Ron Morris

Morris: Fans being too rash after Swinney's slow start

ATLANTA, GA  THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2009  ERIK CAMPOS---Clemson head coach  Dabo Swinney expresses his frustration as his defense can't hold Georgia Tech  late in the fourth quarter at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta, GA as the Tigers  fall 30-27 on Thursday, September 10, 2009. Erik Campos/ecampos@thestate.com
ATLANTA, GA THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2009 ERIK CAMPOS---Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney expresses his frustration as his defense can't hold Georgia Tech late in the fourth quarter at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta, GA as the Tigers fall 30-27 on Thursday, September 10, 2009. Erik Campos/ecampos@thestate.com

LEAVE IT TO CRAZED college football fans to jump the gun on anything related to a coach's standing with his school. Five games into his head-coaching career and Clemson's Dabo Swinney already is on the proverbial hot seat.

The vocal minority that controls Internet chat rooms wants Swinney run out of Clemson, and they would just as soon see him take his coaching staff with him. A 2-3 start that includes an inexcusable loss to lowly Maryland on Saturday has Clemson fans longing for the return of, dare we say it, Tommy Bowden.

Well, hold on, folks. Not so fast with the panic button. Let me remind you that there have been plenty of outstanding college coaches whose career started on the wrong side of the win-loss ledger. Do the names Gene Stallings, Bobby Bowden, Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski sound familiar?

That is not to say Clemson has a future Hall of Famer in Swinney. But who knows at this stage of the game? Can we really judge Swinney's coaching future based on five games? Is it fair to measure Swinney on one game in which his team looked ill-prepared and poorly coached?

Hardly. Give the guy a chance. Most coaches get at least three full seasons to prove their worth. Swinney deserves that, if not more.

Clemson is not even taking in water, yet its fans already are jumping ship. Swinney was informed during his media conference on Monday that one fan already has stopped following Clemson, foregoing the Tigers' Oct. 24 trip to Miami for a Las Vegas weekend.

"I feel sorry for people like that, if you want to be honest about it," Swinney said. "I think you've got a group of kids that are playing their butts off, that are playing hard. I'd say everybody has their right to do what they want to do with their money. But I'd say we've got a long season to go."

Swinney, who has been known to fill a reporter's tape recorder, was just getting started.

"I'm not happy. Ain't nobody happy," he continued. "Nobody should be happy. Everybody ought to be ticked off because we're 2-3. But to take your ball and go home, that's never been my attitude. That's never been my mentality. This is in the middle of the season."

Hold on, let me flip the tape in my recorder.

"I would just say let's play this season out. Let's support these kids. I've said this many times, nobody has to support me. Nobody has to like the coaches or anything like that. That ain't what it's about. But, man, let's support these kids.

"I know that we have not met expectations where I want us to be, but I know we're going to get there. That's what I believe. I'm sorry if other people choose to go the other way. But I'm going to keep working and keep swinging the ax because I know the tree is going to fall."

Swinney then mentioned Stallings' first season as coach at Alabama, when Swinney was on his staff. Alabama began that 1990 season 0-3, the worst start by the Crimson Tide since 1956. Alabama fans planted "For Sale" signs in Stallings' front yard just before the Crimson Tide rebounded to win seven of its next eight games. Two seasons later, Alabama was the national champion.

Want more evidence that it takes time to evaluate coaches?

After a 4-7 season in 1974 at West Virginia, Bobby Bowden was hanged in effigy. Then he was politely asked to leave despite a 9-3 record that included a Peach Bowl victory the following season. Bowden landed on his feet at Florida State, and you know the rest of that story.

These days, few Duke basketball fans will admit to it, but Krzyzewski was thought to be a lost cause by the end of his third season in Durham. Back-to-back seasons of 10-17 and 11-17 had Duke fans up in arms.

Instead of kowtowing to the non-faithful Duke fans, then athletics director Tom Butters extended Kryzewski's contract during the dismal 1982-83 season. Krzyzewski was 37 at the time. Three seasons later, Duke was playing for the national championship.

Finally, Smith twice was hanged in effigy at North Carolina. UNC fans were ready to change coaches following an 8-9 record in his first season of 1962 and again when the Tar Heels went 12-12 in his third season.

But UNC athletics officials remained true to their young coach, who had the Tar Heels in the Final Four at age 36.

Swinney is 39. He is learning on the run about how to manage a staff of coaches and how to lead a group of players. When a program hires a young coach, it must exercise patience. There is a real possibility it might take a while for Swinney to get his system running like he wants it.

The biggest challenge any young coach faces is figuring out how to teach a team to win. It has taken some of the greatest coaches in sports history several seasons to find that magic formula.

Swinney may never find it. Then again, he just might. After five games, who really knows?

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC

  Comments