Dabo Swinney is unapologetically himself. It’s why Tigers fans love him, and why others despise him. His blue-collar, everyday-guy persona has been a perfect match in Clemson, and he’s used family (and a little religion) to build his program into a national power.
One thing that comes with Swinney’s approach is a tendency to stick to his beliefs regarding the foundation of his team. When it works, he receives praise for not conforming to the new wave seen in college football. When it doesn’t, it often leads to criticism.
His 2023 season has gotten started with the latter as his stubbornness is being blamed for the Tigers’ season opening loss to Duke.
Swinney has stuck to his guns on a number of changing topics in the new college football landscape. Those things include the transfer portal and NIL.
The Clemson head coach has been hesitant to add transfer talent, which again, divides the sports nation. And let’s not get started on his views of “God’s name, image, and likeness” in upstate South Carolina.
Now, Swinney often has the luxury of turning away transfers due to his success on the recruiting trail, but over the last few seasons, the program has been lacking of playmakers on offense.
Most notably, the quarterback and wide receiver positions.
The program brought in back-to-back five-star passers in DJ Uiagalelei and Cade Klubnik, but neither has seen much success with the team.
Uiagalelei is off to Oregon State following a junior season full of criticism from Clemson fans. Klubnik, while young, has been blown out in his only two starts.
At wideout, long gone are the days of Sammy Watkins, Deandre Hopkins, and Mike Williams. That was evident in their latest defeat to Duke as the offense just couldn’t find a playmaker in the passing game.
With the lack of skill position players on offense, many were seen blasting Swinney for not getting help in the transfer portal.
Steward Mandel called the outlook “coaching malpractice.”
It’s not the only reason, but Dabo’s refusal to adapt to the portal era is coaching malpractice. It’s Clemson! They could get Keon Colemans!
It’s like Blackberry’s CEO when the IPhone came out. “Who would possibly want a phone without a keyboard?”
(Yes, I saw that movie.)
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) September 5, 2023
Andy Staples went a step further in his criticisms of Dabo Swinney, saying, “Dabo’s not adjusting to today’s college football. One of the things we’ve noticed about Clemson the last few years is the inability for receivers to separate… When [ACC rivals] want a dynamic receiver, they go get one… Clemson doesn’t do that.”
Clemson used to have some of the nation’s most dynamic WRs. It hasn’t for a minute.
While the Tigers’ rivals have addressed similar issues in the transfer portal, Dabo Swinney and company have mostly avoided the portal.
— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) September 5, 2023
The stubbornness in the transfer portal wasn’t the only thing being criticized after the Labor Day weekend, though.
Dabo Swinney blamed for poor offensive output.
The head coach was also blamed for Clemson’s seven-point output against Duke. While he did go out over the offseason and get a new offensive coordinator in Garrett Riley, the production from the unit looked largely the same as it did a year ago.
In 2022, the Tigers failed to score more than 21 points on offense in three of their final six games. Not surprisingly, they all resulted in losses.
Swinney snagged the hottest name on the coaching market in Riley, who was fresh off a national title appearance with TCU. Unfortunately, many don’t believe he’s letting Riley have full control of the offense.
Before the game, Swinney was asked about Riley and his offensive gameplan for the season opener. Here’s what he had to say.
“We’ll, it’s the Clemson offense… We’ve always collaborated as a staff… We hired Garrett to come in here and coordinate the Clemson offense.”
Those words would offer a premonition of struggles on that side of the ball.
The Tigers failed to force the ball down field, settling for quick screens and relying on the run game. Duke’s defense bent, allowing more than 400 yards, but didn’t break, forcing three turnovers.
Fans were upset with the lack of variety in play calling, with many saying it looked similar to what we’ve seen in years past. Most went back to Dabo Swinney’s pregame words when referencing the output.
Dabo clearly told Riley he had to run the same offense
— smhrj88 (@smhjr88) September 5, 2023
In the pregame interview when asked about new offense Dabo said “it’s the Clemson offense” unfortunately he was telling the truth.
— Dr. J (@jmadden67) September 5, 2023
Many of the fans in Clemson believed they’d seen the gameplan before.
Talk to dabo. No way Riley calling the same crap we’ve run for 12 years.
— Evin Wilson (@EvinWilson85) September 5, 2023
Every Clemson OC now. It’s like it’s a job requirement!
— Paul Von Wedel ☩ 🦬 (@pvonwedel) September 5, 2023
Problem: Dabo still all up in that play-calling and running plays from the Rob Spence era. Dabo didn’t like Mullen asking him pre-game if this was going to be Riley’s offense. Dabo got visibly frustrated. Said it was going to be a joint effort. Come on man! Just stop!
— HL Rye Tuten III (@ryetuten) September 5, 2023
The Tigers will look to regroup in Week 2 with a game against Charleston Southern. We’ll see if there’s a change in the offensive attack.