CLEMSON — Aw shucks, sometimes a dadgum Clemson football practice comes to a halt as head coach Dabo Swinney gets pretty darn mad.
Rare, however, is an outburst of conventional swear words from the coaching staff. Or players.
“In the perceived culture of college football profanity,” junior right guard Matt Bockhorst said Friday after a spring practice session, “I think we do a good job of keeping it to a minimum and letting our play do the talking.”
The late comedian George Carlin cashed in with an iconic bit about “the seven words you can never say on television.”
Swinney has made an impression with an expletives outline of his own: The three cuss words you’re allowed to say while representing Clemson.
The policy isn’t necessarily among the primary reasons why the Tigers have been to the College Football Playoff five years in a row and won two of the last four national championships. But it is unusual.
And it is a program staple.
“We try to keep it clean at practice,” junior left tackle Jackson Carman said. “We know we have recruits or administrators or former players around.”
So zero profanity?
“Unless it’s in the Bible,” Carman said.
That’s right, the tolerable ways to express disgust per Swinney, a devout Christian, are limited: hell, damn, ass.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Swinney said when asked about the edict.
He then repeated the three words.
“Is ‘ass’ in the Bible?” Swinney asked me.
Yes. Quite a few times.
It’s also mentioned in the popular traditional Christmas song “What Child Is This?” (and some goofballs who shall remain nameless get a kick out of emphasizing the word while singing during Christmas Eve services).
Note that the reference in both the Bible and song involves a basic donkey and not an urgent suggestion that a football player get his rear end downfield.
Swinney: ‘I’m human’
If Clemson players make use of “damn” it better not be while taking the Lord’s name in vain.
But kids these days …
Or kids during any time period.
Sometimes they mess up.
“(Swinney) does have strict rules about that,” Bockhorst said. “Everyone faults but he’s good about it.”
It doesn’t mean Clemson players don’t play to the echo of the whistle during games or practices, or that Swinney hasn’t blown up social media after dramatically chastising players Andy Teasdall, Christian Wilkins and B.T. Potter on the sideline.
But it’s clearly a goal.
“We really try to set a good example and our players try,” Swinney said. “Occasionally, you know, you just call them out. You say, ‘Hey, we don’t need that.’ Just try to make them think about it. Just try to articulate yourself a little bit better without some of that if we can. To make them better men.”
The penalty for violators who stray beyond the three words?
“In general, it’s just a slap on the wrist,” Bockhorst said. “People do a pretty good job of it. I don’t think it ever gets out of hand. I would say I just hope it doesn’t get out of hand.”
Carman has played other sports, is well-read and has a lot of friends playing at other schools. He knows this Clemson thing is unusual.
“I’d definitely say the culture here is a lot different than other places,” Carman said. “I’d also say it’s what makes this place unique. We’re on the same page. As long as everyone here is cool with it, I’m good.”
The grown-ups within the Clemson program sometimes slip up. Swinney on Friday was asked when he last cussed, in the non-Biblical sense.
“Oh, shoot,” he said. “Probably yesterday. I don’t know. There’s three in the Bible. We try to stick to those.”
Swinney a few times publicly has used “bullcrap” in various ways.
“Media bullcrap,” for instance, in a 2015 rant after a reporter mentioned “Clemsoning” (a cuss word to Clemson fans who hated the connection to playing exceptionally poorly as a favorite) after the Tigers improved to 5-0 on their way to their first playoff appearance.
Other words might come out at practice every now and then.
“I’m human,” Swinney confirmed Friday, “so I can have my moments. But we try not to.”
Coack K, Saban, Wooden
Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and Alabama football coach Nick Saban are the best at what they do. Like Swinney, they go to church.
They also have let go with expletive-laced tirades during or between games.
Cussing is as much a part of sports as Gatorade.
R-rated sports rants are YouTube hits, from former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda commenting on Dave Kingman's performance to mic'd up players who regret the intrusion.
“All hockey players are bilingual,” iconic star Gordie Howe once said. “They know English and profanity.”
Of course, there are many exceptions among top coaches. Those include famed former College of Charleston head basketball coach John Kresse and too many others to mention for fear of leaving someone out.
But John Wooden certainly comes to mind.
The harshest words The Wizard of Westwood could find during his dominant NCAA basketball run at UCLA from 1964-1975 was this favorite complaint when players failed to execute:
“Goodness gracious sakes alive.”
Darned if Wooden didn’t win 10 bloody national titles.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff