Signing Day Eve: A Meditation on Orange

20110409_springfootball07_t300The year was 2008, and an upstart wide receiver coach and recruiting coordinator had just been promoted to the top football job at Clemson Tiger University. Many scratched their heads upon hearing that Tommy Bowden had been replaced with the young, inexperienced, Dabo Swinney. Once Coach Swinney’s maudlin antics and non sequiturs were quickly made manifest, others predicted his certain demise.

But as strange as he may have acted, and as juvenile and forced as his persona, Dabo could still recruit. That trait was his key asset. He had a manner of speaking that resonated with 17 year olds, and a background in sales, so when he pulled off a football victory over South Carolina in one of his first games as a head coach, many of the Tiger faithful thought they had the total package.

Fresh off the victory over the Gamecocks, Swinney began assembling his first recruiting class. Limited in numbers by a small group of graduating seniors, Dabo assembled twelve recruits that he dubbed “The Dandy Dozen” and then pronounced them the future of Clemson football excellence.

“We aren’t worried about players that went to other schools, we could have taken more. But these are our guys and we are proud of them.”

“The grass is greener in Clemson,” he said on that first signing day.

Now, four long year later, most of those players are gone.

Two left school as underclassmen. Of the remaining ten, only a handful were major contributors. Tajh Boyd, Malliciah Goodman, and Brandon Thomas all made meaningful contributions on the ACC level of play.

But they never beat South Carolina. Not once. Now Tajh still has the hope of squeaking out on victory in his final, redshirt senior year, but other than that possibility, The Dandy Dozen have turned out to be a goose egg.

Let that sink in for a minute: Tajh Boyd, the headliner of the 2009 class, may well spend 5 years with the Tigers and never beat South Carolina.

It goes further, actually. The guys from Tommy Bowden’s highly ranked 2008 class that redshirted their first year (like Andre Ellington, Dalton Freeman, and Jonathan Willard) exhausted their eligibility without ever playing a single snap in a win against Carolina.

More? The 2010 recruits still haven’t done it either. Some of them, like Joe Craig, found a way off the team early (his first choice, a metal rod used against a female, didn’t work, so he resorted to drug use). And one other, Deandre “Nuke” Hopkins, opted for the NFL before ever beating the Gamecocks.

What does this have to do with recruiting, you ask?

It reminds us all to calm the hell down.  Recruiting isn’t the end-all-be-all we try to make it out to be.

Approach National Signing Day with tranquility, Gamecocks.  Because whatever babbling nonsense about football excellence that may come out of the upstate tomorrow, whatever the final rankings may be on Thursday, our guys are better than their guys. We’ve proved it. And without nearly as much recruiting hype.

It’s the X’s and the O’s, not the Jimmys and the Joes. And the guy doing our X’s and our O’s is demonstrably superior to the guy they have cheerleading for them.




UPDATE: I just looked at the latest recruiting rankings, and our class is rated ahead of theirs, so please disregard everything I just said.