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Reader Questions: Clemson Administration & 2011 Football Season

I have been getting some good questions and comments via email the past few weeks.  I wanted to share a couple questions I received recently and give you my take on these matters.  As always, we encourage your questions and insight.

Reader Question:  I read on Shakin' the Southland about speculation that after the Meineke Car Care game, the Board of Trustees moved to no longer allow President Barker's micromanagement of the athletic department.  Do you think this change to be long lasting? Will Terry Don Phillips and Dabo Swinney (and future ADs and head coaches henceforth) be able to operate without Barker intervening? Also, do you see the changes overall as potential for success in the 2011 season (perhaps an ACC Championship)?

As you probably know, there are factions within our Board.  Unfortunately, the public doesn't always get absolute transparency so it is tough to know exactly who harbors which views although we have a good idea where some of the members stand.

One Board, Two Apparent Factions:

Group I:  This group believes that academics and national opinion of academics shall reign supreme and athletics will be a mere sideshow at Clemson.  These are the people who believe that US News' opinion of the university is the major metric and feel that an emphasis on athletics may hinder this goal.  Over the past decade these folks endorsed an administrative-heavy strategy, adjusting numbers to meet statistical measures to better Clemson University's USN&WR rating.  Some of these modifications have been good for the alumni and student body, others are merely a smoke and mirrors show designed to improve academic perception outside the Clemson community.  While the latter are good for PR, some have probably been detrimental to students, particularly in-state scholars.  Members of this faction put Barker on a pedestal and don't typically challenge his ideas or proposed programs.

Group II:  This group sees the university as a collective institution.  They want Clemson to move forward academically but also realize that the results Clemson athletics department cascades throughout the donor base, local/state economies, and individuals throughout the Southeast.  This faction pushed for the athletic oversight committee and, short of firing TDP a couple months ago, bypassed President Barker to take a more direct role in athletic department operations.  In short, this group is less enamored with Jimmy and the Top 20 and more focused on iteratively and rationally improving Clemson without handicapping the AD.

Overall State of Matters:

Clemson has done some nice things under Barker that are positive for all involved.  An item that I am pleased with is the effort to increase post-graduate programs at Clemson, particularly in research/technical areas.  The rewards of this effort are two-fold.  First it provides a valuable resource for the State of South Carolina by offering a quality technical education and by attracting businesses who need a skilled labor pool of scientists and engineers.  The second big item associated with post-grad programs is the grant money these folks bring in to the school.  More grant money means more resources and the ability to attract the better and better researchers.

Issues I have with the Top 20 initiative involve the shell game that the administration appears to play to improve our US News and World Report rating coupled with crippling boundaries placed on our athletic coaches/teams.  While these ratings do have some importance, they are viewed by many as feathers in an administration's cap.  Initiatives to make Clemson a Top 20 University are not, in themselves, a bad thing.  However, some decisions were made solely to "massage" numbers to look better for such a report, which does nothing to help current students.

We have repeatedly chastised the micromanagement the administration places on the Clemson Athletic Department AND the tax that the university applies to the AD.   I cannot understand how an academic review board can dictate to a coach who he/she can/cannot recruit based on the individual's forecasted performance.  This information should be advisory and non-regulatory.  Further, the coach should be able to decipher this information and, if necessary, make his own assessment of an "at risk" situation.

Will the Micromanagement Continue?

Greater oversight of the AD by a Board subcommittee will continue so long as the Clemson fan base, alumni, and boosters demand such.  The Clemson community's frustration kept building until it reached a near critical mass following the 2010 regular season and was the driver for the changes.  By the end of football season 2010, the uproar directed at Jimmy, TDP, and the BOT was impossible to ignore.  This gave the folks in Group II enough momentum to move forward because Group I could no longer ignore the real problem.  It also became clear that donors would begin withholding contributions if things continued without change.  Action was taken in a failed attempt to fire Phillips and an effective Board subcommittee near takeover of the AD.

One of the big reasons things got this bad was complacency from the fans/alumni/boosters.  So long as Clemson supporters demand results and there will be real monetary consequences if results are not delivered, those in charge will have to support the department.  If the fanbase becomes complacent with 8 wins and a trip to the Champs Sports Bowl, the administration will do whatever it sees fit.  The real key here is for Clemson fans to stay up to date with what is going on within our university and call people out when things are not being done properly either on the field, within school management, or through the BOT.  The fans/alumni/boosters must collectively act as a watchdog AND be willing demand better results when necessary.

Early 2011 Football Outlook:

Many of the changes made over the past month or so (particularly on the offensive side of the football) were necessary for Dabo Swinney to have any chance of success at Clemson.  We'll be rolling out further previews of the 2011 season throughout the offseason with more detailed insight so I will try and keep my opinions here concise. 

2011 will be a transition year, particularly for the Clemson defense.  Clemson loses a lot of really good players and talent throughout the defense.  Da'Quan Bowers and DeAndre McDaniel are two All-Americans lost from this unit that will be very tough to replace (from both a playing and leadership standpoint).  Maxwell and Gilchrist's graduation will leave the secondary without two more major contributors.  I don't think this unit will necessarily be really bad but just don't see how we can absorb the talent/experience loss and be excellent/near elite.

We will see some growing pains through a new offense and a new starting quarterback.  It will take a little time for everyone to get on the same page and be comfortable running the Chad Morris scheme during game situations.  Frist, this will affect the defense because Morris' fast paced offense figures to increase the number of offensive AND defensive snaps per game.  Clemson does get a significant talent increase at the receiver position through recruiting and the emergence of DeAndre Hopkins' emergence as a legit star.

The biggest improvement is bringing in Robby Caldwell to coach the offensive line.  We have discussed the OL under Coach Scott here extensively.  As you probably already know, we were unimpressed (highly pissed and sailor-like cussing is a little more accurate) with this group and the way they were taught under Scott.  Conversely, Caldwell is one of the best in the business and should be able to teach these kids how to play aggressively with an appropriate pad level, move their feet, and block with proper technique.  I am excited to see how much improvement is gained here over the course of the season.

Despite all of these concerns, we cannot be any worse as a whole than last season-at least from an overall record perspective-and on offense specifically.  That being said, we will not be good enough to win the Atlantic, especially with Florida State emerging as a national power under their new leadership group.    A logical regular season expectation (as of Feb. 2011) would be 8-9 wins.  While we think it's not unreasonable to expect 10 wins, the Tigers have way too many question marks at this point for me to make such a prediction.