The Courage to Change

It was a brutal and painful loss for the Tigers last Wednesday evening in the final seconds of the second round of the ACC Tournament.

Sure, they played Virginia Tech near perfectly and came close to pulling off a victory. Unfortunately for the Clemson Men’s Basketball program, close doesn’t count. Only in horseshoes and hand grenades.

There’s little comfort to be found in losing even to the most unlikely but eventual ACC Champions. Moral victories are hollow and harmful. To claim such things and take small comfort in them enables and rationalizes mediocrity.

Virginia Tech is an interesting study in what can happen when a university and athletics department leadership has the courage to open itself up to change.

Three years ago, facing the task of replacing their highly successful coach, Buzz Williams, they looked in every direction, even downward and found a coach, at of all places, Wofford. A SoCon school a mere hour’s drive down I-85 from Clemson. Interesting to say the least.

A relative unknown, coaching at a smaller program, doing things the right way, Mike Young was a “peach” waiting to be picked by someone brave enough, insightful enough, to give him a chance.

Virginia Tech’s Athletic Director, Whit Babcock, was that man. It was a fateful, fortuitous moment for the Hokies program. One that some amongst the Clemson faithful are quick to minimize, and even dismiss the Hokie’s success. Saturday night’s shocking upset of Duke in the ACC Championship game was an eye-opener for those willing to look.

To think, Mike Young has done something in three seasons that Brad Brownell has failed to even come close to accomplishing in twelve seasons. Win an ACC Championship. Or even make a deep run in the tournery, for that matter. In a world filled with fake news, painfully for the Tigers, these are hard, cold, undisputable facts.

I have a sneaking suspicion that those that ignore, diminish or belittle what Virginia Tech has accomplished might unwittingly and unintentionally be the greatest impediment to the ultimate success of the Clemson basketball program.

Here’s a few of the usual, yearly postseason comments.

“Why go out and find an up and comer because they’re just going to be poached by a bigger named program?” Just look at Dabo Swinney, he was and remains extremely grateful for the opportunity Clemson afforded him. There’s someone out there waiting for such an opportunity.

Or this jewel. “No one wants to come to Clemson, we’re a football school in a basketball conference.” Or “Clemson will never win at a high level because the support just isn’t there.”

If fans are honest with themselves, they know they’ve either heard this, said this or thought this, I certainly have. I’d imagine 75% of the Tiger fanbase has, but why? Because it’s easy, the path of least resistance and of least interest to rationalize the program’s lack of consistent success.

I understand there is little chance a head coaching change will occur this year. The stated reasons, “the buyout is too large”, “it’ll kill recruiting,” “we’ll lose players to the Portal” are always floated this time of year, all valid, all realistic possibilities but to be a winner, you’ve got to think like a winner. One must have the courage to change, no matter the consequences. That, I believe is at the root of the basketball conundrum at Clemson.

I believe to a lesser degree, there is concern by some that the school cannot afford to put any more funding into the basketball program because we need to spend those precious dollars on that which matters most, football. I get it but soundly disagree. The basketball revenues, being in the ACC are fairly significant. Spend some of that revenue to revamp this stale program, these young men deserve it. The fanbase deserves it.

Sure, these words are controversial, it won’t be liked by some but at this time, after this season, it’s fair to ask, “if Virginia Tech, why not Clemson?”

It’s a simple but no less difficult question to answer, but that’s no reason not to ask it. Clemson basketball deserves the best this university can afford. Clemson basketball is more than just a meaningless, benign, Segway between football and baseball seasons. It could be so much more than it is currently.

Somewhere, there is an eager, young coach, just waiting for that chance, that call. The question is, will the leadership have the interest and/or the courage to make such a call. In the heart of many of the Tiger faithful, it’s long overdue.

In closing, here’s a little mental exercise. For a moment, think and remember Tommy Bowden. Great man, mediocre coach. Then, think Dabo Swinney. Great man, exceptional coach. Yes, you see it but more importantly you know it. Anyone interested knows that change can be a very good thing. All it takes is the courage to fix the seemingly impossible.

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