The majority of NFL or NCAA coaches will tell you that trash talk is cheap. Instead of running their mouth, most would likely prefer to let their team’s on-field performance do all of the talking.
The last week has shown that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is not part of this majority. Rather, Swinney appears to be among the minority, a minority that fully endorse unnecessary antics and verbal cheap shots.
On Saturday, the Tigers (7-1) traveled to Tallahassee for a showdown with ACC foe Florida State, who has limped its way to an underwhelming 2-6 record with just over a month left to play in a pandemic-ravaged 2020.
Clemson, a 35-point favorite in the matchup, was expected to throttle the Seminoles, thanks in large part to the return of Trevor Lawrence – the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft in April.
However, in rather unclimactic fashion, the game was postponed hours before its scheduled kickoff. While the Clemson medical staff gave its seal of approval for the game to be played, FSU did not. A Clemson backup offensive lineman within the Tigers’ travel party received a positive COVID test Friday in Tallahassee, causing FSU to became fearful of the potential spreading that could occur from that test. Ultimately, the game was postponed.
ACC commissioner John Swofford told ESPN that league protocols specifically state the ultimate decision on whether to play a game is left up to the medical advisers for both schools, and if they cannot come to an agreement, then the game simply cannot be played. These protocols have been in place since the start of the season, and were designed to avoid questions about motive.
“It’s unfortunate and I don’t think anyone is in a position to question the decision making of a medical officer in this type of situation,” Swofford said. “That’s where the decision lies, and in the eyes of our presidents and athletic directors, that’s where the decision should lie.
“I don’t think there’s any blame here,” Swofford continued. “We’ve got to remember the world in which we’re operating right now. People are following the protocols as agreed upon before the season started, and people are trying to make the best decisions for the right reasons, and you respect that.”
Florida State head coach Mike Norvell echoed similar sentiments to Swofford in that the postponement is saddening but necessary.
“We were excited to play this game,” Norvell said. “We’re a young team that needs every rep we can get. I’m not concerned what any other coach says or thinks.”
Norvell went on to say that having contracted the virus himself in late-September and being forced to miss Florida State’s rivalry game against Miami that he has a newfound understating for the safety measures and protocols in place. Ultimately, Norvell supported the decision made by his school’s administration and medical team.
Naturally, as teenagers and young men will traditionally do, there was a back-and-forth jawing on Twitter with players from both teams.
While young student-athletes talking a little trash is not a surprise, what was utterly shocking was the multiple statements Swinney made Saturday, on game day, and even after on both Monday and Tuesday.
Over that three-day span, the following occurred:
Swinney alluded that the Seminoles administration had effectively “forfeited” the game and used COVID-19 as an excuse to do so.
Swinney took the FSU decision to not play personally, referring to it as “an insult to the credibility of our program.”
Swinney also stated that unless FSU came to Clemson or reimbursed the Tigers’ travel cost for the trip back to Tallahassee, the game didn’t need to be rescheduled at all.
Then, on Tuesday, Swinney took yet another shot at the ‘Noles during his weekly media availability. This time though, Swinney took it too far, it was no longer just about a cancelled game.
Dabo reacted to an apparent slight by coach Mike Norvell. “Football coaches are not doctors. Some of us might think that we are,” Norvell said Monday.
Swinney answered: “I’m not really worried about what they say down there in Tallahassee, that’s for sure. I’ve been in this league 18 years, been a head coach [for] 12. They’ve had three head coaches in four years.”
Now days removed the postponement and the related war-of-words through the media, the only sensible and articulate question I can muster is:
Dabo, what the hell are you trying to accomplish here?
In a world ruminant with coronavirus the college football schedule has been in a constant state of flux in recent weeks. In fact, the Clemson-FSU postponement was the 18th postponement or cancelation of the weekend, which is nearly 30% of the games scheduled to be played last weekend. That number has nearly doubled from just 10 games two weeks ago to 15 last week, and sadly, there is little reason to believe this number will be decreasing in the weeks to come as COVID-19 positivity rates continue to climb.
Similarly, coronavirus has shown that it does not discriminate in terms of which teams or conferences the deadly disease will impact. It affects smaller Group of Five schools like Tulsa, who has had seven games postponed or cancelled so far this season as well as Playoff-bound teams like Alabama and Clemson.
Just two weeks ago, one of college football’s most heralded games, Alabama vs. LSU, fell victim to the virus.
“We were certainly looking forward to playing a game, but I think that we kind of expect disruptions this season,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said to the media upon learning that his game with the reigning champion LSU Tigers was cancelled.
So, I will pose the question again in hopes that hearing it again will give me a cogent or coherent thought that can help me explain the childish immaturity we have witnessed in the last week.
Dabo, what the hell are you trying to accomplish here?
Nope, I still have no legitimate justification for Dabo’s temper tantrum, but I do have six reasons why it was incredibly dumb.
It wasn’t a marque matchup: Clemson was a 35-point favorite. They were going to win, and win big. Yes, they would get another win, but it is a meaningless one because Florida State is a terrible team.
Clemson controls its destiny: Clemson has been a top-four team since the preseason. They are ranked No. 3 in the first College Football Playoff Rankings. Just win every game and the Tigers are in, it’s that simple. Even if the FSU game isn’t made up Clemson will make the postseason if they take home the ACC title.
You’re Dabo Swinney: Dabo is the highest paid coach in college football at $9.3M per year. In 11 years as the head coach he has two National Championships and six ACC Championships, including the last five in a row. He also has amassed numerous Coach of the Year Awards during his tenure leading Clemson. He has taken Clemson from an average program to a perennial powerhouse in a matter of a few years. Dabo is quite accomplished, he has absolutely zero to prove, so why act like an amateur?
FSU isn’t scared: Within the last six years, FSU has gone from a powerhouse program to a laughable program. A rather lengthy and telling ESPN exposé was published two days prior to this game detailing the utter disarray and dysfunction that is sinking the FSU football program and institutional brand. The Seminoles’ have been thrashed in the most public of ways. They have nothing to hide. Florida State has lost so many games since the departure of Jimbo Fisher, they can’t conceivably be scared of losing anymore. Instead FSU is desperate for a big win. Additionally, wouldn’t dethroning Clemson be the perfect recipe to right the proverbial FSU football ship?
FSU was hurt by the postponement too: According to the Orlando Sentinel, by not playing Saturday’s game against Clemson, the Seminoles lost an estimated $1.5 million (including $1.25 million in ticket revenue). Additionally, it was FSU’s “Donor Recognition Weekend,” meaning the school’s richest boosters were set to be in town to take in the Clemson game. For a struggling program like FSU this is a massive blow.
Dabo demeaned Trevor Lawrence’s Illness: In October, the Clemson program was the talk of the college football world when Trevor Lawrence was diagnosed with corona and subsequently missed two games. Given that the virus has hit so close to home within your program previously, and has killed more than 250,000 Americans, to liken a deadly virus to an “excuse” not to play is woefully ignorant to anyone impacted by this terrible disease.
Clemson had the COVID-positive player: At the end of the day, Clemson reported the positive test, not FSU. While the positive test isn’t necessarily a result of anything Dabo did or didn’t directly do, he did make a mistake. Dabo let a previously symptomatic player travel to Tallahassee. Even though the player in question had tested negative previously, Dabo could have used more caution and kept the player at home. Dabo didn’t and it ended up becoming a problem. No one is at fault: this is just the uncertain 2020 we all live in.
For Swinney causing a stir for his somewhat outspoken comments is nothing new. Whether In 2014 when he voiced that he was vehemently opposed to the possibility of paying student-athletes, so much so he would retire when that occurs. Needless to say, this is an ironic take given he makes his exorbitant salary due to these very athletes. And, without players, he has no job and college football doesn’t exist.
In 2016, he expressed that he totally disagreed with kneeling for the National Anthem citing that the choice to do so was a distraction to the team. Later that year he delivered a real head-scratcher of a quote which said, “It’s so easy to say we have a race problem, but we got a sin problem.” Given the many instances of racial unrest we have seen in 2020, it’s safe to say Dabo may have missed the mark on that one.
Then, earlier this month, Dabo expressed confusion with the NCAA’s decision to suspend all practices and team activities on Election Day 2020.
“I didn’t really understand the day off thing. Most all of our guys are going to have already been voted,” Swinney said, per Matt Connolly of The State.
“There’s going to be a few who will go vote here. Certainly, always have time to go get that done, but that’s what they passed, so that’s going to definitely change things for everybody.”
To put it simply, this was yet another questionable take by Dabo.
In the end, the entire charade that unfolded following the postponing (and maybe cancelation of the Clemson – FSU game, if the schools choose not to reschedule) was unnecessary. It just made Dabo personally look immature and ignorant. It is yet another instance indicating that Dabo fails to see that, sometimes, things are bigger than football.