Key stat: Swinney's staff intact
CLEMSON -- Most head coaches love their assistant coaches, or say they do. For instance, I was once pressed into a one-match stint as head coach of a coed soccer team composed of first-graders and considered my staff -- I mean, Marvin -- outstanding.
Mostly because he intervened with actual soccer insight after I advised the kids to blitz and "run the picket fence at 'em."
Dabo Swinney is in a better situation. His Clemson coaching staff returns intact going into the 2010 season, his second full year as a head coach. This is a statistical oddity for two reasons:
--Most college football assistant coaches move around more than unmarried geese.
--The 2009 Tigers were pretty good, 9-5 and ACC Atlantic Division champions, one good defensive play away from winning Clemson's first league title since 1991.
But no one left for a better job or otherwise.
"Recruiting and continuity on your staff are the two most critical things to being a head coach," Swinney said. "I can't even put it in words."
Maybe this isn't a good thing. Maybe there is a reason why other schools didn't come after an assistant or two sometime following the Music City Bowl victory over Kentucky.
Dabo, you probably know by now, only dabbles in positives.
Bye week bonding
"We're all together and we're all just further along," Swinney said of the staff. "We're all on the same page, so when we go into meetings it's not a matter of learning how we're going to do things and developing a process. It's all in place and it makes our lives easier."
It was not that way going into a road game at Maryland last October. Clemson lost to the Terrapins, 24-21, in what turned out to be one of the biggest upsets in all of college football for the 2009 season.
Dabo doubters were popping up on call-in shows and at office coffee machines.
At 2-3 but given two weeks to prepare for Wake Forest, Swinney and his assistants got "really honest" with each other -- his words.
The word of the week inside WestZone offices was "accountability."
The slow start should have been predictable. Clemson, among all 120 FBS teams, was the only one with a head coach in his first full season as a head coach, an offensive coordinator (Billy Napier) in his first full season as an offensive coordinator and a starting quarterback (Kyle Parker) playing college football for the first time.
Swinney had given himself a role, including signaling in plays from the sideline.
On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was adjusting to his personnel, and vice versa.
"We had lost a couple tough games," Swinney said. "The Maryland game we had just really played poorly, and the first thing you have to learn to do is not beat yourself. The Georgia Tech game had some tough breaks, and so did the TCU game.
"I was convinced we were doing the right things, and so was the staff. But we just really needed to clean some stuff up."
For the most part, they did. Clemson responded with a 38-3 victory over Wake Forest and went 7-2 after that bye week, losing only at South Carolina and to Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game.
And those newcomers running the offense?
The Tigers zoomed from 11th in the ACC in scoring offense entering the Wake Forest game to third by the end of the season.
So this year, the tradeoff.
No C.J. Spiller, who made the coaches look good on offense, special teams (four kickoff returns for touchdowns) and defense (nice field position).
But a bunch of coaches who apparently mesh well professionally and socially, and no name tags required going into the season opener.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 843 937-5593.