This presidential election season has been, well, something else. Even the most fervent of amateur political scientists (like me) are ready for this long and arduous journey to come to an end.
It has featured two deeply unpopular candidates with the highest negative ratings in the history of American presidential politics. (I know some of you are “with her” or want to “make America great again”, but there’s no hiding the fact that these candidates are vehemently disliked by large swaths of the country.) Some are already looking ahead to the next cycle with hope, but I prefer to dwell in the present—even if it means living in fantasyland.
Clemson fans may disagree on Clinton vs. Trump, but they can all come together to support Dabo Swinney in an election. Obviously, Swinney is a football coach and not a politician, but he has a skill set that translates well to campaigning. He speaks simply in slogans. He is affable and understands people. He has a story of redemption that resonates with people. He also knows who he is and isn’t afraid to vocalize it.
So in a fictional world where Swinney could run for president, which football coaches would make good running mates? After all, one of the most critical decisions a candidate must make is who will share the ticket with him or her. Here are my top ten, with the rationale for each one:
- Brent Venables
Since Venables came to Clemson, the Tigers have won more than 80 percent of their games. That seems like a winning formula that shouldn’t be broken up. Venables has the toughness and quiet intensity that contrasts Swinney’s loud and jovial approach. The two seem like perfect complements for one another. Venables’ demeanor would play well in blue-collar America. Plus, he could enlist Bill Snyder (more on him in a moment) as a legendary endorser. Venables is clearly the number one choice here.
- Chad Morris
Morris was the first domino that fell on Swinney’s quest to make Clemson great again. (May or may not be the last time I reference that slogan.) His fast-talking style might seem like a carbon copy of Swinney, but Morris came into his own under Swinney’s wing. That alone means their combination is capable of big things. With Morris, Texas wouldn’t even be a question.
- David Shaw
Shaw seems like the perfect sitting head coach to serve as Swinney’s running mate. The two appear to have a tight relationship, even as they coach on opposing coast lines. Shaw is quiet and contemplative, a total contrast to Swinney’s public image. Shaw also does his work at Stanford, which means he could potentially make inroads with elite academic types that would otherwise be averse to voting for Swinney. His African-American heritage doesn’t hurt, either.
- Tony Elliott
As far as demographics go, the same applies for Elliott. He expands the electoral map and understands Swinney. His own personal triumph is inspiring and makes him a viable option for many down-on-their-luck people, and his unique student-teacher relationship with Swinney dating back to his days as a player is a strength. Elliott’s quiet, thoughtful approach to anything and his careful phraseology answering questions are both plusses to any campaign.
- Mark Dantonio
This is a wild card, and it will need a political analogy to make sense: When Donald Trump tapped Mike Pence to be his VP pick, the once-popular governor was seeing his favorability ratings fall in Indiana. He was preparing for a tough fight to keep his job, but Trump’s decision gave Pence a way out of his local situation. All of this could apply to Dantonio, whose no-nonsense approach is backed by an internal fire that occasionally finds its way to the surface. Also, if Michigan is a swing state now, his presence might benefit Swinney.
- Dino Babers
My views on Babers are well-documented. I was impressed with him at the ACC Football Kickoff. He solidified that first impression with his postgame speech after Syracuse beat Virginia Tech. Babers will help Swinney with African-American voters, and he could help with New England voters if he continues to gain traction with the Orange. The one drawback for Babers is his job-hopping nature. He might not be anywhere for four years in his whole career.
- Steve Addazio
In political parlance, Addazio is like the solid, steady representative blocked by more senior members on committees and hidden from the public eye. I believe he would flourish as a member of Swinney’s ticket. On the other hand, Addazio’s popularity has fallen precipitously after a couple of bad years at Boston College. This might not be the best time to put him in front of the public.
- Bill Snyder
The only drawback here is age: Snyder turned 77 years old last month. Otherwise, he would be a golden choice. His relationship with Venables could give him a chance to gain insight into Swinney’s personality. His experience in the trenches would help Swinney govern in much the same way Dick Cheney helped George W. Bush and Joe Biden helped Barack Obama. Snyder is uninspiring personally, but he has become somewhat of a cult hero to some. Think Bernie Sanders without the waving arms.
- James Franklin
Franklin might be the best politician on this list. His misdeeds at Vanderbilt have been swept under the rug, but there’s no question he allowed some questionable characters to enter his program in order to win football games. Franklin has had to weather the political storm at Penn State, as well, so he should be a seasoned politician at this point. Also, he was basically Ralph Friedgen’s vice-coach (“coach-in-waiting”) at Maryland, so the role wouldn’t be altogether new to him.
- Justin Fuente
Fuente was Swinney’s second choice to be the offensive coordinator when he hired Morris. He has made a huge impact at both Memphis and Virginia Tech. He has charisma and can speak directly to Hispanic and Latino voters. The issue with Fuente is that he seems like a top-of-the-ticket guy who might actually overshadow Swinney. It would be a risk, but it might be one worth taking.
Missed the Cut: Tim Bourret; Bud Foster; Steve Spurrier; Charlie Strong; Ben Watson.