April 11, 2005
CLEMSON Through the first half of April, the two biggest developments during Clemson's spring football practice sessions didn't involve new coordinators Rob Spence (offense) and Vic Koenning (defense).
Development No. 1 was the addition of former basketball player Olu Babalola to the roster. Babalola, who has one season of eligibility available in football, talked with both hoops coach Oliver Purnell and football coach Tommy Bowden before deciding to take a one-year shot on the gridiron.
One of the favorite pastimes of Clemson basketball fans is to ask the question: How would (fill in the blank) look in a football uniform? Through the years, there have been several Clemson roundball players who would have looked good in a football uniform and may have done a better job on the football field than they did on the basketball court. Does the name Harold Jamison ring a bell?
At 6-6 and 240 pounds, the hyperactive Babalola probably will do some damage on the football field. He survived his first day in pads, but he missed the first of three full-scale scrimmages on April 2 because of a sprained ankle.
Babalola opened the spring at outside linebacker, but Bowden is anxious to try him at tight end. Obviously, Bowden has never seen Babalola handle, or try to handle, a basketball.
Is Babalola serious, or is this just a publicity stunt to take the pressure off the new coordinators? The main stories in most newspapers and on most Clemson-related websites in late March and early April were about Babalola putting on pads. He is a good thing for the new coordinators, although they will be in the fire soon enough. September is right around the corner.
Development No. 2 was the indefinite suspension of running back Duane Coleman. Bowden said the suspension was not related to academics, drugs or an arrest. The coach said the suspension was for a violation of team rules, which could be anything from being constantly late for meetings to having a dust-up with a teammate in practice.
Coleman's suspension opened the door for both Reggie Merriweather and Kyle Browning to increase their playing time at running back. Merriweather started making major strides late last season, while Browning, who has been frustrated by his lack of snaps, wants to move up the depth chart and play a bigger role.
All the while, about the only news coming out of spring camp was being provided by Bowden. He closed practices, with the exception of the three main scrimmages, to all outsiders. For the first two scrimmages, media members were allowed to attend, but no cameras were permitted.
It's interesting to note that new South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is taking the exact opposite approach. All of the Gamecocks' practices are open to the public and the media, even the scrimmages. Only time will tell what impact such decisions will have on the field, but they certainly provided another example of USC beating Clemson to the PR punch.
It probably was a good thing that cameras weren't allowed in the first Clemson scrimmage. Fighting wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour, the offense produced just 288 yards, including 77 on the ground. The defense was dominant, with 23 tackles for loss.
But Spence maintained after the first scrimmage that the Tigers were still ahead of schedule. He doesn't believe in slow installations, so there is bound to be some early confusion because of all the information the players have had to try to absorb.
Finally, two names that keep popping up in Bowden's post-practice press conferences are defensive end Gaines Adams and whip linebacker Tramaine Billie. Adams, the best pass rusher on the team, had five tackles and three sacks in the first scrimmage. Bowden likes Adams' ability to rush the passer and Billie's ability to make tackles in the open field.
New Uniforms Again Stir Debate
When Clemson recently unveiled its 2005 uniforms on the school's official athletic website, the immediate reaction from the rabid portion of the fan base was somewhat less than a hearty thumbs-up.
The good news is that the uniforms, made by Nike, will be made from Cordura Stretch material, which has about 70 percent of the weight and more durability than the fabrics the Tigers used in the past. A 2004 jersey and pants weighed almost 2.5 pounds. The new jersey and pants will weigh about 1.75 pounds. The uniform will have a tighter fit, but it will not restrict movement. The Cordura material also helps keep moisture away from the body.
The other good news is that the hideous purple jerseys with orange numbers have been replaced by a purple jersey with white numbers trimmed in orange.
The Tigers can mix and match from three main color schemes orange, white and purple. Even though it has been rumored from time to time, they have yet to wear a solid purple uniform in a game.
The bad news is that the jerseys don't have the traditional Clemson look around the neck and shoulder area. The tiger paw has been moved from the top of the shoulder pad to the sleeve, and each jersey color has a small line of piping across both shoulders. The pants also will have small lines of piping.
Soon after the pictures were posted, the internet message boards started blowing up about the uniforms. One poster said the uniforms were better suited for roller derby than football. Another said Coleman got suspended because he had refused to model the new uniforms. One fan, who described herself as a female, said the new uniforms were the exact reason a woman should never let a man pick what he wants to wear.
"Aside from the new materials," another fan wrote, "I don't see anything good about these."
Then, of course, there was the standard reply to the complaints: I don't care what they wear, as long as they win.
Most Clemson fans are traditionalists. For years, the Tigers wore orange jerseys and white pants at home, solid white on the road. Many long-time fans still believe the solid white style is the team's best-looking uniform.
Few fans were crazy about coach Danny Ford putting the Tigers in orange pants before the 1980 South Carolina game. But a massive upset of the Gamecocks, then the national championship in 1981, created a magical aura about the orange pants until coach Ken Hatfield messed up that tradition. Now the orange pants are just orange pants.
Clemson may be resistant to change, but it will change. When an ad agency from Greenville, S.C., first proposed the tiger paw as the Tigers' athletic logo more than 30 years ago, there was laughter in the room. Now the university has one of the most recognizable logos in college athletics.
Even the tiger paw on the helmet has changed through the years. When the paw was first used, it covered most of the helmet from just about the ear hole to just a couple of inches from the top. But through the years, the paw has shrunk.
Some might say the same thing about Clemson football in general terms. As the fans will tell you, though, every uniform looks much better in victory than in defeat.