CLEMSON — Coaches at every level are used to having their decisions questioned by fans, the alumni, boosters and the media. But every coach will tell you that he or she makes decisions which are best for the team and not to appease those various factions.
But when a member of the media comes around and admits that a coach made the correct decision, the coach is likely to feel a sense of vindication — and that was exactly what happened to Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.
It was all the way back in the fifth week of the season when he made the call to bench senior quarterback Kelly Bryant, who announced Dec. 4 that he would be transferring to the Missouri Tigers to play his final season of football, for the upstart true freshman Trevor Lawrence — a decision that proved to be controversial for some in the media.
But Sunday, when it was announced that the Tigers would be heading to the College Football Playoff for a fourth straight season after winning their fourth straight ACC Championship, ESPN college football analyst Jesse Palmer said the Tigers getting to the playoff with a true freshman at quarterback is a great story.
“I think the fact they got here with a true freshman quarterback in Trevor Lawrence, to me, is one of the greatest stories in college football since I’ve been here at ESPN for 12 years,” Palmer said. “For a guy to enroll who had a lot of accolades and to come in, compete, win the job a few games into the season, kind of manage Kelly Bryant leaving the program. But to play in 13 games at the level he did and to lead the conference in QBR, to me, is ridiculous.”
Palmer said he went through the experience himself at the University of Florida, and he knows how tough it is.
“That's why we recruited him. We knew he was a great talent coming in, but you never know until you start coaching a guy how they're going to process things, how's their transition going to be,” Swinney said. “And it was pretty clear in the spring that this guy is going to be special. But, again, you got to see it on game day. And I'm really proud of him.
“He's an amazing talent. He's a very humble young man. He's an excellent leader. He really prepares like a veteran. And I think that's given him the opportunity to be successful because he's not just talented physically, he's mentally talented. So I'm really proud of him.”
It’s not all Lawrence. He has one of the best receiving corps in college football, one of the top running backs in the history of the school and an offensive line that has kept him upright the majority of the year.
“We've got good people around him. You know? He's not had to -- it's not like he's got to do everything himself,” Swinney said. “He trusts his teammates. Our offensive line has done a great job for him. We've got great skill. And we've been able to support him with a good run game and a defense.
“So it's been a complete team effort, but Trevor has certainly done his part and gone above and beyond, being the rookie of the year and so forth. He's as good as I've ever coached, that's for sure.”
While Swinney is more than pleased with the performance of Lawrence, the quarterback is not satisfied because he want more trophies in the trophy case.
“We’ve had goals set out from the beginning of the season,” Lawrence said. “This is one thing I envisioned coming here is to win championships.
“Obviously, we want to win more than the ACC Championship, but this is part of the goals and part of the journey.”