Swinney to use Ford's four-hour rule
CLEMSON -- Dabo Swinney wielded a microphone at center court, pledging to make the new decade the most successful in Clemson football history.
Former Clemson coach Danny Ford was in attendance when current coach Swinney made that promise during halftime of a recent Clemson basketball game. Ford's teams won five ACC titles and the 1981 national championship.
In aspiring to better those lofty heights, Swinney is moving away from the Tommy Bowden recruiting doctrine and toward Ford's talent-acquisition philosophy -- the four-hour rule.
Ford's recruiting strategy was simple: the shorter the distance, the more time for developing relationships and learning the character of prospects.
"What we did is look at everything within four hours," Ford said. "Clemson was our home base. The (four-hour radius) took us up to around Greensboro and to the Alabama line."
Ford began with the same problem plaguing Swinney and Bowden -- there are not enough prospects in South Carolina to sustain the Tigers and Gamecocks.
But Ford attacked the problem much differently than Bowden.
The four-hour radius meant border states North Carolina and Georgia became critical territory.
Ford signed 271 players at Clemson: 25.8 percent came from South
Carolina, followed by Georgia (21.4 percent) and North Carolina (20.3 percent). Florida accounted for 7.8 percent.
In the decade-long Bowden Era, 40.7 percent of Clemson's 226 signees were South Carolinians. Clemson also leaned more heavily on Florida (16.6 percent). However, talent-rich Georgia was less prominent on the roster (13.3 percent) and North Carolina was nearly forgotten (5.9 percent).
Measuring by wins and losses, Ford's strategy was more effective.
Ford went 96-29-4 at Clemson (.759 winning percentage).
Bowden owned a 72-45 record (.615).
Swinney is again placing more emphasis on the border states.
"No. 1, you gotta do well in this state. That's where it starts," Swinney said. "Then I think you have to do a great job in North Carolina, and if you look how we have restructured things we have put a lot more emphasis on North Carolina."
The stars of Clemson's 1982 Orange Bowl victory were Homer Jordan, recruited out of Athens, Ga., and Perry Tuttle, a Winston-Salem, N.C., native.
During much of the Bowden era, two assistant coaches were assigned to each Georgia and North Carolina. Swinney has delegated five to both states.
The strategy is having an immediate impact.
Among Clemson's 21 commitments are seven Georgians and one North Carolinian. The Tigers are currently pursuing the No. 1 prospect in North Carolina, Greensboro safety Keenan Allen.
Clemson's class ranks 16th in the nation, according to Rivals.com.
"Neither us or South Carolina can survive off this state," Swinney said, "with the population the way it is . ... and being last in education in the union."
South Carolina has 4.5 million residents.
Atlanta's metro area has 5.3 million people.
Of course, the landscape is much different than when Ford reigned.
There is more regulation by the NCAA, less time with recruits, and Swinney notes the Internet has changed recruiting and expanded Clemson's reach.
Like Bowden, Swinney continues to focus on Florida, which is regarded as the nation's richest recruiting ground, and where Clemson has had considerable success, including Swinney's work as an assistant along the I-10 corridor.
ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill said Swinney is wise to recruit in Florida and Alabama, and doubts Ford's four-hour rule can still be effective.
"It is an entirely different era," Luginbill said. "With media exposure, the Internet, the ability to gather more information on kids faster and more thoroughly than ever before. If you tried to (recruit exclusively locally) nowadays you'd be a two- or three-win team.
"You have to expand your recruiting net because the reality is everyone else is. Wake Forest is recruiting like crazy in Florida, Rutgers is recruiting Florida like crazy."
Still, to Ford there remains an advantage to recruiting in proximity to your school, which can't be replaced.
And Clemson does have healthy neighbors along I-85.
North Carolina and Georgia, like Florida, are teeming with prospects.
From 2000 to 2008, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates Georgia grew 18.3 percent in population to 9.7 million. North Carolina grew at an 14.6 percent clip, to 9.2 million. Florida grew at a similar rate, 14.7 percent, to 18.3 million.
Moreover, Georgia (26.3) and North Carolina (24.3) have a higher percentage of persons under 18 than Florida (21.8).
"The further you reach out the less you know about players," Ford said. "Locally, you know who their preacher is, who their counselor is. In Chicago you might not know everyone, same deal in Mississippi.
"You can learn a lot going to a coffee shop and talking about a player instead of just talking to mom and dad. They don't ever talk bad about their children."
Luginbill acknowledged Division I coaches do not acquire enough background on players.
"A lot of that I think is limited and restricted by NCAA guidelines," Luginbill said. "You get a kid on an unofficial visit maybe one time. You get a kid on an official visit. Aside from that, you are not able to get to know them face to face."
It's a new day and age, but to Ford, and now Swinney, the four-hour rule still applies.