Clemson coach Dabo Swinney defends approach to transfer portal: ‘We like our guys, we like our starters’

NCAA Football

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Outside of the military academies, Clemson was the only program in the country not to take a single transfer. While many have criticized coach Dabo Swinney’s approach to the portal, the Tigers’ head man defended his program’s lack of activity in the transfer market during an interview Wednesday with Siriux XM.

.”I mean, it’s really pretty simple,” he said. “Most of the guys in the portal aren’t good enough to play for us. That’s just the reality of it.”

“It wasn’t really necessarily an intentional thing,” Swinney said. “There (are) a couple (of) guys we looked at, but they’ve got to love you too.” 

The Tigers reportedly did reach out to multiple players in the transfer portal but were ultimately unable to find a fit. Twelve players transferred from the program, including starters Beaux Collins (receiver) and Andrew Mukuba (defensive back). Conversely, 18 different FBS teams took at least 20 transfers during the 2024 offseason. 

“Honestly, every player is technically a transfer,” Swinney said Tuesday during an interview with the ACC Network. “We just signed a whole class of guys who will transfer in from high school. We like our guys, we like our starters.” 

Swinney also doubled down on the approach by pointing to Clemson’s success off the field, including graduation rate and NFL development. Only four power conference schools boasted better roster retention than Clemson. 

“Dabo Swinney bets on loyalty as a two-way street,” 247Sports national recruiting analyst Anna Adams said. “Clemson isn’t immune from departures due to outside infleunces or tampering, but the loyalty the program shows its players typically aids the program in retaining its stars.

“While culture plays a significant role, Clemson can’t get by on that alone in 2024. Dollars are surely being spent to keep players from leaving.

Long term questions

The transfer portal officially launched on Oct. 15, 2018, three months before Clemson won its second national championship under Swinney. Since its launch, Clemson has only taken two transfers, both quarterbacks. Hilariously, one was former Clemson quarterback Hunter Johnson returning to campus for a second stint. 

However, the real mark was the 2021 season, the first full year when transfers were granted one-time immediate eligibility. During that season, the Tigers lost three games for the first time since 2014 and snapped a six-year ACC title streak. Clemson won another ACC title in 2022, but dropped below 10 wins for the first time since 2010 this past season. 

“There’s much to sell with a winning program and lots of high draft picks coming off the board,” 247Sports national analyst Blake Brockermyer wrote. “I’m not worried about Clemson’s ability to sign good players, but in today’s NIL and portal world, it’s hard to survive even if you’re hitting 90% on your recruiting classes.” 

Big picture, Clemson has been a model of retention and development under Swinney. However, even his program lost 12 transfers over the offseason. The Tigers reeled in another stacked recruiting class, but only signed 22 players. With 12 transfers and 18 listed seniors on the 2023 roster, it’s unclear whether Clemson can get up to 85 scholarship players.

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