I have not taken the time to discuss specifically the staff changes we have seen the New Year nor have I looked at the concerns that the '11 Tigers will face. Below is the Cliff's Notes version of where we are and where we are going. I am sure you will hear a lot more about these items as we approach Spring Practice and the Spring Game.
Changes since Jan. 1
The Clemson football program has greatly changed since the Muffler Bowl debacle. I am not sure if someone slipped Head Coach Dabo Swinney our World Wide Web address or what, but the big dog agreed with our recommendations and took action. We knew Swinney either had to change his offensive philosophy or get an OC who wanted to spread it out. Dabo chose the latter in Chad Morris. While I cannot accurately predict Morris' success at Clemson, our offense has a better chance of success with the HC and the OC on the same page.
Coach Swinney also relieved Andre Powell of his running back duties. We have been screaming for this replacement for a while, as Powell is an average RBs coach, an average recruiter, and an average special teams coach. Clemson could do worse but also could do better. His replacement, Tony Elliott, is a former Clemson walk-on receiver who Dabo directly coached in 2003. Elliott, like HC Dabo, was well-respected as a walk-on and spent a couple years outside football in the business world. Elliott's previous stops (SC State 2006-2008 then Furman 2008-2010) give him experience on the coaching side. Tony is a sharp guy (Clemson engineering graduate) and we expect him, at minimal, to be equivalent to Powell on the field and anticipate an upgrade with TE on the recruiting trail.
When Chris Rumph moved on to Bammer, I thought we were going to be in a tough bind with some recruits. I was alsoe concerned about another school raiding our staff for a guy like Dan Brooks. Fortunately, neither happened and Swinney was able to aptly replace a good coach and recruiter in Rumph with Duke's Defensive Coordinator, Marion Hobby. Hobby is a better technical position coach than Rumph was and has coached at the professional level. With CR's development as a recruiter the past few seasons, Clemson may lose some here with Hobby. I thought Swinney did an overall good job bringing in a quality replacement in a short time period.
The biggest coaching news was Robby Caldwell's departure from Vanderbilt. While this wasn't a surprise (Caldwell doesn't really see himself as the head man), it certainly got the wheels turning at Clemson and probably accelerated Brad Scott's retirement/placement in an administrative role. I won't rehash our offensive line woes nor discuss Brad's performance as CU's OC following Rich-Rod's departure. I will say that we really, really, really wanted to see this change and it was pulled off to perfection. Clemson got a jam up offensive line coach who should be able to improve an annual soft spot. Caldwell is also well respected within South Carolina high school coaching circles which will pay dividends with in-state recruiting.
We are often fair/tough on this coaching staff and-particularly last season-sometimes don't have a lot of nice things to say. Well, recruiting is not one of those. We did bring in a couple "projects" in the '11 class, but overall the staff did an amazing job signing one of the nation's best (and most surprising) recruiting classes. To be honest with you, I really don't know how Dabo and crew pulled this one together. Clemson had a pitiful football season and a good bit of staff turnover immediately following the New Year. The staff persevered and picked up the slack/transition caused by staff turnover to do what Swinney always did as a position coach/recruiter: CLOSE. Hell, Dennis Eckersley would be impressed with Swinney's skills as a closer. Props to all the coaches, including Swinney for keeping these guys focused on the road and Jeff Scott (recruiting coordinator/administrator) and the '10 coaching holdovers for being versatile/picking up the slack. Even Brad got out of the greater-Clemson area to land a few recruits. I'll take this opportunity to highlight an article in The State fish wrap showing some intangibles from this recruiting class.
The news out of TigerTown since the end of football season has largely been positive. We don't want to douse the momentum from the coaching changes and signing day, but Clemson still has a lot of issues that must be resolved before this team will get better. We are looking for improvement in several areas and facets of the program.
Strength and Conditioning: Chad Morris wants to run 85 plays a game. The 2010 offensive line would fall out if they ran 85 rapid paced plays in a single football game. There are professional bowlers out there who appear to be in better shape than some of our offensive linemen. I'll go far enough to say that some pics out there look like "Before" photos from a Jenny Craig commercial. There is no way that this kind of conditioning will make it next season. We have commented on S&C before, but will say it again...Joey Batson and crew will need to formulate a better strategy to get our guys in football shape, particularly the offensive linemen. We anticipate Caldwell, who has S&C experience over the years, will work with this group/the current S&C team to help get these players in better shape for 2011.
We have discussed our opinions on a Training Table and S&C in general. Clemson has to improve in this area.
Overall Toughness: We heard Dabo screaming that this team would become tougher. I'll admit there has been a little more fight than the Tom Bowden years, but we still aren't tough enough. All the stories you hear from the ‘80's involve a ball-buster Tuesday that overwhelms anything that ever happened on Saturday. We currently play Patty-Cake all week then try to raise the intensity level on gameday. These kids aren't pro athletes, so don't treat them as such. They need intense practices. Our OL 1s needs to go against our DL 1s. They may get their asses whipped but they would get better. If we are concerned with injuries on the OL, we need to do a better job recruiting linemen, period. Our DBs and WRs need to go 1s vs. 1s all practice, particularly when it comes to perimeter running. Do you think Coach Stallings would run such a practice? I don't, and I know neither Bryant nor Ford nor Saban would either...and none of them got pushed around.
Adjustment: Clemson will be playing some guys without extensive experience/previous starting roles. Clemson also loses several team leaders from the '10 team. We will be watching this team to see who can fill these roles. We will also be interested in seeing this offense adjust to Chad Morris' hurry-up offense and how well Tajh Boyd can pick up this system in less than 8 months. One would think that some of these issues will lead to mistakes, especially early in the season.
Coaching Staff: We are enthused about the staff changes made over the past month and a half. However, there is plenty of skepticism about this group, particularly after the pure crap we witnessed throughout the 2010 season out of the offense and portions of special teams. Does this staff have the vision and drive to get Clemson where it needs to be? Was Chris Rumph correct when he said that he couldn't promise Clemson would win? Although we will see some player turnover in '11, Clemson will still have more talent than most of its opponents. How many wins will arrive through this talent is largely dependent on the staff to push the players and develop them through proper coaching practices. You cannot outrecruit coaching ineptness, period. This staff must do a better job of developing players and making gameday decisions.
As we have stated before, we will continue to preview what we expect out of Clemson football throughout '11 and are putting together more items to make sense of last season and bridge the gap between the '10 team and '11 team. Anyone with questions or suggestions is encouraged to pipe up so that we can, if possible, get the answers and features that are out there queued up this Spring.