Clemson finds consistency leads to success
CLEMSON — Danny Ford, the football coach who led Clemson to a national championship in 1981, was asked last spring what it would take for the Tigers to again reach the pinnacle of college football.
Ford pondered the question, then said Clemson’s focus shouldn’t be on national titles at all. Instead, the Tigers should be concerned with winning conference championships, he said, adding that when Clemson becomes a consistent winner, a special season might come.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is a lot like Ford in several significant ways. He’s gone back to Ford’s recruiting footprint of North Carolina and Georgia. He’s taken a CEO approach and let his coordinators call plays. And this week he even sounded like Ford as he talked about the Tigers’ goals.
Swinney said his players aren’t talking about national titles or BCS rankings. They are focused on one thing — obtaining consistency.
Swinney believes Clemson is showing signs of becoming something it has not been since Ford’s departure more than two decades ago. Clemson (7-1, 4-1 ACC) has beaten the teams it was expected to beat this season, and done it without playing down to its opponents.
“My concern is for our program is to take another step, to become a consistent winner,” said Swinney, whose team plays at Duke tonight. “Put two, three, four, five really consistent-type seasons together.
“That’s what we really need to do. We are headed in that direction.
“We haven’t done it much in the past 15 years here.”
Swinney thinks the team’s inexplicable losses — the 2008 debacle at Wake Forest, the head-scratching defeats in 2009 at Maryland and 2010 at Boston College, and the rout last season at N.C. State — are occurrences that will happen at a less frequent interval as his program matures.
Swinney notes a win at Duke (6-3, 3-2) will mark just the second time in the last 15 years that Clemson will finish a season with four wins away from Memorial Stadium.
The Clemson coach noted the Tigers have been ranked for 23 consecutive weeks in a major poll, the third longest such streak in school history.
Eight games into last season, Clemson was undefeated and ranked fifth in the BCS standings, the highest ranking in program history.
Eight games into this season Clemson has one loss and is ranked slightly lower in the polls — 13th in the BCS standings.
But Swinney thinks this team is on a better trajectory than last season.
Said Swinney: “By the end of November hopefully we’ll be a relevant team from a national standpoint.”