First all of, kudos to everyone working at IPTAY, the Clemson Athletic Department, and the Atlanta Clemson Club who organized the event. It was at the College Football Hall of Fame and was very enjoyable, convenient, and well done.
Upon check-in, guests could tour the facility or get an autograph and chat with the coaches. I opted for the latter and got some great insights from Coach Brad Brownell. They then served dinner, showed a few videos, and had Don Munson, IPTAY CEO Davis Babb, and AD Dan Radakovich speak before the coaches conducted their Q&A sessions. Below are the most interested insights I took away from the event.
Athletic Department Updates and Details
- Davis Babb noted that IPTAY "brought in a little over $60 million in donations." That appears to be a strong number we should feel good about. For reference, this NYT article cites a 2013 donation level under $40 million at South Carolina. USA today cites our 2014-15 revenue (which one would assume excludes donations) at $83 million.
- Athletic success has the power to fuel academic success. I've read stories about Rutgers, where applications doubled the year after their Greg Schiano led football program beat West Virginia on national television and instantly became relevant. Clemson set an application record two years ago with 22,000 applicants. They beat it the following year with 23,000, and beat it again this year with 25,000 applicants. The average SAT score for incoming students in this class is 1290! Our degrees are becoming more valuable and it's a credit to a lot of people, but President Clements deserves kudos for recognizing how athletics and academics can be of mutual benefit to each other. There's a reason we are so extreme in the "good corner" on the Wall Street Journal's grid of shame.
- If you've been on campus in 2016 you know Clemson is very busy with construction. The Athletic Department is in the middle of $150 million of facility upgrades and construction in a three year period. These include: the rebuild of Littlejohn Coliseum, the massive football complex, the football suite upgrades in Death Valley, the Oculus bridge, and the baseball upgrades. Interestingly, they compared this to the academic side of Clemson which has $450 million worth of facility upgrades and construction. The football team will move out of Vickery Hall -- built in 1990 -- as they need more space and more convenient space closer to the practice fields. The football complex will have 11,000 sq. ft. of learning center space.
- The Douthit Hills project (which will house the Bridge Program and much more) and new business school being built over by Clemson house will grow the campus in a different and less stretched out direction (compared to building over by Lightsey Bridge). This growth will make Bowman Field more a central part of campus than a grand entrance.
- First of all, Brad Brownell is amazingly personable. I was fortunate to have a decent conversation with him after telling him I handle much of the basketball coverage for STS.
- He genuinely doesn't know if Jaron Blossomgame will enter the NBA draft or not. I asked him if the new rules hurt college basketball teams and he agreed that they help the player, but make it tougher on the teams because they can't recruit the extra guy and don't know what their lineup will be until later in the offseason. He also indicated that decisions will be complete in about two weeks.
- I asked about Marcquise Reed and what he brings. Coach Brownell said "he can score." He's also 6'4" so he brings some height to that #2 guard positions - something we didn't have last year with Roper and Holmes on the court together. This led me to ask if Avry Holmes would start at point guard next year. Coach Brownell did not answer in the affirmative and instead praised Vanderbilt transfer Shelton Mitchell. This surprised me and I told him that I thought Reed was "head and shoulders" above Mitchell coming in. He again praised Reed's scoring ability, but disagreed with that assessment. It sounds like we could see a lot of Shelton Mitchell next year.
- During the Q&A session, each coach fielded a question about Atlanta recruiting. Brownell's response was particularly interesting. "We've been particularly successful when both parents are involved." You have a mom, a dad, an AAU coach, an uncle, a barber, and a handful of other people in a recruits life and if you don't get to and win over the right influencer you lose the recruit. Brownell says "with two parent homes it is the parents and the kid and that seems to be a type that likes the Clemson Family. We have started tailoring our recruiting to them."
- Overall, I left thinking Brownell is an intelligent, hard working guy who I really want to see be successful at Clemson long-term. If Jaron Blossomgame returns, the lineup (PG Mitchell, SG Holmes, SF Grantham, PF Blossomgame, C Djitte) looks like an NCAA tournament team to me.
- I led off the Q&A session with a question to Coach Swinney about special teams asking "You and your staff have done a great job of finding weaknesses and improving upon them. I'm wondering if you view special teams as a weakness and if so if you have a strategy to improve there?" Unfortunately, he took the question to be specific to the National Championship game. It's likely he's heard a bit too much about the one specific onside kick that turned the game on us. He was quick to point out that the secondary was the real culprit in that game as two plays after the onside kick we busted in Cover 3. He also mentioned other ridiculous busts out of quarters defense.
- Eventually -- after the aside about the National Championship which prompted Brownell to poke him and say go easy or we won't have anymore questions -- he answered the specific question really quite well. He said the "kick coverage this year was atrocious." He blamed youth, personnel, coverage scheme, and also credited our opponents. He specifically pointed to the Louisville game as us not doing a good job. He went as far as to say kickoff coverage and kickoff returns would be two focal points for improvement.
- We got an update on Mike Williams. He did all the 7 vs. 7, team pass, and one-on-one drills. He dove, flipped, and got knocked down. They held him in the Spring game to just be safe. Coach Swinney noted that "He was a little winded, I thought he was out of shape early on... His confidence his high and he is chomping at the bit." Swinney said it has been good to see the chemistry between Watson and Williams develop and he would expect us to see big production from the two if they both stay healthy.
- Lastly, a few interesting notes on recruiting in Atlanta and recruiting in general. Coach Swinney estimated that there are about 20 D-1 signees out of SC each year compared to 150 in GA. They treat SC, NC, and GA as "one state." That is the area they are actively traveling to and finding kids that are a good fit for the program. Obviously, if a kid from CT wanted to visit, they will take them seriously, but they want that kid to visit and show he is genuine in his interest before they reciprocate.
- Regarding recruiting kids of high character, I really appreciated how Dabo works with his assistants. This is the epitome of leadership. "I empower each coach. You're the head coach of your position. If he doesn't get in (to Clemson) you're going to be accountable." Empowering employees is a staple of good business leadership and it's great to see how Coach Swinney applies that principle at Clemson. He continued saying that he receives a "Social Media Report" on all the 2017-2018 recruits every so often. The assistants are largely looking to see what the players said about Clemson and competing schools, but Swinney mostly browses the "questionable content" column as he only wants kids that "fit" at Clemson.