Clemson's Dabo Swinney could be auditioning for his next job ... at Alabama
One of these days, Alabama will have to replace Nick Saban.
Whether it’s his nomadic nature — before arriving in Tuscaloosa, he never stayed anywhere longer than five years — or the fact that he’s 64, eventually the Crimson Tide will have to close the book on the Saban era. Even the legendary Bear Bryant only lasted to 69 before calling it a career with six national championships.
Constant turnover in the NFL means there will always be speculation about Saban returning to the pros, and maybe one of these days a billionaire like Jerry Jones dumps enough money in his lap to make it happen.
There is also the danger of staying too long, which happened to two icons in the coaching profession. Bobby Bowden enjoyed his last 10-win season at Florida State in 2003 at the age of 74, although he hung around for six more largely uncomfortable years in Tallahassee — his genius took a hit as a result. Joe Paterno left Penn State in 2011 an elderly pariah after the Jerry Sandusky scandal happened on his watch.
Saban’s eventual successor, whether it’s a year or a decade from now, could be standing on other sideline Monday in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney has the Tigers at 14-0 and on the cusp of the greatest season in program history, and that includes Danny Ford’s team in 1981 that went 12-0 and won the national title. Previously known as a program that would always find a way to lose at the most inopportune time — “Clemsoning,” a term Swinney has come to despise — this year the Tigers have passed every test.
Swinney was a receiver for Alabama in the early ’90s, so it’s natural to assume that coaching there would be his dream job.
When Dabo Swinney attended Alabama, his mom was his roommate. https://t.co/FpERRP5Jwv
— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) January 2, 2016
Why it makes sense
CBSSports.com national college football writer Jon Solomon did a sizable profile on Swinney in November — it included quotes from Ford, assistant AD Jeff Davis, associate AD Woody McCorvey, co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott, athletic director Dan Radakovich, former coach Tommy Bowden and school president Jim Clements. All were strong suporters of Swinney, and rightfully so after what he’s done at Clemson.
When Saban decides to exit stage left, Swinney’s résumé wouldn’t need any embellishment.
“If I’m the president of Alabama and I have an opening, guess who I’m calling? Dabo,” Clements told Solomon. “So it’s OK. … Dabo is building something special here. If I’m him and I’m looking at the path we’re on, I don’t need to go anywhere else, including Alabama.”
On the field, the Tigers are indeed something special, as evidenced by having the top spot in the College Football Playoff rankings every week.
Offensively, Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson is arguably the premier quarterback in the country, throwing for 3,699 yards and 31 touchdowns and rushing for another 1,032 yards and 12 TDs — he’s only been sacked 13 times despite all that running. On the other side of the football, Clemson ranks in the top 10 nationally in passing defense and total defense and in the top 20 in rushing D and scoring D.
But Swinney’s most impressive accomplishment may be on the recruiting trail, where he has turned a good destination into a great one.
Rivals.com has team recruiting rankings going back to 2002. The last seven classes signed by Tommy Bowden — Swinney took over for him midway through the 2008 campaign — ranked as high as 12th but as low as 67th. The Tigers were No. 30 on average during the stretch. Tossing out Swinney’s first class at Clemson, which ranked 37th, he’s never finished lower than No. 19 and has been as high as No. 4. His average ranking is 15th.
A month before signing day, Swinney’s 2016 class is currently fifth.
Alabama has owned the recruiting game under Saban, who has a roster stacked annually with four-and five-star signees that seemingly all have a chance to play at the next level. If Swinney could convince C.J Spiller — the No. 1 prospect in Florida for 2006 — to turn down Florida, Florida State and Miami in favor of Clemson back when he was just an assistant on Bowden’s staff, imagine what he could do with Big Al at his side.
Solomon asked about making the move if given the chance, and Swinney didn’t exactly shoot down the suggestion.
“You don’t ever say never,” he said. “You don’t ever know what the circumstances would be at any given time. First of all, Alabama may never, ever call me, and I would never have a problem with that. They’ve got to do what they’ve got to do.
“My deal is to be great where I’m at. I had opportunities to leave Alabama. I had opportunities to leave Clemson. But I’ve just never been that guy about the next job. I’m about the job I’ve got.”
When Saban does leave ‘Bama, Swinney is as good a bet as any to receive the first phone call from area code 205.
Dabo will face his alma mater for a title … and he hasn't ruled out an eventual return to Tuscaloosa https://t.co/XEUQkkhcb3
— SB✯Nation CFB (@SBNationCFB) January 1, 2016
There’s only one Alabama
Clemson has great facilities. Memorial Stadium has a capacity of 81,500. But Alabama’s will always be better. Bryant-Denny Stadium holds 101,821.
Clemson has a great recruiting footprint. The Palmetto State has five four-star prospects for 2016. But Alabama’s will always be better. The Yellowhammer State has eight four-stars and three five-stars.
Clemson has great tradition. The Tigers claim 15 ACC titles and one national championship. But Alabama’s will always be better. The Tide own 25 SEC crowns and 15 national titles.
Then there’s this nugget: Saban makes more than twice as much as Swinney, $7.1 million to $3.3 million.
While Saban is indeed 64, he’s a young 64. He certainly seems to be in excellent health. By contrast, Bryant was an old 69. A heavy drinker and smoker, he died in 1983 a month after announcing his retirement.
Nevertheless, Saban can’t stay at Alabama forever.
The gravitational pull of one’s alma mater can be strong. Jim Harbaugh could have had any NFL job he wanted after breaking up with the San Francisco 49ers. Yet he felt compelled to put on the familiar maize and blue he once wore at Michigan.
More than likely, Swinney still has some crimson in his closet.