Culture. It's the foundation on which most of the great college football programs are built upon.
The culture that Dabo Swinney has created at Clemson just happens to be a little different than what you might find at other programs across the country. It's deeply rooted in family values and thrives on its "bloom where you're planted" philosophy.
It's in large part due to that philosophy that has made Dabo Swinney reluctant to fully embrace the transfer portal, as the longtime head coach prefers to develop the players he recruits out of high school, rather than replace them with someone from outside the program.
"We’ve always been a developmental program," Swinney said Monday on his call-in show. "The game has changed this past year for freshmen and sophomores and all that. We’ve had guys here who were backups who wanted to go somewhere and start. Kids that enter the portal, 99 percent of them are in the portal, well for multiple reasons, but most of them want to go somewhere to start. There’s nobody in there that we felt like that fit that for us."
"Again, it’s been a game-changer (the one-time transfer rule change). I’ve said many times, we’re always going to be a developmental program and evaluate well. I think what we’ve done around here has worked."
The Tigers are off to their slowest start in years, having dropped two games in the month of September for the first time since 2014. For that reason, many have questioned whether it's time for Swinney to change his way of thinking in regards to the portal.
"We might not make it to a seventh playoff in a row, it might not happen," Swinney said. "But I think who we’ve been and the way we’ve been doing things; I can’t tell you how many times in 13 years I’ve been told that I got to do this and got to do that and got to do this and gotta do that, and what we’ve done is do it the Clemson way. It’s led us to many playoffs and multiple national championships and we’ve beat the best of the best of the best to do it."
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Over the years Swinney has been called everything from stubborn to out of touch due to his stance on transfers. However, the head coach has always maintained that he would be willing to explore the possibility under very specific circumstances, one example being the need to replace an unexpected loss. The head coach also maintains that he will not sacrifice the culture inside his program just for the sake of change.
"It’s not that you’re reluctant to do anything, but you don’t just change to change," said Swinney. "If there’s a strategic need for something, absolutely. Because as things change you have to adapt if needed. But you don’t just change to change. That’s silly."
"People say, well we got beat by a transfer quarterback. Well, ok, do we want to get rid of Trevor Lawrence? I mean, c’mon. We love our running backs. We love every position that we have. We love the offensive linemen that we have. We’ve evaluated everything. We got one of the top guys in the country in Tristan Leigh this past year, and he’s gonna turn out to be a great one. Marcus Tate is a true freshman who’s gonna be great one."
Although, with the new rules in place that now allow each player a one-time transfer without penalty, Swinney said anything is possible and that it's something the staff monitors at all times.
"The biggest thing for me when it comes to the portal that has changed is that now kids can leave your program," Swinney said. "The guys who have left our program have been guys who were backups here. So, there’s a reason why. It’s not like we’ve had a bunch of starters pack up and leave."
"The only thing that is going to change us is if we’ve had starters pack up and leaving or we had a bunch of young players pack up and leave. For us, if it was something strategically made us better that we had a glaring need because of an exodus of a group of players or young players or whatever, (or) we just kinda get caught up in a weird situation like injuries, we’re open to anything. We’re not going to change to change doing all these things. It’s a week-by-week, month by month and day-by-day process when it comes to managing a roster."
The head coach is fully aware of the chatter surrounding the Tigers 3-2 start. However, Swinney remains confident that his program is as strong as it's ever been and that the slow start is only a minor setback, and more importantly, that it's only a temporary one.
"We have a very, very talented roster," Swinney said. "It’s something that I keep my pulse on 24/7. We’re always going to do what we need to compete at the highest level. That’s what we’ve done for a long, long time and we’re going to continue to do that. We’ll always do what’s best for Clemson."
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