Back in 2008, Dabo Swinney became Clemson’s interim coach after Tommy Bowden resigned following a 3-3 start.
That, of course, set forth a reality in which Swinney has turned the Tigers into a national powerhouse, winning a national title in 2016.
However, it almost didn’t happen. That’s because, in 2007, new Alabama coach Nick Saban wanted to hire Swinney to coach Alabama’s receivers, per a profile from Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples. Thanks to some shrewd maneuvering from Bowden — including a mostly-fake title of “associate head coach” — Swinney decided to remain at Clemson:
It was around this time that Saban—who had already poached running backs coach Burton Burns from Clemson—called Swinney, whose reputation as a recruiter extended far beyond upstate South Carolina. Saban offered Swinney a job coaching receivers and the title of passing game coordinator. Larry Williams, then writing for The (Charleston, S.C.) Post And Courier, reported that Alabama had offered Swinney a deal worth $230,000 a year with an incentive package that could push Swinney’s total compensation to $300,000. Swinney made $135,000 a year at Clemson at the time.
Bowden couldn’t match the salary, but he could get close. He knew he’d also need to throw in a title to sweeten the deal and keep Swinney. (Brad) Scott, the former South Carolina head coach, was already the assistant head coach. “I had associate head coach,” Bowden says with a chuckle. “Don’t ask me what that is.” The title may not have had a specific definition, but it had the desired effect. “Tommy had promoted me. I knew I had opportunity to grow with him. He had verbalized his plan for me,” Swinney says. “I didn’t know Nick. There were more unknowns. I didn’t know most of the staff he was putting together.”
This is definitely one of the biggest “what-ifs” in recent college football history. Clemson’s entire trajectory could have been changed if Swinney had headed back to his alma mater.
Fortunately for the Tigers, Bowden left the program a great parting gift on his way out.
Check out the rest of Staples’ excellent profile of Swinney here.