Clemson’s Swinney excited about positive changes for Tigers

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CLEMSON, S.C. – Clemson coach Dabo Swinney won’t let all the questions about changes on the Tigers ruin his excitement to get back on the field.

“This team has a great vibe to it already,” Swinney said as Clemson continued spring drills Friday.

The perpetually positive Swinney probably has more need for it these days with his team breaking in four new assistants including first-time Clemson coordinators on defense in Wes Goodwin and offense in Brandon Streeter.

Goodwin and co-coordinator Mickey Conn take over for longtime defensive icon Brent Venables, who left to become Oklahoma’s head coach.

Streeter, the team’s quarterbacks coach, steps up after play-caller Tony Elliott took over as Virginia’s head coach.

Former Clemson standout Nick Eason, a first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference pick at defensive tackle in 2002, was hired to coach that position after Todd Bates joined Venables’ staff with the Sooners.

Longtime offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell retired to an off-field position for the Tigers with former Clemson center Thomas Austin hired to succeed Caldwell.

Kyle Richardson was named to coach tight ends, something Elliott did before heading to Virginia.

“We’ve had a great, uncommon stability here so our world was shaken with Coach V and some of those guys leaving,” Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry said.

Swinney acknowledged the changes led to a few extra sessions of “coaching the coaches” to get prepped for spring ball. The Tigers will conclude workouts with their annual Orange and White game on April 9.

All certainly seemed good as Clemson went through its second practice Friday.

Henry said it has been fun watching Goodwin step into a leadership role on a defensive group that will have questions after losing five starters among its linebackers and secondary who opened in a 20-13 win over Iowa State in the Cheez-it Bowl last December.

Goodwin is not the loud, crazed wild-man Venables showed on the sideline at times the past 10 years. But Goodwin is a smart coach who can diagnose mistakes and put players in good positions to perform at their peak, Henry said.

“He’s going all the right things in the right ways,” Henry said. “He’s going to be good for us.”

Offensive lineman Jordan McFadden said Austin, who was part of Clemson’s staff as an offensive analyst last season, has gained the trust of his players at a position where starters Hunter Rayburn had to give up football due to a neck injury and center Mason Trotter will be out most of the year with an undisclosed issue.

All Swinney would say is what Trotter is dealing with is “not a legal issue or a university issue.”

Streeter’s biggest concern on offense is getting starting quarterback DJ Uiagalelei playing like he was expected to at the start of last season. Uiagalelei has shed about 15 pounds, Swinney said, and has healed from a sprained right knee ligament sustained last November and a tendon injury on the index finger of his throwing hand.

Swinney thought Uiagalelei improved as the season went on and the Tigers, after starting 2-2, won eight of nine games for their 11th straight season of 10 wins or more.

Uiagalelei entered last season a trendy pick for the Heisman Trophy, a push that faded as he struggled early and the Tigers faded from the ACC and College Football Playoff race.

Swinney said national championship quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence made their share of errors, bad reads and poor throws, too. “DJ’s mistakes were magnified,” Swinney said. “We weren’t near as good around him as we were around those other two dudes.”

Uiagalelei said he’s improved his technique and his diet to help the Tigers reach their championship goals. He called last season one of the most challenging of his career. “But it’s a blessing in disguise,” he said.

Despite its strong finish, McFadden said players were disappointed at ending a six-year run of ACC titles and CFP appearances. He believes the team is ready to start a new streak this season.

“We want to give ourselves a chance to win those big games,” he said. “Since we didn’t last year, it was a different feeling, a feeling I didn’t like.”

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.