelihood," Swinney said.

It also is Spurrier’s livelihood. The difference is that no one believes for a minute that Spurrier’s job will be lost or saved based on his record against Clemson. Nor did his predecessor’s job status ride on how USC played against Clemson.

Coaches such as Lou Holtz and Spurrier can rest on their Hall of Fame credentials. Winning a national championship —- even if it was achieved at another school — will go a long way to washing away a few losses against your closest rival.

That’s a good thing since Holtz’s 1-5 record against Clemson included an embarrassing 63-17 drubbing and an ugly benches-clearing brawl. Spurrier’s teams have won only once in four cracks against Clemson.

Conversely, more than a few Tigers’ fans believe Tommy Bowden bought himself some extra time as Clemson’s coach by consistently beating USC. Bowden’s 7-2 record against USC kept Clemson fans happy as his teams fell short of winning an Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

The last Clemson coach with a losing record against USC was Frank Howard. He stuck around by winning ACC championships, bowl games and gaining legendary status despite going 13-15-2 against USC.

Aside from Marvin Bass, whose USC teams won three of five games against Clemson in the early ‘60s, only Rex Enright experienced consistent success against the Tigers.

Enright started slow, his teams going 1-3 against Clemson from 1938 through 1941. Then he picked up steam when he resumed head-coaching duties in 1946 and ran off a 7-2-1 record against Clemson over the next decade.

Enright was much beloved by the USC faithful despite a 64-69 overall record. That admiration had everything to do with Enright’s teams’ ability to beat Clemson. Following one season, fans rewarded him with a new Cadillac because his boys defeated their hated rival.

So, what has happened over the years is a simultaneous shift. Where Clemson once had the legendary coach whose record against USC could not cost him his job, now the Gamecocks have that. Also, while USC once had coaches who could keep their jobs by beating Clemson, now it’s the Clemson coaches who can hang on by beating USC.

Swinney knows well the intensity of the USC-Clemson rivalry because he sees similarities to the rivalry he grew up with.

"I didn’t like Auburn," said Swinney, an Alabama native. "From the time I could drag a diaper across the road, I was saying ‘Roll Tide.’ War Eagle was bad words. I disliked orange."

That dislike for the orange of Auburn extended beyond his youth when Swinney played as a walk-on at Alabama, then served as a Crimson Tide assistant coach for eight seasons.

The transformation to a love for the color orange has been easy, says Swinney, who was an assistant at Clemson beginning with the 2003 season. He was Clemson’s coach on an interim basis over the final seven games of the 2008 season before being named head coach Dec. 1.

"This rivalry, there’s a lot of similarities," Swinney said by way of comparing USC-Clemson to Alabama-Auburn. "It’s bitter in both states. You’ve got two schools that don’t like each other. Their fans don’t like each other. Everywhere you go half the people like you, half the people don’t like you."

Swinney said the biggest difference between the rivalries is conference affiliation. So much more is at stake because Alabama and Auburn compete in the same Southeastern Conference.

When Spurrier arrived at USC, he infuriated some Gamecock fans by saying he was setting bigger goals for his team than beating Clemson, like winning the SEC East Division championship. Swinney agrees with Spurrier by saying that Clemson must first strive to win the ACC Atlantic Division title.

Of course, if Clemson falls short in that quest, Swinney stands a good chance of keeping his job by beating USC.

I'll tell you what Ron, Tammy did stick around longer because he could beat the Chickens, despite losing the ACC/Division every year, but owning your rival in everything is a lot better than getting beat by your rival and still not winning the Division.