Raynor: Dabo Swinney, Clemson football make needed change with summer official visits

Raynor: Dabo Swinney, Clemson football make needed change with summer official visits

CLEMSON, SC — It only takes a few minutes being around Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney to realize something fundamental about him. If he wants to do something, he will. If he doesn’t, he won’t.

The 52-year-old with two national championships and seven ACC titles has earned that right. But listen to his stance on the transfer portal — he only will use it as a final resort to fill a hole on his roster — or take in his unapologetic comments about name, image and likeness, which have made him a lightning rod in the sport , and it’s easy to see why is seen as one of the most stubborn coaches in college football.

That’s what makes a week like this one so significant at Clemson.

For the first time in his career, Swinney is finally hosting June official visitors on campus — ditching one of his most unpopular policies to change with the times. It’s a move that is admirable, given Swinney’s reluctance to change, and overdue, given the way the landscape of college football has shifted in recent years. One of those changes is recruits making these decisions earlier and earlier.

Many of Swinney’s competitors have welcomed official visitors to campus during the spring and summer since 2018, after the NCAA passed legislation allowing programs to foot the bill for prospect visits between April 1 of the junior year through the Sunday before the last Wednesday in June.

Swinney, however, instituted a years-long policy of not offering official visits to Clemson’s campus during the summertime in an effort to “protect our program” and “protect our culture,” he said in 2018.

Even in 2021, when schools rushed to host official visitors after 15 months of no in-person recruiting because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Swinney didn’t budget on his stance — still making it clear that recruits interested in Clemson could take their official visits during the fall.

“I’m not trying to be like everybody else. I want to be Clemson. Clemson’s not for everybody,” Swinney said in 2018. “I understand that. I get that. But I want it to be a two-way street, and I want them to want to be here.”

Clemson’s 2023 commits

Player Position ranking Height Weight School

Nathaniel Joseph

WR

4 star

5-8

170

Edison (Miami)

David Ojiegbe

OF

4 star

6-3

235

St. John’s (Washington, DC)

Branden Strozier

CB

3 star

6-2

175

St. Francis (Alpharetta, Ga.)

Christopher Vizzina

QB

4 star

6-4

207

Briarwood Christian (Birmingham)

Swinney put the policy in place largely because he felt like recruits who were genuinely interested in his program would either find a way to finance their own way to Clemson during the spring and summer or wait until the fall for an official visit, when Swinney readily offered paid trips. It was risky, especially if a recruit who couldn’t afford a trip to Clemson in the spring or summer clicked with another program that did pay for an offseason visit, then commit to that program before he could get to the Tigers in the fall.

But it was also hard to argue with Swinney because it wasn’t hurting the Tigers. Clemson signed its best recruiting class in program history in 2020, when five-star defensive tackle and the nation’s top prospect, Bryan Bresee, signed with the Tigers, alongside five-star defensive end Myles Murphy and five-star linebacker Trenton Simpson. Then in 2021, five-star running back Will Shipley committed to Clemson over Notre Dame, combining forces with five-star tackle Tristan Leigh and five-star linebacker Barrett Carter to give the Tigers another top-five class.

When former linebacker Bryton Constantin, a four-star prospect, drove with his mother from Baton Rouge, La., to Clemson on several occasions before he signed with the Tigers in the Class of 2019, Swinney pointed to Constantin as an example of his policy at its best.

“That’s commitment. There is intention there,” Swinney said at the time. “Then for me, too, I just want more time to evaluate, and so that’s kind of just how we do it. Now, 10 years ago? I probably wouldn’t have had any choice. But our program was in a different place 10 years ago than we are right now.”

Therein might lie an explanation for this week’s shift.

Clemson could be picky with the way it recruited when the Tigers were beating Alabama for national championships, getting the best of Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide in 2016 and 2018. Swinney also had some leeway before NIL came to the forefront of the sport — and his peers in the coaching profession embraced the idea of ​​players cashing in far more than he did. But in unfortunate timing for Clemson, the Tigers’ dip on the field in 2021, when they went 10-3 and missed the College Football Playoff for the first time since 2014, coincided with the shift off the field when NIL started to take over the sport.

Swinney almost had to change his policies this year in order to keep up. And even if “Little Ole Clemson,” as Swinney lovingly refers to his program, struggles to compete with some of the heavyweights in the NIL space because of its smaller alumni base, hosting official visitors this summer allows the Tigers’ staff to do what it does best: maintain relationships.

To be fair, Clemson still signed the nation’s No. 10 recruiting class in 2022 by the 247Sports Composite, Swinney’s fifth consecutive year of signing a top-10 class, even without hosting official visitors in the summer of 2021. Clemson is at a crossroads in 2022 to be sure, but the Tigers’ brand is still strong nationally.

But by hosting these visits this weekend, whether he intends to or not, Swinney is signaling that he knows his previous policies can’t stay in place in order for the Tigers to win at the rate they expect. He’s doing something different because he has to, whether that’s because of the changing landscape, the down year or losing two coordinators. Or maybe it’s a combination of the three.

Recruits on campus this weekend include but are not limited to five-star defensive lineman Peter Woods, four-star offensive lineman Harris Sewell, four-star offensive lineman Markee Anderson, four-star wide receiver Tyler Williams, four-star linebacker Jamal Anderson, four-star linebacker Tony Rojas, four-star defensive lineman AJ Hoffler and four-star quarterback Christopher Vizzina, who committed to the Tigers in April, according to each of their social media pages. All of the players who are taking official visits this weekend already have been on campus.

Kudos to Swinney, who has been under a microscope, for being willing to adjust. If he can land any of the above recruits between now and the fall, he quickly will receive validation that changing his mind was worth it.

And at the very least? This weekend certainly won’t hurt.

(Picture: Charles LeClaire/USA Today)

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