Clemson’s Dabo Swinney: New perspective for Tigers’ camp

Ken Ruinard/USA TODAY NETWORK
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has taught a lot of lessons the past seven seasons. Along the way, some guidance got lost amid all that winning.

“There are certain things you can’t teach on the mountaintop,” Swinney said as the Tigers opened fall camp.

His team, Swinney believes, carries a new, healthier perspective after what it went through in 2021. A year ago, the Tigers were runaway favorites to win a seventh straight Atlantic Coast Conference crown and gain a seventh consecutive berth in the College Football Playoff.

Instead, Clemson opened 4-3, including losses to eventual national champion Georgia and ACC winner Pittsburgh.

The Tigers, in Swinney’s own words, were not very good, but he told them they’d be judged on how they got back up with most of the season left to play.

Clemson finished with six straight wins – the longest current streak among Power Five programs – and have carried more than momentum throughout this offseason.

“They’ve gained a reset on the appreciation of winning,” Swinney said. “Sometimes, you can win so much you can lose respect for what it takes.”

Any disrespect for the process came along with a rash of injuries, the likes of which the program hadn’t experienced in several years. Starting tailback Will Shipley missed three games with a foot injury while defensive tackle Bryan Bresee – like Shipley a five-star recruit – was lost for the final nine games after tearing an ACL in a loss at North Carolina State.

Both were held out of spring drills, but were back on the field and eager to provide a punch they couldn’t fully deliver last season.

Bresee was turned loose earlier this summer and was thrilled to once more work with his teammates.

“I think this offseason, we’ve been a lot closer as a team,” Bresee said. “That’s been a big deal for us.”

Shipley said having momentum from their finish last year has been a big lift for the Tigers.

“We’ve definitely got it in the back of our minds,” he said. “We’re ready to run out there Sept. 5” at Georgia Tech to open the season.

Starting quarterback DJ Uiagalelei went through growing pains, too. Considered a can’t-miss successor to national championship winner and top overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence, Uiagalelei struggled with his footwork and accuracy.

Uiagalelei completed less than 56% of his throws for 2,246 yards, nine touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He heard grumbling from fans who wanted him to transfer.

Instead of getting frustrated, Uiagalelei got to work on his body and habits. He cut out most junk food and reported this week 20 pounds lighter than his listed 250 pounds from a year ago.

“Shoot, he lost 20, 25 pounds,” Shipley said. “His dedication has never been in question. … I can’t wait to see him prosper.”

Uiagalelei has worked hard studying video and refining his technique in hopes of leading Clemson into championship contention, offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter said.

“Really proud of where (Uiagalelei) is, battling through some of the stuff he went through last year and just overcoming that,” said Streeter, also the quarterbacks coach. “That’s part of life, and he’s learning those lessons and he’s doing a great job right now.”

The slimmed-down Uiagalelei went through warm-up drills before leading the Clemson starters down the field in an up-tempo attack. His throws were sharp and on target.

Swinney said Uiagalelei will bring a healthier attitude to the field this season, too, just like his teammates.

“They’ve got a good buzz,” Swinney said. “I love their mentality, their mindset. I think it will serve them well.”

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.