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Clemson Tough by Larry Williams: Book Review

Larry Williams of Tiger Illustrated published his third Clemson book Clemson Tough: Guts and Glory Under Dabo Swinney (following Classic Clashes of the Carolina-Clemson Football Rivalry: A State of Disunion and The Danny Ford Years at Clemson) this year.

It promised to chronicle not only Clemson's magical national championship run, but the story of Dabo Swinney and how has impacted the Tiger program.

The 2015–16 season marked a significant moment in Clemson football history. Not only did the team play in its first national championship in thirty-four years, but the nation also finally took note of the burgeoning renaissance. When Dabo Swinney told a national television audience about his team’s willingness to “bring your own guts” after an emotional win over Notre Dame, it was a spontaneous line to a television reporter in the delirious, rain-soaked aftermath of a landmark victory. But Swinney’s comment also underscored the identity and drive that would fuel a truly special season. Larry Williams relays the intimate details of Swinney’s life, his impact on Tiger Town and his mission to create an elite program on and off the field.

If you have read Larry William's previous book (The Danny Ford Years at Clemson), then you know he is a talented writer. He has the ability to pull you into his story and in his most recent book prompt you to relive the special moments he chronicles.

As I cracked open Clemson Tough, I was hoping for a insider's retelling of Clemson's rise to prominence packed with interesting vignettes detailing the end of the Bowden era, the hiring of Coach Swinney, the Swinney era, the National Championship run, and a brief and hopeful look ahead. While some of the chapters read like simple but well-written game recaps, others delivered on exactly this.

The introduction chronicles the childhood and career path of Coach Swinney in fascinating detail. Williams telling of Swinney's serendipitous path to Clemson, SC was my favorite part of the book.

After winning a national championship at Alabama and earning his MBA while working as a GA for the football team, coaching turnover put Coach Swinney out of work in Tuscaloosa. Eventually, he would find a opportunity with a commercial real estate company. Williams writes that his wife, Kathleen, cried on his first day at the new job, because she knew it did not bring him professional fulfillment.

When Mike Price took over for Alabama, the "deal was basically done" to bring Swinney in to coach tight ends and out of the corporate world, but towards the end of the hiring process there was a change of heart on Coach Price's end meaning Swinney was not offered the position. Soon after, Tommy Bowden called with an opportunity. Despite the obvious job security risk associated with the struggles of Bowden's recent Tiger teams, he packed up his family, took a pay cut, and went to Clemson to coach wide receivers.

There are many more details to the story I won't spoil in this review, except to say it is amazing how such an unlikely path led him to his current position - almost like it was meant to be.

The story continues as he explains how Swinney brought in Thad Thurnipseed and the social media staff to be more efficient and effective with recruiting. They discuss CJ Spiller's pro-day, which to Coach Swinney's embarrassment, had to be done in the rain because they did not have sufficient indoor facilities. This pushed Swinney and the administration towards the indoor practice facility he writes.

Excluding the introduction, my favorite chapter was easily "Chapter 5: Twist of Fate." I won't spoil it here because it is genuinely a story you probably have not heard, but I will leave you with this cliff hanger... if Woody Hayes didn't punch a Clemson player in the Gator Bowl and get himself fired, Mitch Hyatt would not be a Clemson Tiger.

Overall, Clemson Tough is a good read for the dedicated Clemson fan. While it spends too much time recapping games which have sufficient game recaps posted all across the web, its inside stories add color to the broader Clemson story in a delightful way. It ended rather abruptly, simply saying the final blemish doesn't mar the otherwise brilliant season, but maybe that is fitting since it still feels somewhat abrupt and unfinished.

If you're interested in reading one of Larry Williams books, I would first recommend The Danny Ford Years at Clemson, as it sheds light on an era that many of our readers and writers (including myself) are less knowledgeable about. It avoids game recap like chapters and provides perspective on Ford's ouster.

Clemson Tough also deserves a recommendation though. Despite a bit too much time spent on individual game recaps and a rather abrupt ending, Clemson Tough succeeds because of the interesting detail and fascinating stories Larry Williams is able to provide about the life of Coach Swinney, Mitch Hyatt's path to Clemson, Watson's torn ACL, OU's over-the-top trash talking, and more.