Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney always has a plan. Though he was not expecting Dan Brooks to retire and he was surprised to see Marion Hobby leave to become the Jacksonville Jaguars’ new defensive line coach, Swinney was not caught off guard by either.
“I think if you are in this position and you get caught off guard, then you are probably not doing a very good job,” he said. “You are probably caught off guard in a lot of other areas, too. I always have a plan in that regard. I’m always thinking.”
Swinney’s plan was Mickey Conn, a longtime friend he brought in last year to be his defensive analyst coach, and former Jacksonville State defensive line coach Todd Bates.
Swinney calls Conn a younger version of Dan Brooks, which is why he quickly elevated him to assistant coach when Brooks announced his retirement after the Tigers won the national championship.
“Being able to get Mickey right on the field, right now, and out on the recruiting trial was critical,” Swinney said. “He is a younger Dan Brooks. That is probably the best thing I can say. He coached high school ball for a long time and had a great relationships and he really understands the recruiting process.”
Conn, who was a teammate of Swinney’s on the 1992 National Championship team at Alabama, had spent the previous 16 years before joining Swinney’s staff in 2016, as the head coach at Grayson High School in Georgia. He was one of the state’s best head coaches in rolling up a 137-48 record in his 16 years, including seven region titles and a state championship.
Clemson running back Wayne Gallman, quarterback Nick Schuessler and cornerback Ryan Carter were all coached by Conn and were members of that state championship team in 2011. Conn will join Mike Reed as co-defensive backs coach on Swinney’s staff.
“He has been on it from the other side for many, many years. He is going to do a great job,” Swinney said.
After Conn came on board, the plan was to have Hobby coach the defensive line this spring, while they waited for legislation to pass by the NCAA that will allow Division I schools to hire a 10th assistant coach. Swinney is expected to hire, as The Clemson Insider reported last month, Lemanski Hall as the 10th coach and as the new defensive tackles coach. Hall is currently starting his third season as one of Swinney’s defensive analysis coaches.
“Obviously, being able to get that extra coach, we wanted to be able to have two defensive line coaches and two secondary coaches,” Swinney said. “I had Hobby and he was going to be able to handle the D-Line until hopefully we get the tenth coach and then get back to having two D-line coaches, but then this came up with Hobby, and that one no one really knew. It just kind of happened, but I had a good plan on what direction I wanted to go to.”
That plan was Bates.
Bates played for Alabama from 2001-2004 and graduated in 2005 with a degree in Business Management. While playing for the Crimson Tide, he was the only true freshman to play for the Tide in 2001.
Bates began his coaching career at Talladega (Ala.) High School in 2007. The following year, he coached at Oxford High School under current Jacksonville head coach John Grass, where he was an assistant football coach for the Yellow Jackets, as well as the head strength and conditioning coach. He spent the next two years at Idaho State coaching the defensive line.
“I had my eye on Todd Bates for quite a while. I’m really excited about having the opportunity to bring him into the fold,” Swinney said. “I did not know him at Alabama. I did not recruit him and I was not there while he was there.”
Swinney first met Bates in 2008 shortly after he earned the head coaching job at Clemson. Swinney was speaking at a quarterbacks club in Gadsden, Ala., when they met.
“I crossed paths with him over the years,” Swinney said. “He came and worked our camp about three times. In fact, Dan Brooks called me over to the side a year ago or so when he had his achilles (injury) and was sitting over in the golf cart and did not really work it, but he said, ‘That guy right there is a special coach.’ I just got to know him very well. He is really gifted.”
In 2015, JSU led the nation in tackles for a loss after recording a school-record 136 stops in the backfield, an average of 9.0 per game that ranked fourth in FCS. Bates’ defensive line obviously played a big role.
“I think he is a great fit for us,” Swinney said. “He has coached the whole front so he certainly can handle that. He was an outstanding player, leader, was a captain. He fits. He is going to bring great energy in all areas.”
—Photo Credit: Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports
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