Clemson football continues to show consistency and gain national respect. A blowout Russell Athletic Bowl victory gave Clemson their fourth straight double-digit win campaign, putting them in rare company with only Alabama, Oregon, and Northern Illinois. The positive vibes are felt in recruiting. The recent pick-ups of DL Christian Wilkins and CB Mark Fields give Clemson arguably the best class outside of the SEC (Alabama continues to dominate on the trail).
Everything is not perfect to be sure. Three straight losses to FSU comes to mind. Athlon Sports ranked Clemson as the 2014 bowl winner that will be the most overrated in 2015. Chad Morris has departed to take over as the head coach at SMU, leaving rookie co-coordinators in his old role. Fortunately, Elliott and Scott did such a great job planning and executing a gameplan against Oklahoma, we're confident in what they can do moving forward.
The $1.3 million that came off the books with Chad Morris's departure was used to hire Brandon Streeter and give raises to all assistants. Clemson has been able to compensate their assistant coaches handsomely and maintain continuity in staff from year to year. The biggest raise went to Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables. His compensation will eclipse what Morris earned a year ago, and on top of that, his contract does not have a buyout. In the unlikely scenario that Clemson would want to fire him, they'd have to pay the full remainder of his contract. Clemson is in a similar situation with Dabo Swinney, whose buy-out is so large it would cost the majority of the program's annual revenue to dismiss him. Luckily both scenarios are extremely unlikely.
The athletic department's ability and willingness to pay top dollar for top coaches has made Clemson football one of the most stable programs in the entire country. With a head coach that has led Clemson back from national irrelevance, an elite defensive coordinator, a great group of assistants, facility upgrades constantly in the works, and recruiting that is at it's best point in the past 20 years, Clemson is well positioned for continued success in the long-term. Look for a potential Peach Bowl next year and more double-digit win seasons in the future.
The contract philosophy applies for basketball too. The department felt good about the direction Coach Brad Brownell was taking the program after an NIT run and gave him an extension that includes a $5 million buy-out which makes him untouchable until after the 2016-17 season. Unfortunately, a solid 20-14-15 campaign has been followed up an inconsistent one. To date this season, Clemson has lost to four teams outside of KenPom's top 125 - three times at home.
These kinds of dud home losses are unacceptable by any measure. Brownell made the NCAA tournament and won a First Four game against UAB in 2010, but since then has not returned to the tournament. If they fail to make the NCAA or NIT tournament this year, which is very probable, then Brownell will have made one NCAA tournament and one NIT appearance in his first six years leading the program.
It has taken Brownell a while to get any sort of momentum recruiting, but his last class included current starter Donte Grantham and the upcoming class includes JUCO Legend Robertin in the post and Ty Hudson at guard. Maybe most promising is incoming transfer Avry Holmes, who comes to Clemson from University of San Francisco.
The next two years are critical for Brownell. Not only does he need to build on the little bit of momentum he's captured on the recruiting trail, but the program needs to start racking up some on court victories. 2016 will be tough playing in Greenville, however the roster should improve with Rod Hall and Demarcus Harrison graduating and Avry Holmes, Legend Robertin, and Ty Hudson entering the fold. An NIT appearance is a realistic expectation. In 2017, the Tigers will return to their new home in Clemson with a veteran squad that will include a Senior Jaron Blossomgame and a Junior Donte Grantham. A second NCAA tournament appearance should be expected by then.
This year has been extremely frustrating. The team has showed promise and gotten our hopes up with wins over LSU, Arkansas, and Syracuse, but then dashed them with even more surprising losses. The duration it is taking Coach Brownell to find success is sub-optimal, but now is not quite the time to call for heads. Most notably because it is impractical. The athletic department under AD Dan Radakovich has been willing to dole out large buy-outs. In this case, spending $5 million to find a new basketball coach right before moving to Greenville is impractical. Brownell has an opportunity to lead us back to the NCAA tournament by 2017. If that doesn't happen, it will be undisputed that change is needed, but he'll most likely get it done, it just hasn't been as fast as I would have hoped.
Clemson baseball was recently picked third in the Atlantic Division behind Florida State and Louisville. Constantly placing behind Florida State is growing old and besting them in one of the big three sports should be a goal for each team in their upcoming season. FSU has now beat Clemson three in a row in football, three in a row in Littlejohn Coliseum, and 4/6 in baseball!
Jack Leggett has won 923 games in 21 seasons at the helm for Clemson, but has failed to guide the Tigers past the NCAA Regionals in each of the last four seasons. That has put Jack on the hot seat for the first time in his tenure at Clemson. Although Leggett didn't build Clemson baseball from scratch, in some ways this is similar to the situation Florida State faced towards the end of Bobby Bowden's career. It's hard to fire someone who has proven what he can do and has already done so much for the University.
This baseball season will be especially interesting because Leggett, who makes $400,000 this season, is in the second to last season of his contract. It stands to reason that Radakovich will be forced to fire or extend him at the end of the year. Radakovich gave Coach Leggett some very specific things he wanted to see this season. Hopefully, those changes as well as other Leggett may enact proactively are enough to get momentum turned back in the right direction.
This program is arguably the least stable of the four discussed, however current stadium renovations, fan support, and historical success make it likely Clemson will regain past success relatively soon.
Clemson Men's Soccer has historically been a strong program, capturing two national championships in the 80s, but from 2007 to 2012 they failed to make the NCAA tournament each season. Coach Mike Noonan turned the ship around. Hired from Brown, Mike Noonan took over in 2010. It required some time, but in 2013, they finally returned to the NCAA tournament where they lost to Elon in the first round.
In 2014, Clemson recaptured some of its past glory on the soccer field. An exciting run in the ACC tournament netted the Tigers an ACC Championship, something none of the three other sports we discussed accomplished. They also earned a bye in the NCAA tournament and went on to beat Coastal Carolina in the Second Round of the tournament before falling to UNC in the round of 16.
With the renovations to the now beautiful Historic Riggs Field complete and Coach Noonan's rebuilding job complete, Clemson soccer is back!