Dabo Swinney: My locker room is my transfer portal

Clemson coach, beholden to his own personal ethos, trying to get fired

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Dabo Swinney’s reaction to the proliferation of the use of the transfer portal doesn’t seem optimal.
Dabo Swinney’s reaction to the proliferation of the use of the transfer portal doesn’t seem optimal.
Image: Getty Images

Spring game season is upon us, and the college football programs that didn’t hold their annual glorified practices last weekend are scheduled to put them on this Saturday. It’s a nice way to catch a nap, check in on a quarterback battle, or get a sneak peek at any coaching changes.

Most of the broadcasts feature ex-players and young sideline reporters lobbing softballs at the coaching staff, so it’s tailor-made more for feature stories than those of the hard news variety. That wasn’t the case last week at Clemson, where coach Dabo Swinney dialed up ESPN to opine on the current state of college football, saying it needs a “complete blowup.”

The guy who said he’s against anything that “devalues education” (as opposed to valuing a free workforce) also said his “transfer portal is right there in that locker room.” He went on to say that adding talent through the portal sends the wrong message to the kids he recruited and that he’s not doing his job if he has to add transfers for any reason other than to fill a gap in the roster.


The reaction from fans and media was a predictable mix of perplexity and “this fucking guy.” Clemson, a program that competed with and actually prevailed over Alabama in recent years, won 10 games last year, as well. However, they were in the bottom half of the country in points per game, didn’t win their conference (or division), and DJ Uiagalelei, the heir to Trevor Lawerence, looks more like a starting QB at a university to be transferred to later than a guy who will retain his role over freshman Cade Klubnik.

As previously mentioned before, these spring games are essentially to boost PR and impress recruits. The rules and play calling are largely skewed to highlight talent, so if a guy has a performance worthy of a headline like, “Takeaways from Clemson spring game: D.J. Uiagalelei same shaky starter” — it’s cause for concern if his underwhelming play last year wasn’t already.

Klubnik was a five-star recruit and very well could be the next Tiger under center to lead the team to the playoff and possibly a national title. He threw the spring game-winning touchdown, and that was only possible because Uiagalelei threw a fourth-quarter pick to provide him the opportunity.

So maybe this year, if the Tigers aren’t on schedule to upend reigning ACC champion Pitt, Swinney will make the move to a 19-year-old kid who has yet to play a down of college football. Ideally, that decision is made before Clemson loses enough games to knock them out of not only the College Football Playoff but also the conference title game.


Or… they could’ve addressed the glaring weak spot on their extremely talented roster with one of the many, very capable and very experienced quarterbacks who utilized the transfer portal after last season. Fellow Deadspin co-worker Carron Phillips wrote about the portal’s effect on the college basketball landscape and how the path to a title is laden with transfers. That same ideology was already a part of college football, and it’s only expanding as movement has eased.

It’s beyond insane that Swinney is seemingly ignoring instances like Lincoln Riley winning a Heisman with Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield or taking Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts and turning him into a second round pick. Both happened before the portal became a thing, and it’s not like Russell Wilson wasn’t a standout graduate transfer at Wisconsin over a decade ago.


Eschewing the transfer portal because you don’t like the rule is like a National League baseball team choosing to send their pitcher up to the plate even though the DH is now legal. “Hustling backward” is the phrase that comes to mind, and it’s something coaches in any sport won’t do.

Crimson Tide coach and inspiration for Skynet Nick Saban has already adapted to the new technology and is using it to create T-1000s. If college football restructures like Swinney predicts it will, with “40 or 50 teams and a commissioner and here are the rules,” the transfer portal will damn sure be one of those carryover rules.


I remember reading one of those kids sports books that doubles as a vessel for morals in fifth grade, and the premise of it was this talented basketball player couldn’t take the next step because he refused to use pump fakes because he hated lying and viewed a pump fake as a lie. Even as a 10-year-old child, I remember reading that and thinking it was one of the dumbest thought processes I’ve ever read. It’s probably why the author was stuck writing throw-away children’s books instead of the next great American novel.

If Swinney wants to forgo an advantage that’s been within the rules of the game because his Swinney Sense is going off, he’s going to end up coaching fifth grade football because it’s the only pure form of football left. Well, that and because Clemson will have fired him long ago.