If I was to tell you Coach A had an 89-28 record in his first nine years as a head coach, won a national championship, was the national runner-up another time, won three conference titles, was 6-3 in bowl games and had six straight 10-win seasons, who do you think I’m talking about?
If I was to tell you Coach B had a 69-38-1 record in his first nine years as a college head coach, won two conference titles, was 2-4 in bowl games and had one 10-win season, which coach do you suppose I’m talking about here?
Let’s just says this. When Paul Finebaum basically said Dabo Swinney is not Nick Saban in terms of being as good of a head coach, right now, he’s right. Swinney is not where Saban is right now. After all, what Saban has done at Alabama is one of the greatest runs in the history of college football, winning four national titles and playing for another in his 10 years in Tuscaloosa.
But is not fair to compare what Saban has done in the last 10 years at Alabama because he has 12 more years of college head coaching experience, plus his two years in the NFL, to lean on. Swinney does not have that experience.
The best way to compare the two is by comparing Saban’s first nine years as a college head coach to the first nine years for Swinney. Again, when you compare the two, Finebaum is right, Swinney is not Nick Saban – he’s better.
If you said Coach A at the top of the column was Dabo Swinney, then you were correct.
Some will say you can’t compare Swinney’s first nine years with Saban because Saban coached at three different schools at that time—Toledo, Michigan State and LSU—while Swinney has only coached at Clemson.
That’s true, but do you really want to punish Swinney for having staying power and being loyal to Clemson? Also considered this, where is it easier to build a program? Don’t you think is might be a little easier to sell recruits LSU and Alabama as opposed to Clemson?
In his five seasons at LSU, Saban built a winning program. By his fourth year in 2003, the SEC Tigers went 13-1 and won the national championship. If Saban would have stayed in Baton Rouge there is no telling what kind of dynasty he could have built there.
But he didn’t, he left LSU to be the head coach for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, where it did not go so well. However, when you compare Saban’s first three years at LSU to Swinney’s first three full seasons at Clemson, there isn’t much of a difference.
Saban was 26-12 with two bowl wins, one 10-win season, one division title and one SEC Championship. Swinney was 25-16 with one bowl win, one 10-win season, two division titles and one ACC Championship.
My point is this, when it comes to building a program from the ground up, you can see how Swinney compares favorably to Saban. Also keep this in mind, since Clemson won its first ACC Championship in 2011 under Swinney, the program has won 70 games and record six straight 10 win seasons, second only to Alabama in both categories.
By the way, Swinney is 1-1 against Saban head-to-head, and is the only head coach in Saban’s five national championship games to beat Saban.
So Dabo Swinney might not be as good as Nick Saban right now, but by the time he has been a college head coach for 21 years like Saban, he just might be better.
–Photo Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Hot off the Press!!! Have you ordered the 2017 Clemson season preview ‘Best is the Standard’ from the staff that covers Clemson football 365 days a year? Order yours today to make sure you get a copy!