You don't have to like it or agree with it, but Dabo Swinney is the best college football coach in America
Like most of you, I had some issues with Gene Sapakoff’s recent ranking of the top college football coaches in the ACC and SEC.
No. 15-28 pic.twitter.com/VCp4yIiWbv
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) May 6, 2019
Jimbo Fisher at No. 5, behind Dan Mullen and Kirby Smart, was a ridiculous overreaction to Fisher’s final year at FSU. Mack Brown not even making the top 14 was egregious, and pushing Ed Orgeron into the bottom half — behind Barry Odom! — was flat-out outrageous. Geaux Tiguhs.
Joe Moorhead is a better coach than Dave Doeren. And Jeremy Pruitt is No. 24 but somehow is being mentioned as a possible candidate to one day replace Nick Saban?
So, yes, I had some issues with the order. I also understand spurring conversation and debate is part of Sapakoff’s job.
Oddly, the two spots I agreed with him are the two that sparked the most reaction: Dabo Swinney over Nick Saban.
SEC blinders aside, I’m not sure how you could objectively argue otherwise. Our columnist, Connor O’Gara, made a pitch for Saban, but at this point, you have to look pretty far back to make it a compelling case.
Saban might very well be the greatest college football coach in history, but winning 3 titles in 4 years from 2009-2012 isn’t relative to the seismic power shift happening before our eyes in 2019.
College football loyalties distort reality and promote more screaming than reasoning, so let’s switch gears for a minute. Same discussion, different people.
Albert Pujols is a no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famer. He should be unanimous. Yet since 2012, when he became an Angel, there has never been a year when his teammate Mike Trout hasn’t been the better player. Trout still has many, many years to go to match Pujols’ career accomplishments. He might not ever get there. Only a handful in baseball history have. That’s how otherworldly Pujols was. “Was” being the operative word.
Game 7 on the line, who would you rather have striding toward the batter’s box? It’s an easy answer.
Nobody is suggesting Saban is a has-been or that Dabo has owned him since Day 1. Not even close. Saban might very well win another national title or two before he retires, and Dabo’s rise is recent.
But Saban no longer rules the sport. Dabo, and, more specifically, Deshaun Watson, started chipping away at Alabama’s aura of invincibility in 2015. Trevor Lawrence then brought in the wrecking ball to finish the deed last year. What happened in January wasn’t an outlier. It was the culmination, and somehow, it felt like just the beginning, a 44-16 oxymoron.
It isn’t just that Clemson has won 2 of the past 3, both times against an undefeated, largely unchallenged Alabama team in the National Championship Game. It isn’t just that Clemson has outscored Alabama 125-116 in their 4 Playoff meetings, topped 30 points 3 times or hung 44 on the Tide the last time out.
It’s the fact that Swinney accomplished all of that despite not recruiting anywhere near Saban’s level. Getting more out of less? That’s the gold standard of coaching.
For most of the past decade, Saban has recruited, signed and developed the best players. He’s had the No. 1 class and sent the most guys to the NFL. In the past 5 drafts alone, Alabama has had 46 players selected; Clemson 29. The first-round disparity in that span is 13 to 9, tilted toward Tuscaloosa.
Swinney has never even landed a top 5 class, and 4 of his past 6 classes were outside the top 10. Even Watson’s landscape-changing class of 2014 was ranked just No. 16 nationally.
This year, finally, Clemson might win the recruiting title, too. Its 2020 class has reached No. 1. Time will tell if it can stay there. The class includes the No. 1 QB, No. 2 RB, Nos. 1, 2 and 3 DTs, No. 1 S and No. 2 CB in the country.
It’s the type of class Saban routinely landed during his decade of dominance.
It’s the type of class that keeps the wheels spinning, the juggernaut rolling, when players like Lawrence inevitably leave early for the NFL.
It’s Dabo’s world. You don’t have to like it, but you better recognize it. Clemson is throwing the hottest party in the country. All the cool kids will be there and the only question left is: What kind of pizza do you like?