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Clemson Opens New Era

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Clemson Opens New Era

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind for Steve Lynch as he prepares to take his Clemson Tigers onto the field this weekend.

Lynch was, until the middle of July, coaching in Glendale, Colo. But when news came out that Clemson was looking for a new coach, he applied, and within two weeks found he had a new job. Lynch had responsibilities with Glendale and the US Navy to work through before he moved to South Carolina, but since then he’s been hard at the work of replacing the highly-respect Justin Hickey, who moved to a new job in Pennsylvania.

And it’s a big job. Lynch has already instituted some changes. Having gone through an intense review process, where a panel of players had the final say on his hiring, he felt he was in a position to ask something of those players.


 

“Those players made the decision to choose me, and that helped me be able to build some relationships,” said Lynch. “We have a lot of players from high-level high school programs, and when I asked them to state their goals, they said, ‘when people talk about Cal, BYU, Life, and St. Mary’s, we want to be on that list.’ OK, then, we need to make some changes.”

The team now trains four days a week. There is mandatory gym time in the morning (unless you have a class), and mandatory study hall for freshmen as well as upperclassmen who don’t meet a certain grade point average. The local Crossfit trainers, Tigertown Crossfit, has developed a rugby-specific training program. In addition, players are expected to work on basic skills on their own time. 

“Americans haven’t had the constant ball-handling experience that players from other countries have had,” said Lynch. “And out approach depends on ball handling. So we have them doing their EDDs - their every day drills. They need to do those on their own because in the hour and-a-half we have for training we need to be fully focused on the concepts and higher-level rugby we’re working on.”

The players are getting it, some embracing the approach faster than others, but Lynch said now was his best time to introduce change.

During the summer, Lynch was the liaison for England Head Coach Stuart Lancaster while the England team trained in Glendale. Lancaster opened up his files to Lynch and they discussed a modern approach to rugby, one that attacks through channels, and flood support after those attackers.

To make that plan work, the ;players have to work hard at their skills, and also at the team approach. They have to hold each other accountable.

“They need to create the culture within themselves, it can’t just be the coach,” said Lynch. “Thee players have to embrace it.”

Lynch has also partnered the program with Homes of Hope, a nonprofit that provides homes for low-income people. The team works to help build those homes and also to maintain the complexes where those homes are.

“It’s all about making sure the players understand that they need to be a good students, a good athlete, a good teammate, and someone of good character,” said Lynch. 

And it all gets its test on the field this weekend. Clemson takes on Wake Forest on Friday evening, and North Carolina on Saturday. Lynch will run out two different lineups for those games, with mostly veteran players against Wake Forest - mostly because they are so eager to play - and then a freshman-heavy group to play the Tar Heels.

“We are taking a big leap, but the veteran players are champing at the bit to execute the game plan,” said Lynch. “They are running well together, and it will be interesting to see how young players develop. Our entire backline, nine through 15, against North Carolina will be freshmen.”

It’s definitely a new era at Clemson, and it starts on Friday.

 

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