The 2015 version of the Clemson Prowl and Growl made a second stop in the Midlands in the past six days with Tigers football coach Dabo Swinney and men’s basketball coach Brad Brownell meeting, greeting and taking photographs with several hundred faithful fans at Seawell’s Restaurant on Wednesday night.
It’s always one of the highlights of the spring for the two coaches, but this season might have been a little brighter for Swinney after Clemson defeated South Carolina 35-17 at Death Valley in November to break a five-year losing streak in the series. More than one fan who came through the autograph line mentioned how much easier it was to live in Columbia with that albatross gone.
Swinney was glad to provide the relief but was more excited the Tigers capped a 10-3 season that included a Russell Athletic Bowl victory over Oklahoma.
“I always enjoy these things,” Swinney said. “I don’t get too caught up in that stuff where if you lose, you come and have a miserable time and things like that. I enjoy getting out and going no matter what, but it’s certainly been a lot of fun to get out on the Prowl and Growl tour this year having accomplished something we hadn’t gotten done.
“As much success that we’ve had the last several years, it was the one thing we hadn’t done a good job with. It was great to find a way to win that game, but, at the end of the day, it was just one game. I’m happy we were able to win the bowl game as well, but it’s a new year and we have to try to see if we can keep it going.”
The expectations for Clemson are higher this football season. The Tigers will have dynamic quarterback Deshaun Watson back from knee ligament surgery to guide an offense that will be deep and talented.
Defensively, Clemson will have to replace a wealth of talent that moved on to the NFL.
“Any time you have a marque player like a Deshaun Watson coming back, there’s going to be added enthusiasm,” Swinney said. “I think everybody is anxiously waiting his return. I think we have a good football team. I think, offensively, we’ll be better. We’ll have more depth. Defensively, we lost some really, really good players. We have a good first group and outside of that, we’re talented but very inexperienced.”
Swinney said Watson looked good over the spring, and his rehabilitation is moving along smoothly. The expectations are to have him ready to lead the offseason drills this summer and be fully ready to participate once pre-season camp begins in August.
Brownell will have the unique experience of not playing at Littlejohn Coliseum for the next 15 months. Clemson is starting a major overhaul to the facility and will play its home games at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville.
But playing in the ACC with the likes of Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Virginia will make the schedule appealing. Brownell understands the challenges his program will face over the coming months but also believes playing in downtown Greenville will give more fans an opportunity to see his team play.
“We’ll have to come up with some interesting practice situations, but I think it will work out well,” he said. “The benefit of having a brand new arena with offices off the facility and new practice facilities, locker rooms and weight rooms will be tremendous. There will be a few struggles on certain days, but I think it will be exciting. We have a big fan base in Greenville. It will actually be a little bit shorter drive for people here in Columbia to make some games.”
Brownell also gave an update on the status of Rod Hall. The senior guard has finished his basketball career at Clemson and was given an opportunity to work out for NFL scouts recently. He’s almost certainly decided to give football a chance rather than go overseas to play basketball. But he hasn’t made a decision if he’s going to play football in his fifth year of college or give the NFL a shot.
“He’s still kind of in limbo,” Brownell said. “He’s debating on whether to do the college route for one year. I do think he’s starting to lean more toward football rather than go overseas for basketball. That picture should all kind of clear up here in a week or two.”
WHERE CLEMSON RANKS
ESPN has coach Dabo Swinney’s Tigers No. 10 in its post-spring Top 25:
If quarterback Deshaun Watson comes back strong from a knee injury, the Tigers are going to be really hard to stop, even after former offensive coordinator Chad Morris left to become SMU’s head coach. Watson is going to be surrounded by a deep receiver corps, including Artavis Scott and Mike Williams. Clemson’s schedule sets up well, with home games against Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and FSU.