After bringing in the nation's second-ranked recruiting class last year, the Clemson Tigers seemed poised to land another top-five class this year. They recruited well through spring and summer and had a class that was sitting just outside the top five heading into the season. But after a season-opening loss to Alabama on a national stage, things started to go south. A poor start led to the dismissal of coach Tommy Bowden, and Clemson's hot streak on the recruiting trail went cold.
Within hours of Bowden's leaving, key recruits such as Craig Loston (Aldine, Texas / Eisenhower) and Devonte Holloman (Rock Hill, S.C. / South Pointe) -- the top two safeties in the country -- decommitted, and others soon followed their lead. Dabo Swinney took over the reins, but with an interim tag, there was little he could do to stop the class from falling apart. But now that Clemson has decided to name Swinney the head coach, rewarding him with a five-year deal Monday, he can at least try to salvage what was once a top-10 class.
There are still two months left until national signing day, so there is still plenty of time to recruit and rebuild this class. Swinney will be able to hit the ground running as he has a slight advantage many new head coaches do not in that there is no adjustment period. He doesn't need time to familiarize himself with the current class or recruiting options because he has been a part of the recruiting process all along and is well aware of what prospects have committed to Clemson, which players it's working on and who could be available. In addition, he can start to sell recruits on the fact that he isn't going anywhere. Although he and the staff worked hard during his interim stint, there is only so much you can sell a recruit on when you can't promise you will be there next season. This is now Swinney's program, and he can confidently look recruits, parents and high school coaches in the eye and tell them how things are and how they will be if that prospect joins his team at Clemson.
And the Tigers do have some good building blocks to work with in this class still. Clemson has three ESPNU 150 prospects, including two Under Armour All-Americans, and of its eight commits, seven rank among the top 25 at their respective positions. Swinney also got good news as offensive tackle J.K. Jay (Greenville, S.C. / Christ Church) will be standing by his commitment to Clemson despite having entertained interest in Georgia and other top programs.
The bad news for Clemson is that it looks highly unlikely that it will be able to regain many, if any, of the losses suffered after Bowden left. Although that is an unfortunate break that often results from having a coach leave, the Tigers finally can focus on positives. There should be little, if any, change to the staff, and that should allow Clemson to make up for some lost time quickly. Recruiting relationships with coaches and prospects already have been formed, and keeping recruiting coordinator Billy Napier, in particular, on board also should allow Clemson to regain stride quickly.
Also, Swinney seems to bring a different energy level than Bowden had. The new coach displays a fiery demeanor, and that might be enough of a change to put a new spin on the program and sell recruits on his being able to get that program over the hump. It will be a bit of an adjustment as the former assistant head coach will find it different calling the shots from the main chair for the first time. He not only needs to generate interest in recruits but also must become the closer. He lacks big-name recognition, and that could play against him. He will be recruiting against programs in the Southeast headed by powerful names, such as Steve Spurrier at in-state rival South Carolina. Only time will tell whether Swinney can successfully make the transition and overcome some of the hurdles in front of him as a new head coach on the recruiting trail, but he played a key role in Clemson's recruiting success as an assistant, and that should carry over to his role as head coach.
Nothing is a given in football nor in recruiting, but this looks to be a positive move for Clemson. The key thing is that little time has been wasted since the end of the season. Naturally, it would have been better if Swinney had shed the interim tag earlier, but Clemson could have let this linger, also, trying to find a replacement only to possibly land back with Swinney, anyway, and that would have been disastrous for this recruiting class. The bar has been set because Clemson recruited well under Bowden, but this is now Swinney's ship, and we will find out whether he can maintain the Tigers' recruiting prowess and possibly even improve it. The major obstacle has been cleared from his path, and we will find out soon what Clemson's new head coach can do.