Coleman Makes Move with Class

CLEMSON – Sitting on the sidelines late in a close game Saturday at Maryland, Clemson running back Duane Coleman came to the realization that he probably wasn't going to see the field as a running back.

And the more he thought about it, the more he understood tailbacks Reggie Merriweather and James Davis were going to get the majority, if not all, of the rushing attempts.

He also knew that he wanted to play, even if it meant switching to defense and playing at cornerback.

"Guys got the hot hand on offense and I wasn't getting that much playing time, so I wanted to see if I could convert over to defense," Coleman said after practice Tuesday. "I joked around a little bit on the plane ride home (with defensive coordinator Vic Koenning), but Monday after practice, I kind of talked to him a little bit and he told me just to be patient and see what's going on."

The coaching staff discussed it and it was determined that Coleman's move to cornerback was the best thing for him and the team. It was going to be a win-win situation.

"Duane is too good of a player to sit on the bench," Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden said. "He didn't get in last week. He's a tough guy, he's a hard-nosed guy and he's practiced extremely hard. So he's going to move over to defense in an effort to try to get him on field. He's brings a demeanor to our team that we need, to be honest with you."

If he never plays another down on offense, Coleman finishes his offensive career with 226 carries for 920 yards and three touchdowns. He also has 50 catches for 437 yards and four touchdowns.

Bowden and Koenning are counting on Coleman to bring the aggressive attitude that he is known for to the opposite side of the ball and inspire the rest of the defense, especially in the secondary.

"He brings toughness, meanness, a personality and demeanor that we need defensively that I really haven't seen," Bowden said. "It will be difficult, but Vic's an experienced guy and I'm sure he's done this in the past. There are some things, where if he's not much help this week, then maybe next week. I think it needs to be a full scale move and not one where he splits time half-and-half.

"Obviously, if we have an injury or two at tailback, we might have to reconsider. But we need to get him on the field. He works too hard, he practices too hard and he brings a toughness to the team that I think we need right now."

Koenning doesn't know yet which corner position Coleman will play.

This, like the rest of the defense, is a work in progress.

"I'll see how fast he can simulate it," Koenning said. "If he's really fast, I'll probably put him behind Sergio (Gilliam) and then see if he can beat Sergio out. That will give me the opportunity to move Chris (Clemons) back to safety, which I know is probably the better and natural position for him, which will help us at safety immensely."

After Tuesday's practice, Bowden said he could see Coleman starting against N.C. State, again assuming Coleman has no problem understanding the defense.

"There's going to be a learning curve," said star cornerback Tye Hill, who also started his Clemson career at running back. "Maybe it might come to him faster than it came to me. He's going to be very helpful on that side of the ball. He plays with a great enthusiasm and I think he's going to be one of the best players as long as he sticks with it and doesn't get mad at getting beat, because he's going to get beat while he's learning. I think he's going to be pretty good at that position."

The subject of him converting to cornerback on defense was a subject lightly discussed between Coleman and members of the coaching staff back in the first of August, when practice first began, because of the packed stable of running backs. However, it was decided no move would be made all could see how things played out on the field.

"Duane is a smart guy, but he knew what the situation was at running back," running backs coach Burton Burns said. "He tried it at running back to see how it was going to work out before he made his decision."

After Saturday's game in which Coleman only participated on special teams, the one-time starter was faced with only one option.

"See a little bit of time on defense or just sit there watch on offense," Coleman said. "I chose to play a little bit on defense."

There's not a big likelihood that Coleman will play this weekend against Miami. And if by some chance he gets on the field, it will definitely be for only a very few select plays. The move wasn't to help this week or even next. It was made for the future, including next year.

If Coleman can graduate by the summer, he will regain his fourth year of eligibility. All indications are he's on pace to do so. Nevertheless, this whole situation is still a long ways from the second half in 2003, when he the best tailback on the team.

Then he broke his foot before the start of 2004 and he never again claimed the role as the team's top tailback. Then came this past spring, when Coleman was suspended from the team for arguing with the coaching staff about participating in that same drill that broke his foot some eight months earlier.

"It might be as simple as that, it might be more complicated than that," Burns said. "I think the injury kind of disrupted his rhythm and it seems like he's been trying to get back into rhythm ever since. After his first year, he was on fire the second half of the year. Then he broke his foot and it seems like it's been an uphill battle. But the competition's gotten better, Reggie's gotten better and then James Davis is a good back.

"Unfortunately in life, sometimes bad things have to happen to you before you open your eyes up and see the big picture. Was it a good situation for him in the spring? No. Was it a timely event in his life that made him start looking and thinking about things differently? Yes. It got his attention."

And because of that, Coleman has accepted this new challenge rather than fight the move and complain or flat out quit the team.

"I can't even imagine what I might have done had this happened last year or before that," he said. "I've matured as a person and the incident in the spring helped me do that. I don't even want to think about what I might have done." Top Stories