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Tough Love: Swinney hopes B.T. Potter will grow up after 'kick in the butt'

October 17, 2019
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Dabo Swinney knows just exactly when he needs to build his players up or when they need a good kick in the rear.

Both ends of the spectrum can be extreme and when you’re a player, you hope to live with the good and never have to face the bad.

One of the most significant storylines from last week’s 45-14 blowout against Florida State came when Swinney blew up on starting kicker B.T. Potter. The sophomore had just missed a 24-yard field goal attempt before halftime after Swinney pulled his offense down the field on fourth-and-2.

After the miss, Swinney was displeased with the lack of focus from Potter not being ready for the moment. And he let him know about it as the head coach followed Potter down the sidelines before heading to the locker room.

That moment of frustration almost summed up Swinney’s prior two weeks that followed the Tigers barely escaping Chapel Hill. We wrote following the game that there seemed like a new edge to everyone on Clemson’s team as they took the field.

Well, everyone except Potter. So Swinney immediately made a change and brought in fifth-year senior Steven Sawicki to kick field goals for the rest of the game.

“That’s part of coaching, knowing when to love them and knowing when to chew them,” Swinney said Tuesday. “That’s part of coaching. They all need it. They all need both. And they all get both here.”

Swinney said after the game that Potter would still be the kickoff specialist because he is far and away the best guy and has the strongest leg, but Sawicki will take over on short field goals after Potter missed his previous two “layups.”

The moment caught a bit of scrutiny from observers who looked on as the head man chewed out Potter on national television. Some wondered if the psyche of Potter could have been affected long-term, including former South Carolina kicker Elliott Fry who tweeted, “really bold move to try and ruin your young kicker’s confidence in a cupcake game…”

Potter was not the only player who had to face the wrath of Dabo Swinney since the North Carolina game. That situation was merely the only one that was broadcasted.

We imagine Swinney gave his coaching staff an earful when he walked into meetings that following week, telling offensive coordinator Tony Elliott that it was time for Clemson to be the aggressor. He told Elliott and the offense that they were going to come out of the gates firing with two plays and no matter what the results of those plays were, they were going to show that they were on the attack.

And then there was Travis Etienne, who had a previous rough couple of weeks with a 61-yard performance against Charlotte and 67-yard game at North Carolina. Swinney described the games and the weeks at practice that followed as doses of Robitussin and NyQuil - tough to swallow.

But Etienne responded after he was challenged and finished with 127 yards on the ground on 17 carries, his highest output on the ground since opening night.

“That’s part of coaching, knowing when to love them and knowing when to chew them,” Swinney said Tuesday. “That’s part of coaching. They all need it. They all need both. And they all get both here.

“Ask Deshaun Watson if coach Swinney ever chewed his butt. Ask Travis Etienne if coach Swinney ever chewed his butt. They all get it. But a lot just depends on who they are.”

No one is above a Dabo Swinney chewing. He mentioned there are certain players he never gets to yell at that often.

Swinney mentioned Trevor Lawrence was one of them, but he relished the opportunity to get to lay into him during fall camp. He also gave his starting quarterback some grief after a bad interception against Florida State on Saturday saying, “you’re not at Cartersville (High School) anymore.”

Even Christian Wilkins got torched after striking the Heisman pose after scoring a rushing touchdown against South Carolina in 2018.

And everyone remembers when Swinney got after punter Andy Teasdall as badly as ever in the 2015 ACC Championship game after a fake punt attempt went horribly wrong and led to a North Carolina score.

But not everyone talks about the very next game when Clemson played Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff and Swinney gave Teasdall a chance for redemption. An actual fake punt where Teasdall passed to a wide-open Christian Wilkins down the sidelines to set up a touchdown and turn all momentum.

Swinney was the first ones to greet Teasdall on the sideline with a chest bump.

That’s the relationship that Swinney has with his players in a nutshell. He knows when to pat them on the back and when he needs to light a fire or capture someone’s attention.

“You spend a lot of time together, and sometimes you’ve got to put your arm around them.

“I didn’t have timeout at my house. Not that there’s anything wrong with timeout. But the Swinney boys didn’t have timeout. To each his own.”
- Dabo Swinney

Sometimes you need to really kick them right in the butt,” Swinney said. “And if you raise kids you understand that. At least that’s how I was raised. That doesn’t mean I’m right. That’s just what I believe in. But I didn’t have timeout at my house. Not that there’s anything wrong with timeout. But the Swinney boys didn’t have timeout. To each his own.

“But I just think, in a world like we’re in, this is a bunch of men. It’s competitive. Iron sharpens iron, right? And if you ever watch iron sharpen iron there’s some sparks that fly.”

In Potter’s case, he now has the decision of how he wants to respond. Sawicki said Potter seems fine at practice and has gotten right back to work to try and win back his job.

For now, it’s Sawicki’s time to kick and Potter’s time to mature and learn from the past. As Swinney noted, the future is still very bright for his young kicker, regardless of what the cameras picked up on Saturday afternoon.

“He’s going to kick in the NFL,” Swinney said. “He’s probably the most talented kicker I’ve ever had, just pure talent and pure leg strength and all that stuff. 

“But he’s just got to grow up a little bit. Got to grow up and get the kind of mental toughness it takes to be special at that position.”

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Tough Love: Swinney hopes B.T. Potter will grow up after 'kick in the butt'

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