Clemson University

December 12, 2013

Dabo could be in mix for potential openings at Texas or Alabama

When the bullets quit flying, most observers expect that Texas will be looking for a new football coach.

When the bullets quit flying, most observers expect that Texas will be looking for a new football coach.

Mack Brown on Thursday said his “situation has not changed.” But that hasn’t slowed down the wild speculation that Brown will step down, opening the door for Alabama coach Nick Saban to take the Longhorns’ job.

Depending on Saban’s decision, don’t be surprised if Dabo Swinney becomes prominent in discussions for either job.

Getting rid of Brown would accelerate the college football coaching carousel and trigger a chain reaction that might rattle the windows at Clemson.

Swinney finds himself at a crossroad. Timing becomes critical, and jobs such as Texas and Alabama may not be there when he thinks he’s ready. Other than the school Clemson faces in the Orange Bowl, there aren’t two bigger jobs in college football.

Swinney’s ties to Alabama are well known, but he and his family have made Clemson home and change would not come without some pain. Yet, if Saban followed Brown at Texas and Alabama called, it would be almost impossible to say no.

But if Saban decides he wants Alabama to be his last stop, Swinney might be on the short list at Texas. The Dallas Morning News lists Swinney on a list of possible candidates, which also includes names of NFL coaches such as Jim Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin, as well as college coaches such as Stanford’s David Shaw and Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy.

Why would Swinney be of interest to either?

After Danny Ford was fired following the 1989 season, it took Clemson nearly a generation to reconnect. Clemson under Ford went national. In the context of the market, under Swinney it’s gone global.

Clemson is one of seven schools nationally that has been ranked top 25 in both the media and coaches’ polls for 45 straight weeks. Clemson was ranked in the top 10 by the AP for 14 straight weeks. Only Alabama and Ohio State have longer streaks.

Recruiting in the heart of Dixie against the SEC, Clemson has won more than its share of battles, plus Swinney’s players are top 10 nationally based on the formula the NCAA employs to track academic progress and graduation rate.

What makes Swinney attractive beyond the numbers is the man himself. Virtually self-made, he can be comfortable in any room, farmers or executives. As a recruiter he’s considered one of the best closers in the business.

A boy at heart with a businessman’s vision, Swinney reminds some of Mack Brown when Texas hired him 16 years ago. Yet in 10 seasons under Brown, North Carolina never won an ACC title nor played in a major bowl game.

When he left Chapel Hill, there was a knock on Brown that he was a salesman lacking substance yet he has won 158 games, and Texas played for two national championships. There’s a sense Texas has become soft and arrogant, lost its identity as the big dog. Texas would like to rediscover that reputation.

Alabama is another story, though similar in some regard. Swinney is attractive to a core of Alabama regents, contemporaries who would like to bring him home if Saban decides to step away, whether it’s now or later. Promoting a coordinator is unlikely for a program that can command a sitting head coach, so if it’s not Swinney, then some of the names mentioned at Texas could be targets at Alabama.

Swinney’s current contract places him among the 30 highest paid coaches in the nation, but as the salaries continue to escalate Swinney’s lags behind those at schools yet to achieve what Clemson has in five seasons.

Over the next few days and weeks, Clemson has an opportunity to eliminate most of the potential angst. In many respects, football is the window to Clemson, and Swinney is the face at the window.

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