In Dabo We Trust? Yeah, I Think So!
A. He just snagged his first head coaching job?
B. He just snagged his first full-time position of true authority (coordinator or head coach) as a football coach?
C. He's no longer brokering deals for shopping malls while working in commercial real estate.
D. His name is Dabo and his new contract just might be in the range of one million dollars.
Of course the answer is that all of those options are true. Dabo Swinney has been hired as the head football coach of Clemson University and the page has been turned on the Tommy Bowden era.
The players and many of the fans are applauding the move by Athletics Director Terry Don Phillips. But the move has had many around the country scratching their heads. Not only is Clemson taking a pretty big leap of faith with a relatively unproven head coaching candidate, but they have done so by ignoring some of the bigger names in the job market.
In spite of the fact that Swinney is very inexperienced when it comes to the head coaching duties, I think this is a great move for Clemson. (Keep in mind I'm a die-hard South Carolina fan!) Yes, Swinney is inexperienced - but does he have to have tons of experience to be effective? Bowden had plenty of head coaching experience, but it didn't seem to stop him from failing miserably with an extremely talented team this year.
The way I see it, this works on a few different levels. I can't deny that Swinney's lack of head coaching experience might scare me (if I were a Clemson fan) once the emotions fade from his "interim" stint. However, he's not flying solo here. All reports seem to indicate the Swinney has intentions to keep offensive line coach Brad Scott on staff. While Scott did not achieve much success in his stint as a head coach at rival South Carolina, he knows what it takes to be a head coach. Oh yeah, he also was a pretty decent offensive coordinator at Florida State when they won the National Championship in 1993. Having him to lean on should prove to be valuable to the new head coach. Plus, it's nice to know that your new head guy doesn't have a problem putting his foot down on staff decisions.
I also think this works for the program because he's familiar with a recruiting process that has worked well. He helped haul in a top-ranked recruiting class last year and could help salvage another top recruiting class again this season. This continuity will help keep the recruiting aspect going in the direction set forth by Bowden. Here the old saying "Sometimes it's more about Jimmies and Joes than X's and O's" might work well for him and the Tigers. If Clemson can continue to haul in top-ranked prospects from around the southeast, he might not have to be the best coach in the world right away, rather just a competent one. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the studs have to carry the load!
From the Athletic Director's point of view, I think this was a risk worth taking. Really, as hard as Swinney worked to endear himself to the Tiger faithful, it would have been hard for Phillips not to hire him. With Will Muschamp locked down in Texas and Lane Kiffin headed to Tennessee, there weren't any real "big names" out there for Clemson to woo. And even if there were some top-notch names, Clemson would likely have had trouble competing for these marquee coaches. After the way he stabilized the post-Bowden ship, I think he earned the chance to continue the program. If he fails miserably, I don't think the brass at Clemson are going to give him an extended leash. No matter what his contract says, if he can't show some serious signs of getting Clemson to an ACC Championship Game in the next year or two, I think Swinney will be escorted out quickly. At that point, I expect Clemson to over-pay handsomely for the biggest name coach on the market.
I hear often from fans that they want their team to find the next "great coach", however it seems that these same fans applaud when their team hires a coach who has already achieved great things at other programs. (Yes, I'm a South Carolina fan.) Sometimes the biggest rewards come from the biggest risks. Clemson may have just hired the next Dennis Franchione. Or they could have signed the next legendary coach in college football. Dabo Swinney may not be the next Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden, poised to guide his team for decades and stockpile victories like Mark Mangino collects buffet plates. But then again, maybe he is from the same mold as Bowden and Paterno. Who knows? This dude named Dabo may just be up to the challenge. Only time will tell.