Q&A with Dabo Swinney

"This staff has been better than any staff I've been on in sitting down together and identifying players at an early stage. It has given us some good momentum early, but it is a long way until February and there is plenty of work to be done," said coach Dabo Swinney in regards to the Tigers' recruiting efforts this year.

The following article appeared in September's issue of CUTigers The Magazine. You can see what's in store for CUTigers subscribers this month by clicking here, or you can order a year's subscription (10 issues), by clicking the banner below.

At this point last year, the Clemson staff did not have very many verbal commitments on the recruiting trail. This year, it is almost the opposite. Was there a conscious decision on the staff's part to get early verbals?
Swinney: Recruiting is hard to predict sometimes from year to year. Some years, guys go ahead and make up their mind and know what they want to do. Other years, guys wait till the very last minute.

First of all, Coach Blackwell has done an awesome job in grabbing this thing by the horns. He did a great job in January of getting everybody in here and getting everybody organized. The communication that we have with the prospects is second to none. Our staff has done a great job of getting out and beating the bushes and selling Clemson to those kids.

This staff has been better than any staff I've been on in sitting down together and identifying players at an early stage. It has given us some good momentum early, but it is a long way until February and there is plenty of work to be done. But, we are off to a great start.

What keys do you need, as a staff, to help with recruiting?
Swinney: The main thing is that we need to get some W's. Kids love winning and they want to see progress. So, we have got to go out there and do our part and the recruiting will take care of itself.

One of the biggest things I've been surprised about is the Clemson recognition. Clemson has such a huge name in the south and nationally. Everywhere I have gone, I can walk in somewhere with only a Tiger Paw on my shirt and people know immediately I'm from Clemson. That is an awesome thing because it means you are going to be able to get kids attention. Then, it is up to me to build a relationship with a young man and promote the program.

Ultimately, you are trying to get guys on your campus. If we can get them to visit Clemson, we have a great opportunity to sign them because Clemson is a great college town, and it has a great stadium. We have new facilities on the way that are going to help us much, much more than the average fan realizes. And when we put the winning with all those other combinations, then we will be very successful.

But, let me say this. We have good players on our team now. We have to put it together and win some games this year and we can go get even more good players.

Some of the verbals Clemson has secured early are from kids that don't have a lot of offers from big time programs. Any comment you would like to make on that?
Swinney: I've never been a guy that ever trusted anybody with regards to a prospect more than myself. I trust myself and how I evaluate talent more than a recruiting magazine or anything like that. I have to see a player myself before I'll offer him. I have to get an idea of not only what type of athlete he is, but also what type of person he is with his academics and character.

I've signed several kids in the past that had only one other offer. Charles Jones is a preseason All SEC guy and three-year starter at Alabama. When I signed him he had one other offer, from Georgia Southern. That guy is a great player that will be playing in the NFL. We loved him and could not figure out why others did not offer.

Jason McCadley, a receiver from Oak Ridge Tennessee, had only one other offer and it was from Georgia Tech. Tennessee did not recruit him at all. I took heat for signing the kid, to be honest. He came in and had a great career at Alabama and was a 4th round draft pick by the Arizona Cardinals. He even started the last 8 games of the year as a rookie for them.

You just have to trust yourself and how you evaluate. I also have been to evaluate a kid that is in everybody's publications as a 4 or 5 star kid. After evaluating him, I left knowing we would not offer the kid because I just did not think he could play.

How do you evaluate a kid when you go on the road?
Swinney: When I go visit a kid, I'll evaluate them and score them a 1, 2, or 3. Ones are kids that we want to offer after that evaluation. Two's are kids that need some further evaluation. Maybe another visit to a game or have another Clemson coach go and evaluate him. He could very well turn into a kid we offer, but just not at that point. And three's are kids that are not going to be major Division I-A kids and we will no longer recruit them for Clemson.

But this staff, even before I have been out on the road, has sat down and watched these guys. We put a bunch of eyes on all these prospects. That is how you minimize mistakes. What I have been impressed with here with Coach Bowden and Coach Blackwell is those discussions on prospects. The process is very good.

And, if you are confident in your ability to evaluate and if you are confident in the other staff members' ability to evaluate, then you can go and offer a kid early. Then, as time goes on and they start getting more and more offers, they know that you were there in the beginning. And hopefully that relationship is enough to get you over the hump in February.

Seems like last year, there was very little intermediate passing game. Things were either slants and screens or fly patterns. Any changes in 2003?
Swinney: We will have an intermediate passing game. What you are trying to do is get the ball in playmakers hands and let them do something with it. We've got some guys that are really good with "after the catch" skills.

I think we will have more big plays this year with the style of play that we are going to use. We are going to be a little bit more of a two back team than we were last year. That means there will be a little bit more play action. If you are running the ball effectively, the play action passing game will open up more big plays, especially across the middle of the field in that 18-25 yard range. Last year, they were only about 5% two back, so it will be much more this year because of the emphasis on the running game. Obviously, each game will dictate what we are going to do. But, our philosophy will be to establish the running game and then hit big plays on the passing game.

Do you have good enough backs to establish the run on a consistent basis?
Swinney: Last year, the backs did not seem to really break any long runs. There were some 15-yard runs or 20-yard runs, but nothing like a 60 yard run for a touchdown. It think we have got some guys this year that can make those long runs. That is why we emphasized with the receivers to play every play like it could go for a touchdown. Do your job blocking downfield on a running play so if the back gets past the line of scrimmage he can go a long way because you have taken out a tackler from the secondary.

And when you can hit a big play or two in the running game, the safeties have to start creeping up and worrying about the running game. And that opens up the big passing game over top the safeties. When those safeties start biting on the play action and the naked bootlegs, you can really burn defenses deep.

When you don't establish the running game, you don't get that attention from the safeties and they stay back, which makes you have to throw the ball underneath. I think that is what you saw last year.

What type of rotation will you use at wide receiver?
Swinney: I've always been a coach that likes to play a lot of guys. I like to play as many guys as that deserve to play. It helps with your competition, it helps you with your morale, and guys know they will get rewarded for practicing hard by getting to play. My job as coach is to know what guys can do what things the best. So, if we have a play call that we need a particular route run, I have to be able to plug the guy into the lineup that has the best chance to make that play successful.

I'll substitute pretty freely. A lot of it has to do with the tempo of the game. If we are playing at a fast pace and moving the ball and scoring, we will rotate more often. If I only had three or four guys that could be counted on, I probably would not rotate very much. But, we are really 6 or 7 deep at wide receiver, which is something most schools don't have.

Most of the time, a secondary does not have as many good players that they can afford to rotate. So, if you can keep your legs fresh at receiver, you can have a big advantage over a tired defensive back in the 4th quarter.

I'll give you the chance to have any final comments you would like to say.
Swinney: Well, I just feel blessed by the Good Lord for being here. This is a great staff that I enjoy coming to work with everyday. That has not always been the case everywhere that I have been. Clemson is blessed to have these guys here coaching. It is a good staff with a great head coach and I am honored to be a part of it.

I'm looking forward to doing my part and see if we can take this thing to another level. I certainly came here to win and win big. Everything is in place here for us to do that, especially with the facilities coming on. We all have to just pull together and be positive and believe. We will put players out there on that field that believe and know we can line up with anybody and beat them head to head. And that is all you can ask for.

CUTigers.com Top Stories