On the Beat: Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says ‘I am who I am’ on sharing religious beliefs

More than a year later, the Freedom from Religion Foundation has taken its fight to the doors of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Auburn and other universities.

No. 12-ranked Clemson was the FFRF’s target in the spring of 2014, in response to a Chronicle article which detailed Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney’s religious beliefs and the culture of Christianity around Clemson’s football program. Although the storyline provided numerous headlines, no official action was taken against Clemson.

“We weren’t doing anything (wrong.) Ain’t nothing to change,” Swinney said Wednesday. “People have just got to be who they are, it’s that simple. We’ve never tried to force anything on anybody. Everybody who comes here to Clemson knows who we are as people. There’s no surprises in that regard.”

The FFRF’s primary outcry has involved public university funding for team chaplains or other religious-based events. Even the idea that coaches might make playing time decisions based on who participates in certain outings stated to be “voluntary” was shot down by Swinney.

“We don’t force our players to do anything. There’s nobody disciplined if they don’t go to church on Sunday or go to chapel, but those things are available for anybody who wants to go,” Swinney said. “Everybody has the opportunity to grow if they want to, spiritually, but that’s a personal thing. We play the best football players. As far as me personally, I am who I am. I don’t apologize for that.”

Reggie Pleasant is in his first year as the team’s official “voluntary team adviser,” replacing James Trapp, who has taken a position in the Buffalo Bills’ front office.

“He’s our life coach, and works around the team with sports and the university,” Swinney said of Pleasant. “He does a great job.”

Swinney has declared junior Nick Schuessler “clearly the No. 2” quarterback on the roster, ahead of true freshman Kelly Bryant. Both will be prepared to play in the Tigers’ first two games, presumably upon starter Deshaun Watson steering Clemson to a comfortable lead over Wofford and Appalachian State.

“We have to create some experience and depth at that position,” Swinney said. “Even if they just play a little, a little’s going to mean a whole lot to us next year. We just can’t afford to go into next season again with just two guys who have played.”

Swinney did not have any new injuries, suspensions or starting lineup changes to announce Wednesday night.

The only starting jobs still in question remain with the player or players expected to be named to the starting lineup Saturday vs. Wofford.

Greg Huegel will handle all kicking duties, while the coaching staff has yet to decide whether Scott Pagano or Christian Wilkins will start at defensive tackle alongside Carlos Watkins.