Clemson Football: The Memory of Championships Brings Expectations
The year was 1981.
The Clemson Tigers, led by coach Danny Ford, had just finished a 6-5 season in 1980 and would start the '81 season unranked. After winning the first two games of the season, Clemson hosted the No. 4 Georgia Bulldogs in Death Valley.
The rest is history.
After holding Georgia to only three points, the Tigers went on to win every game including wins over South Carolina, No. 9 North Carolina and No. 4 Nebraska.
Clemson had won the National Championship of college football. The Tiger fan base was hooked.
Ford led Clemson to four more ACC Titles in the '80s and amassed a 96-29 record, finishing the '80s with three consecutive 10-win seasons.
However, there were problems. Recruiting violations put a damper on Ford's success and when 1990 came along, Ford resigned.
Clemson football has never been the same.
The team was still full of Ford's players and went on to win the 1991 ACC Championship. However it would be the last for the once dominant team of the ACC.
How will Clemson finish the season?
Hatfield would have little more success and would leave in 1993. Tommy West came with mixed results but his tenure ended with a disastrous 1998 season that left Clemson, former national champions, 3-8.
The fan base was restless. The '80s had brought the taste of success and it had been seven years since the program had won the last of it's 13 ACC Championships.
The school looked to a familiar name who had found success at a smaller school to lead the program back to relevance. In 1999, Tommy Bowden was hired to coach the Tigers.
While he had a good resume, many of the Clemson faithful never fully accepted Bowden.
Despite this, things seemed to be going well in 2000, when Clemson had its best start in years, going 8-0 and being ranked fifth. Was Clemson back?
Clemson went on to lose three of their last four games, including a blowout loss to Florida State.
This was a pattern Clemson fans quickly grew tired of.
While Bowden's teams were an improvement from the '90s, they still could not get back to the level that Clemson fans desired. Every few years, Bowden and the Tigers were just "one play away" from clinching the ACC title only to let it fall through their fingers.
In 2008, Clemson had one of the top recruiting classes in the nation and started the season ranked ninth, everyone's pick to dominate the ACC. After being blown out by Alabama on national television and starting the season 3-3, Bowden resigned.
Nineteen years and three coaches later, Clemson was still searching for the magic it found in the '80s.
The search began for the new coach of the Tigers, but many wondered if Clemson had the funding to find that big name coach that many hoped for. Bowden had just been given an extension for $3.5 million in 2007.
The wide receivers coach under Bowden, Dabo Swinney, was named interim coach while the search was on.
Swinney took Clemson to a 4-3 record during the remainder of the 2008 season including a 31-14 win over rival South Carolina which ended with the fans of Clemson chanting, "Dabo." He was young, he was from Alabama, he loved Clemson and he was excited.
Was he the next Danny Ford?
Dabo Swinney was promoted from position coach to head coach and was given the position full time in 2009.
Swinney's first full season started slow. But after going 2-3, the Tigers rebounded behind the play of Heisman candidate CJ Spiller to win the teams first ACC Atlantic Division title.*
However, the team failed to win the ACC and also suffered its worst defeat from rival South Carolina in many years.
2010 started with many questions. Would quarterback Kyle Parker return? Who would replace CJ Spiller? Can Clemson get back to the ACC Championship game?
So far in 2010, it feels like much of the same.
After wins over lesser opponents to go 2-0, Clemson dropped three close games against Auburn, Miami and North Carolina to fall to 2-3.
A 2-3 record...two years in a row.
Again, the Clemson fan base is restless. Dabo and Co. may recover again in 2010, but they may not. Either way, Clemson is still waiting for it's return to greatness.
Some already want to cut ties with Dabo and bring in a more experienced coach.
Some point out that even Danny Ford's first two seasons went 8-4 and 6-5.
Can Dabo Swinney take Clemson to the next level?
Will the fans have any more patience after 20 years of mediocrity?
It is doubtful that the Clemson faithful will give Swinney nine years as they did Bowden. Clemson is tired of losing. Clemson wants results. Clemson wants 10-plus win seasons. Clemson wants ACC Championships. Clemson wants, no, must beat South Carolina.
Clemson wants to matter.
It's all yours Dabo.... bring the trophy home.
* - The ACC split into two divisions in 2005.
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