CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney has been fortunate, spending most of the past couple years watching reality live up to his relentlessly optimistic views.
To the victor (42 wins in 4 years) goes such spoils. Rare is the college football coach who almost always can spend time answering questions about the upward mobility of his team in lieu of the on- or off-field problems plaguing his program.
They say you can’t win ‘em all, and neither can Swinney. The sunshine and fairways of his annual lid-lifting media opportunity Wednesday from The Reserve at Lake Keowee will be joined by the cloudy storm of recent offseason events.
Before media, coaches and school officials hit the links for an afternoon of golf, Swinney will be asked about losing three starters or key contributors to various no-nos lately. Scandal is not a total stranger — just last year, four key players were suspended for the season opener at Georgia, and there was the ugly Chad Kelly exit in April — but there was an uncharacteristic flurry of bad news this summer without a window to gather Swinney’s thoughts.
First, the most bizarre situation: defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko, long a promising backup who might have started in 2015, was arrested for credit card fraud and promptly dismissed from the team May 19, further thinning the depth at a position already devoid of Vic Beasley and Corey Crawford.
Then the starters started making headlines, and not for the best of reasons. On consecutive days, kicker Ammon Lakip booted his Clemson future into peril whereas left tackle Isaiah Battle left no doubt about the conclusion of his.
Lakip was suspended indefinitely July 24 for what was soon discovered to be a university police charge for cocaine possession. Swinney will have to decide whether to retain the services of its 2014 leading scorer, or if it’s time for the unproven Alex Spence to fill Lakip’s spikes in a crucial role.
Battle announced July 25 he was taking his talents to the NFL, and while he did become the league’s first supplemental draft pick in three years when the St. Louis Rams traded their 2016 fifth-round choice for the rights to Battle, the circumstances have a snowball effect.
First, it robs Clemson of a good offensive lineman, one with all-conference and early-round potential had he stayed. It also means the blind side of star quarterback Deshaun Watson — thrice injured in 2014 — will be protected by someone with far less experience than Battle, and someone who might have benefitted from 15 practices in the spring as the first-teamer had Battle chosen to leave much earlier.
Battle, in fact, had briefly mulled foregoing his senior year to take on the NFL, which would have better suited Mitch Hyatt or Joe Gore or Eric Mac Lain to prepare for the gig. However, an early June marijuana charge, perhaps lingering academic concerns and the expectancy of Battle’s child with his girlfriend led to Battle’s decision.
So the golf balls and the questions will be launched Wednesday, the only day all year Clemson position coaches may be interviewed and the first day in several months Swinney meets the media. ACC Media Days await around the corner, July 20-21 in Pinehurst, N.C., where Clemson’s quite possibly going to be deemed the favorite to win the 2015 ACC Championship.
On Wednesday, Swinney will praise quarterback Deshaun Watson’s rehabilitation, defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ ability to replace eight starters lost from a No. 1 defense and his team’s overall depth and talent which have the look of a College Football Playoff contender.
But first, he’ll answer questions about those who won’t be or might not be around for the ride.