Clemson's Swinney more concerned about unity than winning

October, 18, 2008
10/18/08
6:46
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

 
 Brian Schneider/US Presswire
 Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper (talks with head coach Dabo Swinney during the second quarter of Clemson's 21-17 loss to Georgia Saturday.

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson interim head coach Dabo Swinney wasted no time in making this his program despite the temporary title, and his bold move of firing offensive coordinator Rob Spence was just the beginning.

Swinney started the well-received "Tiger Walk" tradition.

He re-introduced the three-point stance to the offensive linemen. He cut media access to coaches and players during the week. He even went so far as to change how the team runs down The Hill, separating himself about five yards in front of the team and running down first.

What he didn't change, though, was the end result. Clemson lost, 21-17, to Georgia Tech.

At home.

Again.

The Tigers have now lost three straight, including two in Memorial Stadium. But Swinney will tell you it's not about wins and losses, that he could "give a rat's tail what the scoreboard says."

Tell that to Tommy Bowden.

For Swinney, Saturday was all about unity.

"This wasn't about the game," he said. "You get put in this kind of situation, all of a sudden you're thrown in the fire, you've got coaches' livelihoods at stake, you've got all these players looking to you for leadership, fans just wanting to hang onto anything, looking for anything - shoot, I just sat down and thought about what I felt like we needed to do here. The biggest thing I wanted to accomplish was unity, embracing some things, creating some pride in doing the little things right."

Swinney took the blame for the bad calls, and gave the credit for the good ones to his assistants. He made reporters laugh in his post game news conference. He said things like "Rome wasn't built in a day," something probably more appropriate to the Duke football program than his own.

Swinney is a pretty smooth talker, but can he win football games?

"I know I can do the job," he said. "I don't have any doubts about that at all. That's for other people to decide."

The less they win, though, the more quickly the search for a new coach begins.

Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said the staff can't afford to worry about their jobs and their futures because it will take away from the job they do with the players. And the Tigers certainly needed some guidance this weekend.

The team had a meeting on Friday night and Swinney said "there wasn't a dry eye in the room."

"It's been a tough week at times and you're sitting there, you're thinking, 'When is this thing gonna end?'" quarterback Cullen Harper said. "It's just terrible. But we got a little bit of light today. We had fun today. Maybe that was one of the things we were missing in the past a little bit. We went out there and we had fun and we were competing."

There is no question Clemson played with everything it had. The defense had a newfound swagger, and the offense a new spark. They had an impressive third quarter that showed another glimpse of the team's potential. The Tigers trailed 14-3 at the half but led 17-14 in the third quarter after Harper completed all five of his passes for 100 yards and two scores.

The Tigers probably would have won the game if not for a questionable holding call on fourth-and-12 from the 47-yard line. It would have been a 27-yard completion to Jacoby Ford with under three minutes remaining.

It might not have come down to one call, though, had Clemson not turned the ball over six times.

"We worked so hard this week trying to get this thing turned around, and we just turned the ball over too much," said receiver Aaron Kelly, who had one of his most productive days of the season with seven catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

"We hurt ourselves way too much. I played my heart out, tried to help my team win, it just hurts that we fell short. It's definitely something to build on. The team never gave up and I'm proud of that." Swinney said that was exactly the response he had hoped for.

"This group is unified, and we will be until the very end of the season," Swinney said. "I don't care what the scoreboard shows. I don't care. Because I'm not going to allow it to be any other way." It will be, though, if he doesn't win eventually. "I hope that the wins will come, but it's not my No. 1 concern," he said.

"My concern is not me. This isn't about me, guys, I don't ever want it to be about me. I want it to be about the players. I'll be fine. If they want me here, great. If not, I'll go somewhere else."

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