Dabo Swinney is all too familiar with what Gerard Parker is going through at Purdue University this football season.
Parker, the Boilermakers’ young wide receivers coach up until two weeks ago, was named as interim head coach on Oct. 16 when Darrell Hazell was fired after going 9-33 in his four years there. Eight years earlier, Swinney was feeling the same emotions at Clemson after he took over for Tommy Bowden, who resigned at the midway point of the season.
“I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. That’s a difficult situation, especially when you’re a young coach,” Swinney said on Wednesday during the ACC’s Coaches’ Teleconference with the media. “I mean, I was 38. He’s 35, I think he said. You know, you go from—you’re a young coach—and you go from one of them to now you’re the leader of the entire team. None of those guys came there for you as the head coach.”
Coincidently, Parker was named interim coach eight years and three days from when Swinney was put into that role as the Tigers’ interim head coach. Swinney took over the Clemson program on October 13, 2008, and like Purdue this year, Clemson was 3-3, and there was a lot of doubt in the locker room.
“There’s just a lot of moving parts and a lot of dynamics and a lot of things that you can’t control and things haven’t been good and that’s why you get put in that situation,” Swinney said. “There definitely are some parallels.”
And that’s why Parker reached out to Swinney last week for some advice. He asked Swinney if he could watch the game and help him with a few tips here and there.
“I made a point to watch the game Saturday and then had an opportunity to call him. I can’t remember if I called him Sunday or Monday. But I had a chance to call him and visit with him and talk to him about, you know, just my thoughts on their game,” Swinney said.
Swinney has never met Parker, but he gets the feeling they’re kindred spirits just based on the fact they both were thrown in unique situations and are wide receiver coaches by trade.
“We had a great conversation. I just really tried to give him some insight into my experience here and some of the things that I felt like, you know, were necessary and some of the things that you’ve got to do to give yourself a chance, and to also tell him to enjoy the moment,” Swinney said. “We talked about a lot of different things. I’m not going to get into our conversation, but it was a good conversation, good chat, and I wish those guys nothing, but the best.”
Swinney led the Tigers to a 4-2 second half of the 2008 regular season, which included an invitation to the 2009 Gator Bowl. After becoming the first interim head coach to take a job at mid-season and lead that program to a bowl game, the interim tag was lifted from Swinney’s title and he was named the permanent head coach at Clemson that December.
No one knows if Parker will get that opportunity at Purdue. However, in his first game as interim coach last week, Parker’s team did go to No. 8 Nebraska and compete. Purdue even led at the break before the Cornhuskers came out and pulled away in the second half. Nebraska won the game, 27-14.
“Again, it’s a difficult situation, and you know, hopefully they can finish strong, find a way to win some games, but more importantly, one of the things I talked to him about was don’t focus on the scoreboard, don’t focus on the results,” Swinney said. “You’ve got to change how they think, how they play, and you’ve got to get them to buy into something that’s bigger than the scoreboard.”
During his press conference on Tuesday, Parker was very appreciative of the time Swinney took to talk to him, and very complimentary of the Clemson football program.
While No. 3 Clemson is getting set to visit No. 13 Florida State this week, Purdue will host Big Ten foe Penn State, who is coming off an emotional win over then No. 2 Ohio State last week.
Swinney hopes he gave Parker some good insight and the Boilermakers can find a way to win a game or two and that his players finish out the season on a positive note.
“You know, especially for those guys that are on their way out of there, you try to sow some good seeds and build a foundation for what it’s going to look like eight years from now or seven years from now, regardless of whether he’s the coach there or somebody else is in there. Make the most of this opportunity and feel good about it once you get done,” Swinney said he told Parker. “We talked a lot about a lot of things like that, and some football stuff, as well. But it was a good conversation. Again, never met him, but I wish him nothing but the best.”