Dabo Swinney's First Season at Clemson: 2009 Grades

Clint BryantCorrespondent IIDecember 29, 2009

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 28:  Head Coach Dabo Swinney waits with members of the Clemson Tigers  prior to the start of the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 28, 2009 in Columbia, South  Carolina.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

After taking over for Tommy Bowden last year at Clemson, many thought Dabo Swinney was in over his head.  After all, most head coaches come from the offensive or defensive coordinator ranks or work their way up from lower level schools.  

However, when the Clemson faithful chanted "Dabo... Dabo..." on a rainy November day that saw his Tigers dominate their rival USC Gamecocks 31-14 ('08), athletic director Terry Don Phillips knew they had their man.

Swinney and Clemson started out well enough.  The first three games saw the Tigers win predictably over Middle Tennessee State, fall in a close game to Georgia Tech, and dominate defensively over Boston College.  While the offense would stall in the red zone, the defense was taking up the slack. 

Then highly ranked TCU came to town.  While ranked higher, many expected Clemson to expose TCU for a weaker team.  This did not happen.  In heavy rain, TCU came away with a 14-10 victory, leaving Swinney at 2-2 in his first season.  

Things got progressively worse when Maryland overcame an early hole to top Clemson 24-21.  At 2-3, the Clemson faithful began to question if they were any better off than 3-3 the year before with Bowden.  It was at this moment, Swinney showed why they gave him the job. 

During the bye week, Swinney and offensive coordinator Billy Napier showed the passion they had for the team in heated exchanges that fired up the Tigers.  The team blew through the next six opponents including highly ranked Miami in an overtime thriller. 

Despite fading against South Carolina and falling short in the ACC title game, Clemson took a long awaited step forward by winning the Atlantic Division, something never accomplished since the re-alignment of 2005.  The Tigers also snapped a three-game skid in bowls by defeating Kentucky in the 2009 Music City Bowl. 

While things could have been better, Dabo has to be pleased with a nine win, bowl-winning season.  However, he cannot be happy there.  The fans of Clemson, having tasted success in the 1980's will be looking for another step forward, and they are all hoping Dabo Swinney is the man to take them there.



Offense : B-

Improved down the stretch but relied heavily on two players—RB CJ Spiller and TE Michael Palmer.  Both are gone next season along with WR Jacoby Ford.  RB Jamie Harper and RB Andre Ellington look to fill the ground void while the 2010 WR picture is still fuzzy.  QB Kyle Parker showed great progress this year but may go to the MLB. Red-shirt freshman QB Tajh Boyd will be waiting if this happens.


Defense : B+

The defense started strong but showed weakness to running quarterbacks as the season progressed.  The unit loses a few key players but Da'Quan Bowers still has two more years, and Kevin Steele looks to solidify Clemson as a defensive force.


Special Teams :  B+

C.J. Spiller.  Enough said.  Spiller broke the NCAA career kickoff return touchdown record this year as well as returning one punt for a touchdown.  There were no major errors with the kickoff and punting teams except in the first Georgia Tech game when a bad punt resulted in a Georgia Tech touchdown.   Place kicking was very inconsistent with several missed field goals and extra points, but K Richard Jackson seem to stabilize toward the end of the year.


Overall Grade :  B


Goals for 2010 :

10+ win season

Defeat South Carolina (Rival)

Win ACC Title

Win BCS Bowl Game