SUNSET— Finally capping what was one of the more negatively eventful summers in recent years, Dabo Swinney won’t freak out over a rare rash of bad apples.
There have been immaturity issues besetting wide receiver Germone Hopper and tight end Jordan Leggett, causing their coaches to beg them to grow up fast. Academic suspensions (tight end Jay Jay McCullough), personal sabbaticals (offensive lineman Jay Guillermo), indefinite leaves of absence (kicker Ammon Lakip) and dismissals of the legal (defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko) and professional (offensive tackle Isaiah Battle) varieties.
It’s been a rocky offseason on those fronts for what is normally a low-maintenance football program when the games and practices aren’t live. Yet Swinney refuses to flinch.
“I don’t have any concern about the culture of our program at all,” Swinney said Wednesday at his annual media golf outing kicking off the preseason. “Because if guys get in trouble, they’re going to be dealt with.”
Entering his seventh full season as head coach, Swinney is 57-23 since the start of 2009 — the 14th-best record in college football, and second-best in the ACC trailing only Florida State, since the folksy 45-year-old took over Clemson.
For an afternoon at The Reserve at Lake Keowee, where Swinney spent his usual time holding court about the team’s lofty internal aspirations and external expectations, he faced the hard questions about the summertime troublemakers with a full head of steam.
Granted, Clemson doesn’t have the same problems as, say, three-time ACC champion FSU, which just rid itself of the ritualistic Jameis Winston headache but replaced it with disturbing charges of star running back Dalvin Cook and quarterback De’Andre Johnson — the latter of whom was quickly dismissed after video surfaced of him striking a female in a bar.
Clemson’s not about to bar its players from bars, or have the university president give the entire team a talking to, both actions reportedly taken by its ACC Atlantic rival last week. But Swinney did draw the line in the sand for his players, most of whom did not end up in the headlines for the wrong reasons in recent months.
“Our guys know nobody’s going to look the other way,” Swinney said. “We sit guys for things that most programs would never sit people for. But we do.
“Coaching and playing at Clemson is not a birthright. That’s a privilege.”
Situations like Lakip, who remains indefinitely suspended for an early June cocaine possession charge, are the hardest for Swinney to combat. While he said Wednesday he hopes Lakip will return to school and eventually football in good standing, that’s not a guarantee at this time for the leading scorer on the 2014 team.
“Ammon’s never given us a minute’s problem. Ever,” Swinney said. “The guy does what he’s supposed to do, but boy, what a bad mistake. Embarrassed himself, embarrassed us, but I’m not going to throw him away.
“I don’t think you just kick people off teams; you have to discipline people,” Swinney continued. “I know I made mistakes along the way in my life and I was held accountable. You either choose to respond and grow as a person, or you continue down the wrong path and it becomes habitual.”
The more college football bleeds into pop culture, and players earn or are given celebrity status, the more their actions off the field garner attention, which is the modern coach’s nightmare.
“I think we’ve got a great group of guys. I hope I never have a guy go out and hit a girl — if he did, he wouldn’t be here,” Swinney said. “There’s different levels of bad decision-making, and different levels of consequences, but we’re not immune to anything.
“It doesn’t matter to me if you’re a starter or a fifth-team walk-on. I don’t care. I really don’t, and our guys know there is nobody that’s entitled. Player, coach or administrator, there’s nobody bigger than Clemson.”