CLEMSON - Senior lineman Thomas Austin counted himself among the recipients of Dabo Swinney's tongue-lashing during last Wednesday's practice.
Not that Austin was able to produce a tally on the number of victims.
"(Swinney) came up to me ... and said, 'Thomas, you know, I think I cussed out everyone on the field.' " Austin said. "He said, 'What do you think?' I told him he probably came close. Then he said, 'Tomorrow, I'm going over to the defensive side.'
"He's a fiery coach who demands excellence. And when things aren't going like they should, he's going to let us know. That was good stuff. We needed that."
What "that" was served as the hot topic at Swinney's weekly news conference Tuesday, as Clemson prepares to face Wake Forest at noon Saturday.
Swinney and offensive coordinator Billy Napier found themselves refuting speculation of a rift between the two related to a verbal altercation that transpired during that Wednesday practice, as well as addressing Swinney's role in play-calling. The allegations surfaced on a blog written by several prominent posters on Clemson fan message boards.
Neither Swinney nor Napier denied a heated exchange took place four days after the team's 24-21 defeat at Maryland, its third loss in the opening five games. They only said that its significance was blown out of proportion.
"Sometimes there comes a time you need to motivate your football team, and you need to motivate your coaches, or challenge them," Swinney said. "That's just part of practice. Football practice sometimes isn't for the faint of heart.
"One of the things I like about Billy is he's got some fire to him. ... It was one of those practice days where nobody was in good humor, and I'm glad nobody was in good humor. Because ain't nothing to be happy about when you lost a tough game like we lost (at Maryland)."
Swinney suggested he had a plan to stir the pot so the Tigers understood his desired sense of urgency.
Neither party offered insight into what was said during the exchange, although several players said they had witnessed comparable exchanges between other coaches before and didn't believed this one crossed the line. To that end, Swinney said no one has mentioned that he "got a piece" of other assistants, too.
"It was no big deal," Napier said. "It's an intense sport, and we have to do our job as coaches, and that's motivate players. Coach Swinney obviously has to do his job in not only motivating players but also his staff.
"You have to do some things to maybe catch their attention some as players, and they've fed off of the intensity, and we've had better practices here the last couple days."
Napier said his authority over the offense "hasn't been a problem this season," and Swinney said he has overridden Napier maybe five times - , fewer than he did as interim coach last season.
Swinney's hands-on approach, combined with the fact he - not players - signals in plays, has fueled curiosity regarding his role in Clemson's sputtering offense and its apparent lack of identity.
"I can assure you, I don't override play calls and all that. I manage the game. I may say, hey, let's run it, or Billy, let's take a shot. But the game plan is done, and there's a call sheet, and you're not just randomly calling plays on a game day.
"I make suggestions, but I'm not calling plays. I did a lot more of that last year. That's not where we are right now. I have an offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator."