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Mack Brown says Clemson has great players, but coaches make the difference


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Brent Venables is worth every penny he's paid.
Brent Venables is worth every penny he's paid.

Mack Brown knows that Clemson has great players but what is often overlooked is that the Tigers have great coaches.

Clemson (4-0 overall, 2-0 ACC) and UNC (2-2, 1-0) tangle at 3:30 p.m. today (ABC) at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels are overwhelming underdogs and Brown says he understands why.

“They have the best program in the country, they have the best head coach and coaches in the country, they have the most depth in the country,” Brown said this week. “I started looking at our scouting report yesterday and all the people who break them down, ‘First-round draft choice. This one, first-round draft choice. This one, first-round draft choice.’ So, they’re for real. And they’re so good. I don’t think the quarterback [Trevor Lawrence] has ever lost a game in his life, and that’s not good.

“I didn’t go back and check middle school, but I bet he won then, too, or in elementary school, whenever it was. He’s such a great player. Kelly Bryant is a really good player, but you can see why Dabo [Swinney] made the decision he made last year. This guy is the best in the business. He’s tall, he can run, he can throw, he’s a great leader. So, he’s got it all.”

According to Brown, the Clemson coaches do a good job of coaching the talent on hand.

“The other thing that people need to understand is sometimes when you’re that good and your players are that good, they don’t talk about the coaching,” he said. “These guys coach them up. They play hard each week. They’ve got a lot of depth, so they rotate people. I thought the heat affected Appalachian on Saturday and it didn’t affect us. We were in great shape. But it won’t affect Clemson because they just roll them in. One comes out, the next one comes in and looks like his brother; it’s the same looking guy. But they recruit that well. Our program is run very much like Clemson’s. Dabo and I have been dear friends for many years. I’ve watched his program closely and I’ve pulled for him.

“Woody McCorvey is an assistant athletic director in charge of football and one of my dearest friends. He does a tremendous job. These guys do it right. As I said, they’re recruiting better than anybody else in the country not, so it’s not going away soon. From our standpoint, we want to be the Clemson of the Coastal. They are the best team in the country. They are the best team in the ACC. They are dominating the ACC and all of us are trying to catch them. One of the good things this weekend for our players is when you play the best in the country, it’s a great challenge for you. And with a challenge, there’s an opportunity to see how we stand up to them. The other thing is, if you’re going to win this league, you’ve got to beat them. It sends a message to our players and our coaches about what the best team in this league looks like and what you have to do to compete to win an ACC championship.

“[Dabo Swinney]’s made them believe. We went through the same process that he’s going through. First, if you don’t win all the games at home, you’re not any good. When you win all the games but one, you can’t win the big one, they called it ‘Clemsoning’ or some stupid thing. ‘He can’t win them all. He’s just winning 12,’ which everybody in the world wanted but him. And then when you win them all, you’re a great program, but you’ve got to do it every year. So, the pressure on them is that they cannot take their foot off the gas at any time. And the rest of us are trying to get back to that. At Texas, you play the best effort from every team every week. People will come in and say, ‘Ah, North Carolina is no good. They can’t beat you.’ Dabo [Swinney] is going to say, ‘These guys played hard. They were good enough to beat Miami. They were good enough to beat South Carolina. Obviously, they’re good enough. So, we’ve got to really be ready to play.’ But he’s right. This is a week for the guys who are going to play, they get ready to play.”

On how his program is run like Clemson’s

“Dabo [Swinney] came to see me before he ever took the head job. Coach Gene Stallings is his mentor and Coach Stallings is a dear friend of mine. And Woody McCorvey and I have known each other since I was the receiver coach at Southern Miss and he was the defensive backfield coach at a high school in Pensacola and we recruited one of his players. We’ve been dear friends ever since. Woody has been a head coach, but he was the assistant coach for Coach Stallings at Alabama. Woody and Dabo brought the whole staff out to visit with us for three or four days when we were at Texas and things were going really well. Coach Stallings and I were a lot alike anyway – a lot alike in our thoughts and process. We just believe in the right things and the same things and do the same things, not that anybody else doesn’t do a lot of those same things. But Dabo and I have kind of grown up together. I spoke to his charity a couple of years ago. He was the first to text me when my name popped up in this job and he said, ‘Are you really going to do this?’ And I said, ‘I’ll do it if I can petition the NCAA to get you off our schedule. I do not want to play you.’ And he laughed, and now here we are. Obviously, the NCAA didn’t cooperate.

“Players and therefore depth and therefore morale. When you’re beating everybody, everybody gets to play. I think they’ve played 111 people or something, so everybody gets to play. All the moms are happy, all the dads are happy and nobody gets hurt because they don’t even play very long. In a lot of games, we had all of our starters out usually after the first series of the third quarter in most of our games at Texas when we were really good. And I mean everybody is happy and everybody is fresh because they don’t play that much. The one thing you’ve got to worry about is conditioning. If they don’t play enough in the games, you have to run them in practice. But that’s the biggest thing. And then when you keep winning, you’ve got happy players and you’ve got happy mommas and you’ve got happy dads and then you’ve got happy recruits because they come down to see them and everybody is happy because everybody gets to play. So, I think that’s the biggest difference in the rest of us. The rest of us are trying to find enough healthy guys to get out there every Saturday and these guys just roll them in and out.”

How the rest of the ACC can catch Clemson

“Recruiting. Period. They’ve got better players than everybody else, and I don’t want to take away from the fact that they coach them so well either. That’s the thing. When you look at Clemson, sometimes you just see great players. You see great players that are motivated and being coached. And they know what they’re doing. They’ve got a very good plan on offense. You know what it is, they know what it is. They’re going to run it up inside until you put enough in there to stop them. Then they’re going to throw to 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5 receivers that are first-round draft choices outside. Then if you stop trying to tackle one of the best backs in the country, then the 6-foot-6 quarterback that can fly just happens to keep it and run out the back for about 30 yards. On defense, Brent [Venables] coached against us at the Oklahoma and Texas game so I’ve known him for a long time. He does a tremendous job, and Clemson’s been smart. They’ve built the best facilities in the country because it was important to them. They’re paying both offensive co-coordinators a million dollars plus. They’re paying Brent I think two million or something, so they’ve made it really, really important to be good and to stay good. And you have to compliment them for that.”

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