Soon, Pitt will play in Memorial Stadium, home to one of the best traditions in college football (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
With Pitt's impending move to the ACC, we've got a whole new cast of characters to work with for a while. At least until conference realignment happens again. Last time, we got to reunite with our former mates up at Boston College. Now we're taking a trip down south to Clemson, where the guys over at Shakin the Southland, SB Nation's Clemson blog, took the time to talk about the Tigers. Much thanks to them and to Peter, who answered my questions.
Cardiac Hill: In case you were wondering, I, and probably every other Pitt fan, was hoping that it was you guys who scored 70 points in the Orange Bowl. Unfortunately, that didn't work out so well. But football is obviously a very big deal to Clemson fans. You guys won your first ACC title since expansion this past season and you're normally fairly competitive in the Atlantic Division. What has made Clemson into such a competitive program?
I think it's fair to characterize Clemson as sort of a sleeping giant in the college football landscape. Clemson has always had the resources. They have the biggest stadium in the conference, one of the best sets of facilities, and outside of Miami and Florida State have more talent on paper than any other ACC school. Up until last season, these resources and talent have largely gone to waste over the last two decades and the program has never been able to get over the hump and win a conference title.
Clemson fans are also finally getting what they want in terms of the athletic department completely committing itself to football. Going into the 2012 season, Clemson will boast the #1 and #3 highest paid coordinators in college football in Chad Morris and Brent Venables. An ACC title will continue to be the goal of the fan base every year, as well as beating our rivals in Columbia, something this staff has failed to do each of the last three years.
More of this after the jump:
CH: Clemson is also pretty decent at basketball last I checked. When Oliver Purnell was there, you guys were competitive and made several NCAA tournaments. You went last season with new head coach Brad Brownell. But Clemson is struggling this season. Do you think Clemson will stay like this or is this season a fluke and we should expect the Tigers in the NCAA tournament next season?
Despite our AD backdooring his way into hiring Brad Brownell (Rick Stansbury backed out at the last minute), most rational Clemson fans are overall very satisfied with what Brownell has been able to accomplish thus far. Oliver Purnell didn't exactly leave this program with a ton of talent on the roster. In addition to this, Brownell runs a completely different system than Purnell ran during his time at Clemson in which he focused more on recruiting athletes than fundamentally sound basketball players.
Sitting at 5-7 in the conference this year with the players Clemson is relying on to contribute is no short of a miracle in my mind. Brownell is superior to Purnell in terms of X's and O's. Brownell's toughest task is going to be able to recruit the kind of players that fit his system at a place like Clemson, which doesn't exactly have a history of tons of basketball that easily attracts top flight talent. We don't recruit as dirty as some other ACC schools do with the AAU crowd either.
CH: Baseball is huge in the ACC and Clemson is one of the reasons why. The Tigers have made the NCAA tournament often in recent history and went to the College World Series in 2010. It'll definitely be a big step up in competition for Pitt, who hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since the mid-90's. Tell us about Clemson baseball and why you guys are so successful.
Jack Leggett has been the Clemson head baseball coach for 18 years. During that span, the Tigers have had 17 NCAA tournament appearances and six College World Series appearances. There really is just a ton of history here, even before Leggett arrived on the scene. Bill Wilhelm built the program, and during his almost four decades, he amassed 1161 wins which ranks him in the top 20 in the history of the sport. Clemson has however been overshadowed by their Gamecock rivals the last two years, who have won back to back National Championships, something the Tigers are still trying to finally win. Getting back to Omaha is the goal this year but a Regional or Super Regional is more likely at this point. I guess our problem would be that we get killed by the MLB Draft in recruiting and don't get the headliners in, but everyone can say that at the top too. Also, Clemson Univ. has made it more difficult for baseball recruits tuition-wise in the last few years. Our recruiting choices haven't panned out as well as Ray Tanner's, and many grow tiresome of his inability to win the big ones, along with his recruiting philosophies. STS doesn't count itself as a Jack Leggett supporter any longer.
CH: Unlike the former Big East schools, many Pitt fans have probably never been to Clemson, South Carolina. When we come down south to see Pitt play the Tigers, where are some places we have to go to?
Although I'm certainly biased, gameday in Clemson, South Carolina is as good as it gets in the conference. Clemson fans for the most part are a very welcoming and passionate group. You won't have a problem walking up to any tailgate and grabbing a beer or getting some food. The Esso Club (where Brent Musberger is an honorary member) is a must stop if you make it to Clemson and is always packed on gamedays. Walking through downtown, visiting Tillman Hall, and seeing the floats on Homecoming weekend are all musts as well.
Our campus is more secluded than most, so the places the students visit are more like holes-in-the-wall, but TD's and TigerTown Tavern are popular spots downtown.
CH: One of the more well-known traditions in college football is when Clemson runs onto the field. I've seen it on TV, but I'm anxious to see it live in person. What are some other traditions that Clemson has that you think we should know about?
Most of the most intriguing traditions happen around or during Gameday. Hearing the Clemson Band and fans belt out Tiger Rag as the players rub Howard's Rock and run down the field is one of the more surreal experiences a college football fan can experience. Coach Howard was given a rock from Death Valley, CA by a booster, and used it as a doorstop originally, but he told an assistant to throw it out one day. That assistant put it on a pedestal in 1966, and Howard came up with his iconic saying, "If you're going to give me 110%, you can rub my rock, if you ain't going to give 110%, keep your filthy hands off my rock." The Tigers scored a victory against Virginia (who Howard always called "The White Meat" of the schedule) and the tradition remained.
Tigerama, which takes place on Homecoming weekend is one of the country's biggest student run pep rallies. Tailgating on campus is huge, as Clemson, a small college town, becomes the third largest city in the state of South Carolina on gameday. If you are in town for the first home game of they year, the First Friday Parade is a fun way to kick off the weekend as it marks the beginning of our football season.
The tradition of the orange pants started under Danny Ford, who led us to the 1981 National Championship in them. Overall, our record is fantastic in them because Ford would only let the team wear them if he felt they had earned the right. Clemson is meant only to wear them for special or otherwise big-time games. but the last two coaches have diluted the tradition, particularly Tom Bowden. The tradition of all white on the road has been similarly diluted.
CH: Recently, there was some talk of Clemson and Florida State possibly heading to the Big 12. What is your reaction to that that and do you think Clemson will ever leave the ACC for a conference other than the SEC?
I think a good chunk of the fan base would have a mixed reaction to Clemson leaving for the Big 12. Certainly, the Big 12 has its share of football powerhouses in Texas and Oklahoma, but some of the potentially long trips to places like Kansas and Iowa State isn't exactly appealing to the fan base. In many respects it could come down to money. Clemson faces a financial battle with state rival South Carolina who is reaping the benefits of being in the powerhouse SEC. If financially the Big 12 move makes sense, then I could see Clemson making the move but at this point there is too much speculation.
We wouldn't want to trade our hatred of UNC and Duke for similar hatred of Texas. Now that you're in the ACC, you'll soon see why: this conference caters to the bluebloods and steps on the rest of us. It's not a coincidence that John Swofford is a UNC alum and former UNC AD.
Ed. note: So we're essentially trading Providence for North Carolina and Duke? I can totally live with that.
CH: Do you ultimately feel that Pitt and Syracuse will be good additions for the ACC? If you had to guess, will the ACC expand to 16 and if so, who are your ideal candidates?
From a football perspective, I like the move of adding Pitt more than I do Syracuse. Pitt has had more success on the football field than Syracuse, a program that has only two winning records since 2001. I also think a potential roadtrip to a big city like Pittsburgh is a lot more appealing to Clemson fans than heading to upstate New York to play Syracuse.
Clemson will always be a football school and basketball will always come second. So from the Clemson fan base standpoint, we would prefer if the conference adds programs that are strong in football. I think Pitt brings both a strong football and obviously basketball program to the conference. As a basketball conference, the conference will no doubt be much stronger with the additions of Syracuse and Pitt.
In terms of expanding to 16, I would prefer that if the ACC does decide to do that, they try and go after a school like Notre Dame, a school with a rich football tradition that would bring a ton of good exposure and relevance to the conference. For now though, I like the addition of Pitt. I think they will be welcomed addition to the ACC.
Thanks again to Peter and the guys over at Shakin the Southland. We certainly can't wait to get to the ACC and start playing the Tigers.