SEC: Dave Clawson
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
The NFL is about proving yourself all over again.
For former Tennessee All-SEC tailback Arian Foster, it will also be about building back his reputation.
Foster is the exception to the rule that says going back to college for your senior season is usually the wisest choice. He received a second-round grade from the NFL draft advisory committee last year, but elected to return to school for his final season.
|Jim Brown/US Presswire|
|After a disappointing senior season, Arian Foster is still hoping for a shot in the NFL.|
"I saw the talent we had returning, and I honestly thought we could win an SEC championship," Foster explained. "That's what was missing in my college career, and that's what brought me back. We were so close the year before. I wanted another shot at it."
What he got was a shot to his draft stock and a sobering reminder of how quickly things can turn in the SEC.
The Vols suffered through a dismal 5-7 season, which led to Phillip Fulmer's firing. Foster, who was just 685 yards away from becoming Tennessee's all-time rushing leader heading into the season, never meshed with new offensive coordinator Dave Clawson, and Foster finished with 570 rushing yards and one touchdown on 131 carries.
That's after rushing for 1,193 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns the year before while carrying the ball 245 times.
It was a bitter pill for Foster to swallow.
His coaches lost their jobs. He lost a chance to write his name into the Tennessee record books, and worse, endured a second losing season in Knoxville.
But as this weekend's NFL draft has neared, Foster also realized that he gained something that's been even more difficult to shake: The label of being a bad character guy and somebody who can divide a locker room.
It's a question that has come up with countless general managers, personnel directors and coaches he's met with -- and he can't understand it.
Neither can some of the men who coached him at Tennessee.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
It didn't take former Tennessee offensive coordinator Dave Clawson long to land on his feet, a testament that this past season was more the exception than the rule.
Clawson was named Friday as the head coach at Bowling Green on the heels of what was a disastrous season for him at Tennessee, which went 5-7 and finished 115th nationally in total offense.
For whatever reason, it just wasn't a fit for him at Tennessee. The players never picked up his West Coast-themed offense, and there was never an identity. The Vols were also woeful at quarterback, which further prevented Clawson from doing a lot of the things he'd hoped to do offensively.
And when things turned south, there was no turning back.
It was his first stint against Division I defenses, and there might have been some growing pains. But his resume tells you that the guy can coach and knows what he's doing. He was the Division I-AA Coach of the Year at two different places (Richmond and Fordham) before coming to Tennessee as offensive coordinator.
Now that he's back in charge and running his own shop, it's probably fairer to judge him on what he does these next four or five years instead of what he didn't do this past year at Tennessee when he wasn't the one making all the decisions.
Clawson's not the only former Tennessee coordinator on the move. John Chavis, the Vols' defensive coordinator for the last 14 years, was in Clemson earlier this week for his second interview and is at the top of Dabo Swinney's list for the Tigers' defensive coordinator job.
Swinney, though, could have some competition for Chavis. LSU has shown interest, and there will also be some NFL opportunities. Chavis turned down at least three NFL jobs while coaching at Tennessee.
The Vols finished fourth nationally in total defense this season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
You look around the country and see all these outrageous offensive numbers and PlayStation-like scores and wonder if the offenses in the SEC are just that ordinary, and in some case (that would be you, Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Tennessee) just that plain bad. But then you're reminded that defense in the SEC is not a lost art.
A few teams have won national championships around here lately (Florida and LSU) thanks to salty defenses. So while it hasn't been as pretty in the SEC to this point as some of the other locales around the country, it's probably premature to judge this conference based on style. With that, we go around the league with this week's edition of Hot and Not:
Vanderbilt's second-half defense: If you don't get the Commodores in the first half, you're probably not going to get them. They've outscored their five opponents in the second half this season by a 58-10 margin. The last three teams to face Vanderbilt (Auburn, Ole Miss and Rice) haven't scratched after halftime. The Commodores' secret? They're in terrific shape. Their coaching staff knows how to make the proper adjustments, and the players are smart enough and savvy enough to execute those adjustments.
Alabama in the first quarter: The 17-14 win over Kentucky was shakier than anyone at the Capstone would have liked, but the first quarter absolutely belongs to the Crimson Tide. They've outscored their opposition 88-0 in the opening quarter this season.
Auburn's offense: In four SEC games, the Tigers have scored just five offensive touchdowns. In their loss to Vanderbilt, they managed all of 82 yards of total offense over the last three quarters. That's downright offensive.
South Carolina quarterback Chris Smelley: In terms of sheer accuracy, nobody has been better than Smelley. He's completing 63.1 percent of his passes and threw for a career-high 327 yards in the win over Ole Miss.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
After a week off, Tennessee hopes to get some of that bitter taste out of its mouth from the season-opening UCLA loss with a home game this Saturday against Alabama-Birmingham.
There's some irony that the Vols are playing UAB this weekend. The game was originally supposed to be played to open the season, and Tennessee was scheduled to travel to UCLA this weekend.
Sure, hindsight is 20-20, but you wonder now if the original schedule would have been more beneficial to the Vols to at least get a tune-up game in before the trip to UCLA. That way, quarterback Jonathan Crompton might have been more settled going to UCLA, and first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson would have had a better idea of what to expect from Crompton and others.
It's a moot point now. Tennessee chose to move the UCLA game to Labor Day for the primetime exposure on ESPN ... and ended up getting exposed.
Of course, had it worked out in the Vols' favor under the original schedule, and they survived the UCLA trip this weekend, they'd be getting back early Sunday morning and facing a tougher turnaround to get ready for Florida.
As bad as the UCLA loss was, Tennessee will still be judged on what it does in the SEC.
More specifically, the Vols have four games (Florida at home, Auburn on the road, Georgia on the road and Alabama at home) that they need to find a way to go at least 2-2 in if this season is going to be labeled as anything other than a disappointment.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
New Tennessee offensive coordinator Dave Clawson has proved he knows his way around the big-time recruiting trail. He reeled in a commitment from heralded quarterback Josh Nunes [Insider] of Upland, Calif., two weeks ago. Nunes had offers from the likes of Florida, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Stanford and Arizona.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
On to Part 2 of my chat with Tennessee offensive coordinator Dave Clawson, part of the new guard of coordinators in the SEC this season. (Click here for Part 1.)
For the record, the other new faces or old faces in new jobs are South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, Mississippi State defensive coordinator Charlie Harbison, Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson, Mississippi offensive coordinator Kent Austin, Mississippi defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix and LSU co-defensive coordinators Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto.
How much different to the longtime Tennessee fan will this offense look?
Dave Clawson: Some of the plays won't look that much different. The way we look and the formations we line up in may look different. David Cutcliffe did a lot of good things here. One of the reasons I got the job is that my philosophy is not that much different from what they did under coach Cutcliffe.
What are some of the things you weren't able to determine during spring practice?
DC: Who's our go-to wideout? Is it Gerald Jones, or is it Lucas Taylor? Lucas was hurt during the spring. He nor Austin Rogers were out there, so you really don't know until you get to preseason practice. You also wonder if Montario Hardesty is going to healthy, and I think we have a chance to be very good at tight end. But we need some things to happen just right for us.
Why the optimism at tight end, especially after losing Brad Cottam to the NFL draft?
DC: Luke Stocker had as good a spring as anybody in our program. Jeff Cottam is back to running, and we're hoping that [freshman] Aaron Douglas' shoulder is fully recovered. If things go as we think they will with Brandon Warren (a transfer from Florida State) and he wins his waiver to play this fall, that changes things. I've never had that many good tight ends before. Some version of a two-tight-end package will have to be in there. I think we'll be able to do some of the things they wanted to do with Brad Cottam last year before he was hurt.
Gerald Jones came on at the end of last season and made things happen when he touched the ball. Where does he fit into what you want to do with the offense?
DC: A lot of what they did with him was gimmick. He still has to prove he can be an every-down receiver, but I thought one of the things to come out of spring practice was his dynamics. I can assure you that we'll do things to get him the football.
What is your take on the skill players you inherited at Tennessee?
DC: I've heard about these guys and seen them on film, but a lot of them didn't go through spring for different reasons. I know we're going to have a bunch of freshmen and sophomores out there. One of the things I do before every game is pinpoint who our five best playmakers are and come up with ways to get those guys the ball. When I was doing that in the spring, I don't know how many of those five will still be the same in the fall.
AP Photo/Wade Payne
DC: He's a tough kid who works hard and seems to pick things up pretty quickly. The thing he needs to work on is his consistency with decision-making. It's one thing to be a backup quarterback and play 10 or 12 plays and be good. Now he's in a situation where you have to go out there for 12 weeks and make 80 good decisions and make enough of those good decisions that we're hopefully playing for 13 and 14 weeks."
Did his two starts against LSU and Arkansas two years ago while filling in for Erik Ainge tell you anything?
DC: He had to do it for two games. Now let's see him do it for two years. Really, he just hasn't had a chance to show what he could do, other than those two games. We all know there's going to be some bumps in the road, just like there were in those two games. But we've got to keep those to a minimum, because he does have some great physical tools.
How much did Crompton improve this spring when it was clear that it was his job?
DC: I thought he was better through the course of the spring than he was in those two games he started (in 2006). But in those two games, they had Robert Meachem, who was their bail-out guy, which was smart. He and Jonathan hooked up for two great plays against LSU, and the whole team struggled against Arkansas. Our strength this year will be in numbers. We don't have the one established guy on the outside, but a lot of guys who can make plays and get open. Jonathan's decision-making will be even more important because until that one great one emerges, it falls on the quarterback to distribute the ball the way it should be distributed. I thought Jonathan got better at that as the spring went along.
How many receivers do you want to play?
DC: I'm hoping all the competition at wide receiver forces the cream to come to the top. I don't want to mix in seven or eight receivers just to mix them in there. I hope guys raise their level of play in the fall and become premier SEC receivers. Jonathan has to help that process.
Being such an unknown in SEC circles, what do you think the book will be on you?
DC: That all balances out. There's not a whole lot of history on me. But at the same time, I don't have any history going against some of the defensive coordinators, either.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
This time a year ago, Dave Clawson was getting ready for his fourth season as the head coach at Richmond. A few months earlier, he'd been a candidate for the Boston College head coaching job, but lost out to Jeff Jagodzinski.
Still, Clawson made enough of an impression on Boston College Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo that he recommended Clawson to Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer this past winter when Fulmer was looking for a replacement for offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, who is now the head coach for Duke. DeFilippo and Fulmer go back to their days as graduate assistants at Tennessee.
Fulmer liked Clawson immediately. He liked his offensive philosophy, liked his cerebral nature and liked the fact that he wasn't afraid to disagree with Fulmer, the dean of SEC coaches.
So when the Vols kick off the season on Sept. 1 against UCLA in the Rose Bowl, they'll do so with the first offensive coordinator to come from outside the Tennessee family in nearly two decades. Clawson brings his version of the West Coast offense to Knoxville, where the fans are pumped about having some new blood in the program. To his credit, Clawson jokes that he hasn't had to punt yet, nor has he gone three-and-out.
Here's the first of a two-part Q&A with Clawson, one of 12 new offensive or defensive coordinators in the SEC this season.
What kind of adjustment has it been recruiting in the SEC?
Dave Clawson: Recruiting is recruiting. You're trying to sell your school and program and develop relationships with coaches and players. That part is no different. The part of it that's different is that most of the players we're recruiting now might have 20 offers. When I was at Richmond, we might have to battle William & Mary, James Madison and Delaware.
So recruiting in the SEC isn't any dirtier or more negative?
DC: You get that at every level. The recruiting battles we had at Richmond were fierce, and there was always an element of negativity out there. To say you work any harder at it here is not right. We worked at it hard there, too. Obviously, you're going against bigger schools, and more schools are involved.
Who have been some of your biggest influences in terms of shaping your offensive beliefs?
DC: I learned this offense 16 years ago from a guy named Hank Small, who was the coach at Lehigh, then the offensive coordinator at Wake Forest and now the athletic director at Charleston Southern. The roots of his offense can be traced back to Sid Gillman. In 1987, I went out and visited with Norm Chow, who was then at BYU with Lavell Edwards. It's ironic that we open up with UCLA, where Norm Chow is now the offensive coordinator. I've tried to visit with some NFL team just about every year. I went to the Giants a lot when Sean Payton was there. I visited with the Lions when Steve Mariucci was there. A friend of mine, (current Citadel head coach) Kevin Higgins, was the quarterbacks coach there. I've tried to learn as much about the West Coast offense from as many different people as possible.
There seems to be a strong NFL influence there. How did that come about?
DC: In the NFL, they don't have to recruit. They spend all of their time on football. They're locked up in a laboratory studying stuff. Any time you have access to people spending all of their time studying the game ... that can only help. I've borrowed and studied as much as I could from NFL guys. It might be one play-action pass or an adjustment on a protection or a little change in a run scheme. The key is taking stuff that fits what you do. If it helps with the personnel you have that particular year, then you roll with it and it might just be one or two new ideas a year.
What's the biggest misconception about the West Coast offense?
DC: I wouldn't even say what we're going to run at Tennessee is the West Coast offense. We're an offense that will utilize West Coast principles in the passing game and spacing concepts. But there's not one version of the West Coast offense. We're not a pure West Coast team. I think when most people think about the West Coast offense, they think about split backs and the Bill Walsh system. This thing can go in a lot of different directions. That's part of the reason it's stood the test of time. It allows you to do a lot of different things, and flexibility is important in college football. You keep adding different personnel every few years, and this system allows you to adapt to the personnel you have.
What was your perception of Phillip Fulmer from afar, and is it any different now that you're working for him?
DC: I'd only had one brief conversation with Coach Fulmer, and that was about four years ago when I hired one of his GA's (Marcus Satterfield). I'd always had great respect for the consistency of the program under Coach Fulmer. But the things about him that stand out now that I work for him would never come across on the TV screen, just how personable he is and how much he truly cares about the kids in the program. You'd never get that off the TV screen or from reading about him.
I'll have the second part of my chat with Clawson up later Monday. We'll talk more in detail about the 2008 Tennessee offense and what fans can expect.