Dabo Swinney should be better than this. A disagreement over a game postponement during a global pandemic has turned into a referendum on leadership. It has also become incredibly petty.
In the three days following Saturday's last-minute postponement of the Clemson-Florida State game, the Tigers coach said the Seminoles administration had effectively "forfeited" the game. He doubled down Monday night on his radio show. Florida State choosing not to play after it was revealed a Clemson player had tested positive for COVID-19 was "an insult to the credibility of our program," he claimed.
Swinney's attack on FSU went into Day 3 on Tuesday during his weekly media availability. He reacted to an apparent slight by coach Mike Norvell. "Football coaches are not doctors. Some of us might think that we are," Norvell said Monday.
Swinney answered: "I'm not really worried about what they say down there in Tallahassee, that's for sure. I've been in this league 18 years, been a head coach [for] 12. They've had three head coaches in four years."
No matter what side you take in this painfully elongated story, Dabo has now gone over the line. He has injected what resembles a text message war between two 12-year-olds about football success into a medical decision made by experts during a global crisis.
Nobody needs to hear this during Thanksgiving week, during a pandemic that continues to rage, during a time of incredible uncertainty. A disagreement over Florida State's decision not to play has gotten personal, at least with Dabo.
Swinney's comments deserve a public reprimand from ACC commissioner John Swofford. Perhaps there's already been one, privately.
Swinney now has disparaged a conference rival publicly on multiple occasions. He has said, "This game was not canceled because of COVID. COVID was just an excuse to cancel the game."
What possible motivation would Florida State have not to play the game, other than player safety? It's on record that the 'Noles lost a seven-figure payday by not playing.
When it comes to Dabo, where are the adults in the room?
We want our leaders to be transparent. As journalists, we want our sources to talk. Dabo has been more than accommodating in his role. But with $8.3 million a year comes added accountability.
Words have meaning, and Swinney's latest are so out of character for him considering what he has built at Clemson.
"We talked yesterday," Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich said Tuesday. "I love Dabo, and I think he's incredibly passionate. He said, 'I've got a radio show. I'll probably get a question [about Florida State], but tomorrow it's going to be all moving forward to Pitt. Obviously, it wasn't at his [Tuesday] press conference. …
"It's hard for all of us not to answer a question. If it's being kept alive that way, then he's going to answer it. Again, he loves the truth. So you say, 'Why did he say that about three coaches in four years?' [He would say], 'Isn't it the truth?'"
Sure it is. Florida State has struggled mightily in recent years, while Clemson has been a national power.
Those football truths have nothing to do with the larger medical issues at hand. Just because Clemson doesn't like the outcome doesn't mean the process was wrong.
Swinney has repeatedly mentioned that Clemson met the "standard to play" on Saturday. A Clemson backup offensive lineman was symptomatic but continued to practice after testing negative during the week. On Friday, that player tested positive by the ACC's independent third party.
Florida State chose not to play as it has the right to do, according to the ACC's Medical Advisory Group.
Consistent with NCAA Constitution 220.127.116.11, the institution's medical staff must have unchallengeable autonomous authority to determine medical management and return-to-play decisions related to student-athletes. […]
Nothing contained herein is intended to restrict team medical staff from following any additional practices that they deem appropriate in light of the conditions existing in their respective locales, information received from their local, state and national public health officials, and/or their own medical judgment.
"There is not just one standard that relates to this," Radakovich said. "The standard is the entire medical advisory group protocol."
"It's unfortunate, and I don't think anyone is in a position to question the decision making of a medical officer in this type of situation," Swofford told ESPN. "That's where the decision lies."
So who forgot to inform Dabo? He was part of the ACC coaches' coronavirus subcommittee that set the policy in August. He also incorrectly stated that, earlier this season, Pittsburgh traveled to Florida State with a player who tested positive at the site.
"That wasn't exactly right," Radakovich said. "You know how coaches say things who heard from another coach, who heard from another coach?"
The teams went on to play the game Nov. 7.
The ACC proudly points out it has played 69 out of its 78 games. That's the most in the country, and it certainly doesn't suggest confusion on medical protocols.
An email from a Florida State assistant athletic director stated, "FSU's concern was if they had players test positive next week, how could they tell the players they've been doing everything that could keep them safe." https://andywittry.substack.com/p/florida-state-president-john-thrasher
From that same report is the conclusion that presidents from both universities agreed with the decision not to play.
Maybe the ACC needs to tighten up its protocol language if this situation ever comes up again.
"The standard is silent on whether it is one positive or 30 positives," Radakovich said.
But that would be ignoring the insidiousness of the virus that has killed 250,000 Americans. The idea of playing in 2020 was to preserve the season and keep players safe, not necessarily to count the wins and losses.
The Bible tells us to turn the other check if we are persecuted.
Dabo not only didn't turn, he's been on the attack for three days.
The coach who sells fun and faith is unfortunately making a one-day story into one that won't go away.
Dabo Swinney is better than that.