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August 14, 2008
Tennessee turns to new OC Clawson for help
» More from Dienhart: McNabb's voice will be heard at Syracuse | Buckeyes stand out in Big Ten race
He was on a "Tennessee Big Orange Caravan" in the offseason, meeting fans and talking Vols football with the school's rabid fan base across the state.
"One fan would come up to me and ask, 'You aren't one of those coaches who calls a run on third-and-3, are you?' " he says. "The next fan would come up and ask, 'You aren't one of those coaches who calls a pass on third-and-3, are you?'
"I have gotten more play-calling advice in the last few months than I ever have in my career."
Welcome to Tennessee football, Coach Clawson.
Expectations and excitement always run rampant among Vols fans. Clawson embraces all of it and then some. He's here to help take the Vols to another level. Tennessee hasn't won the SEC since 1998, when Phillip Fulmer led the school to the national championship. Since then, Alabama, Florida, LSU, Georgia and Auburn have won SEC crowns. Tennessee still is waiting, though the Vols have played in the league championship game three times (2001, '04, '07) since 1998.
This year, the nation is fawning over Georgia and Florida, the picks to win the SEC East – and possibly the national title. And South Carolina is getting more love in some circles than Tennessee. In the SEC West, LSU and Auburn look poised for bigger seasons than the Vols.
To Vols fans, this has to stop. It's not that Tennessee is broken, though the school's 5-6 mark in 2005 – the school's first losing season since 1988 – left many fans grumbling about the direction Fulmer had the program directed. It's just a matter of tweaking things, especially on offense. And Clawson, the former coach at I-AA Richmond who was hired after David Cutcliffe became coach at Duke, is here to help.
"I hadn't met Dave before I hired him," says Fulmer, who also reportedly talked to Detroit Lions receivers coach Kippy Brown, Clemson offensive coordinator Rob Spence and San Francisco 49ers quarterback coach Frank Cignetti (now the OC at California) about the Vols' offensive coordinator post. "But I was impressed with him when he interviewed. In fact, I was more impressed with him as a person than as a coach."
Clawson interviewed for the Boston College head-coaching position that went to Jeff Jagodzinski after the 2006 season. But Clawson impressed BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo, who happens to be a friend and former co-worker of Fulmer at Tennessee in the early 1970s. Phone calls were made, recommendations were offered and the next thing you know, Clawson is Tennessee's offensive coordinator.
Before he accepted the Tennessee post, Clawson called around to check on Fulmer and the program. He liked what he heard.
Clawson, 41, is a master at developing quarterbacks in his pro-style system. His first project is Jonathan Crompton, a physical specimen with the skills to excel. Crompton will work behind one of the SEC's top lines and hand off to one of the nation's best running backs in Arian Foster. And the receiving corps teems with potential. The bottom line: All the pieces are in place for Clawson to make this an explosive offense.
"It's all about balance," says Clawson, a native of Lewiston, N.Y., who played defensive back at Division III Williams College from 1985-88. "We want to be able to run and pass with equal effectiveness. We also want to be physical."
Before heading to Knoxville, Clawson was 58-49 as coach at Fordham and Richmond, earning I-AA coach of the year honors at each stop. Before taking over Fordham, the Rams had had 12 consecutive losing seasons. But Clawson made the program a playoff participant during his run in the Bronx, N.Y., from 1999-2003. He took Richmond to the playoffs two times while coaching there from 2004-07. The Spiders' 11-3 mark in '07 was the best in school history.
"Looking back, I've had a lot of people help me," Clawson says. "Kevin Higgins may have been the biggest influence. He was the head coach of Lehigh when I was the offensive coordinator there (1993-95). It was my first job as a coordinator. He did a great job running a program on so many levels. He was ethical with his players and very thorough. He's just a good person and has strong values. He went on to be an assistant with the Detroit Lions and is now the head coach of The Citadel."
Clawson didn't get a good feel for what he had to work with in the spring. Wide receivers Austin Rogers and Lucas Taylor and tight end Jeff Cottam were out. Foster missed half of the spring session and wide receiver Josh Briscoe was in and out because of a class conflict. But Clawson is full of ideas.
"What I do each year is study an NFL team," Clawson says. "I see how they teach, what their philosophy is, what they do consistently well and how they fix problems. I also study college teams and still learn from them.
"When I was at Richmond, we had problems with turnovers one year. So, I looked at what other teams had the same problem. Iowa did. So, we talked with them and studied how they were dealing with the problem. It's all about asking yourself the question: What does your team need?"
Clawson has kept copious notes over the years, adding chapters after each offseason of study. It's all about being organized, communicating with players and being consistent.
"This is an exciting time for me and my family," Clawson says. "I can't wait."
Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.