Before anyone suggests this is a sour grapes blog post by an excuse-making Gamecock fan, let’s get one thing out of the way: Clemson beat us Saturday fair and square. They were the better team and deserved to win. It’s true and undeniable.
With that said, let’s get to the point of this post.
For years, all we have heard from the Upstate is that Dabo Swinney is a good Christian man who cares about his players above all else. He tells the mamas that he’s going to take care of their boys. On some level you have to hand it to Dabo and say job well done. He’s been able to convince the Clemson faithful and a bunch of talented recruits that he is doing it differently than the other guys; that Clemson is a special place with different priorities. A very large segment of the Tiger fan base (about 99% by my rough calculations), has eaten this fantasy up with a spoon.
But Dabo knows what all other coaches know: winning cures all ills and covers up all flaws. Fan bases are willing to overlook just about any transgression, fault, or risk if their team is winning.
Take Florida State for example. This year Jimbo Fisher has gone from a respected coach to an absolute joke for his repeated, uncompromising support of Jameis Winston, no matter what kind of crap Winston pulls. There is simply no way an average player gets the chances Winston has gotten. You know it. I know it. Every fan in America knows it.
Why does Fisher continue to support Winston and brush aside his transgressions? Because he wants to win big and knows that he would not win big without Winston at quarterback. Winning trumps everything. In this case, winning trumps justice and the need to discipline a young man who is in desperate need of discipline. Winston has obviously been coddled his entire life by coaches and teachers in awe of this talent. This has continued at Florida State. Fisher has failed Winston the person. He may justify it by saying that he is taking care of it “off the field”. Well, the only way to affect someone like Winston, if that’s even possible at this point, is to take away the thing that’s most important to them. That would be football. And that ain’t happening.
Which brings us to Dabo. Blessed with a talented young quarterback but faced with a possible sixth straight loss to their hated rival, Dabo had to be feeling pretty good going into the Georgia Tech game. After all the Gamecock D had proven to be downright awful, and his talented young QB had recovered from an unfortunate thumb injury.
Then, out of nowhere, disaster struck. The young QB went down again, this time with a knee injury. After the injury the Georgia Tech game turned from a likely Clemson win into a dumpster fire as Cole Stoudt scored a bunch of points for the other team. Dabo and his braintrust had to be shell-shocked. While Stoudt had struggled in prior games, it now became abundantly clear that there was no way they could enter battle against the Gamecocks and hope to win with this guy at the wheel.
After a couple of days of what appeared to be top-secret MRI exams, it was reported that young Mr. Watson did not have a dreaded ACL tear, but instead had a “strain” or “bruise” or something like that. As it turns out, it’s pretty clear that he suffered a partial ACL tear that he finished tearing in practice a few days prior to the Ga. State game. That’s right, in practice. Instead of resting his injured star, the player he promised mama that he was going to protect, he put him out on the practice field with a partially torn ACL to see what he could do. Well, what he did was finish tearing that sucker.
Now, faced the choice of playing Stoudt or a supremely talented but injured Watson, what did Dabo decide to do? Play Watson of course. Why you ask? Because Dabo wanted and needed to win. The fan base would not have put up with a sixth straight loss, which would have been on the table with Stoudt at QB (Stoudt proved Dabo right in his limited playing time in the game, after an obviously injured Watson limped off the field when he wasn’t even touched).
What about the welfare of Watson you ask? Well, what about it. The party line out of Clemson will be that it was Watson’s choice and that he couldn’t hurt it any worse at that point.
Of course an 18-year-old kid is going to want to play. You can’t give the kid that choice. If he has any competitive drive at all he’s going to choose to play in his rivalry game every time. Coaches, the “adults” in the room, are supposed to intervene and make such decisions for the not fully-formed athletes in their charge. Today lots of doctors and former players (including Emmitt Smith, arguably one of the three or four best running backs in the history of the NFL), have come forward to say that Watson should not have played, that playing risked further injury and problems with the knee down the road. Dabo and his folks surely knew this. Just like he knew that bringing Tajh Boyd back for his Senior year risked his draft placement.
Winning trumps everything. In this case, winning trumps the well-being and future of a talented young man.
Am I singling out Dabo? No, I’m just pointing out that Dabo is just like most other coaches. They do whatever it takes to win. Damn the consequences.