CLEMSON — Clemson recruiting coordinator Billy Napier finished cleaning out his office, an act he undertook to mentally make the transition into his new role on the coaching staff.
Rookie coach Dabo Swinney joined the rest of the staff making phone calls to junior prospects for most of Wednesday.
National Signing Day around the Tigers’ football offices was about as subdued as one could imagine, especially compared to the drama of landing C.J. Spiller and other touted recruits at the deadline the past few years.
But that’s what happens when a program’s signing day is essentially over by 11 a.m. — and there was zero suspense before then, too.
“One thing about it,” Swinney said. “It will be easy for me to remember a ‘Dandy Dozen’ in my first class.”
Clemson signed 12 players Wednesday, the fewest as long as the school has tracked signings, as well as the fewest among BCS schools.
Considering who had the next fewest — Syracuse (14), which likewise knew a coaching change was coming in-season — the recruiting damage incurred by Tommy Bowden’s October departure was clear.
The Tigers’ class was ranked No. 36 nationally by Rivals and No. 42 by Scout, snapping the team’s streak of four consecutive top-25 hauls.
Yet Swinney noted Clemson had its highest average number of stars per recruit since the services began their evaluation systems, representative of the staff’s opinion that what the Tigers lacked in quantity they compensated for with quality.
Napier said he understands fan sentiment that Clemson’s class might be underwhelming.
“I think I’d be right there with them if I was a Clemson fan,” he said. “I wish we could sign 30 guys a year, have four or five guys commit on National Signing Day. Obviously that provides a little momentum. Hopefully, next year we can be sitting here with a full class, two or three guys splash on signing day, we can be a little more excited.
“But it really was a blessing in disguise, and a lot of people don’t understand that, that if you do have (coaching) turnover, the last thing you want to do is have to sign a full group of 25 and take seven or eight guys who were a stretch, and then that’s a four- or five-year commitment to that kid.”
Swinney said Clemson had 15 scholarships at its disposal.
The Tigers had planned to sign nearly 20 prospects when Swinney was promoted to coach in early December, but two scholarships went, as promised, to sophomore walk-on receiver Terrance Ashe and freshman kicker Spencer Benton.
The unexpected returns of junior running back C.J. Spiller and junior defensive end Ricky Sapp accounted for two more scholarships.
With the belief his veteran recruiting staff could attract superior talent next season, Swinney said the decision was made to save as many scholarships as possible instead of filling spots with lesser-regarded players.
Clemson wound up with three more to apply toward the 2010 class, as the two reserved for Hargrave Military Academy defensive tackle Leon Mackey and Gadsden City (Ala.) receiver Kendall Kelly became available when they signed at USC and Alabama, respectively.
“There are a few kids signed at good universities that we could have signed today,” Swinney said. “But we really made a calculated decision that it would better serve us to move those three scholarships to next year’s class.”
Swinney said Clemson’s class would have been “chaos” were it not for the seven early commitments — four designated as at least four-star prospects — who stuck with their pledges after the coaching change, believing in the Tigers “when there really wasn’t a lot of reason to believe.”
Clemson had received all of its faxed letters of intent before lunch time, with the exception of defensive end Darrell Smith, who was choosing between the Tigers and Troy.
Knowing what they knew about the lack of players left on their board, incoming recruiting coordinator Jeff Scott said Wednesday’s proceedings would have been alarming if there had been news.
“A lot of people asked me if there were going to be any surprises today, and I told them there can be good surprises and bad surprises,” Scott said.
“Each signing day is a little bit different, and ultimately at the end of the day, if you fill the needs you have, that’s the most important priority.”
Signing Day analysis with Paul Strelow