Lock up Dabo now, keep poachers away

Lock up Dabo now, keep poachers away

Football

Lock up Dabo now, keep poachers away

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By Ed McGranahan.

By Ed McGranahan

When the bullets quit flying, Texas will be looking for a new sheriff.

Depending on Nick Saban’s decision, don’t be surprised if Dabo Swinney becomes prominent in discussions for either job.

Turning out Mack Brown would accelerate the college football coaching carousel and trigger a chain reaction that might rattle the windows at Clemson University.

Swinney finds himself at a crossroad. Timing becomes critical, and jobs like Texas and Alabama may not be there when he thinks he’s ready. Other than the school Clemson faces in the Orange Bowl, there are not two bigger jobs in college football.

His ties to Alabama are well known, but Swinney and his family have made Clemson home and change would not come without some pain. Yet, if Saban followed Brown at Texas and Alabama called, it would be almost impossible to say no. And if Saban decided he wanted Alabama to be his last stop, Swinney would be on the short list at Texas. That’s potentially a life-changing opportunity. The kids would have to understand.

Why would Swinney be of interest to either?

After Danny Ford was fired following the 1989 season, it took Clemson nearly a generation to reconnect. Clemson under Ford went national. In the context of the market, under Swinney it’s gone global.

Clemson is one of seven schools nationally that has been ranked in the top 25 in both the media and coaches’ polls for 45 straight weeks. Clemson was ranked in the top 10 by the Associated Press for 14 straight weeks. Only Alabama and Ohio State have longer streaks. Clemson was one of five ranked top 20 teams by the BCS for 24 consecutive weeks, one of six top 15 in the final rating.

Recruiting in the heart of Dixie against the Southeastern Conference, Clemson has won more than its share of battles to rank in the top 15, plus Swinney’s players are top 10 nationally based on the formula the NCAA employs to track academic progress and graduation rate.

What makes Swinney attractive beyond the numbers is the man himself. Virtually self-made, he can be comfortable in any room, farmers or executives. As a recruiter he’s considered one of the best closers in the business, capable of selling ice to Eskimos.

A boy at heart with a businessman’s vision, Swinney reminds some of Mack Brown when Texas hired him 16 years ago. Yet in 10 seasons under him, North Carolina never won an ACC title, never played in a major bowl game.

When he left Chapel Hill, there was a knock on Brown that he was a salesman lacking substance yet he has won 158 games and Texas played for two national championships. There’s a sense Texas has become soft and arrogant, lost its identity as the big dog. Texas would like to rediscover that reputation.

Alabama is another story, though similar in some regard. Swinney is attractive to a core of Alabama regents, contemporaries who would like to bring him home once Saban decides to step away, whether it’s now or later. Promoting a coordinator is unlikely for a program that can command a sitting head coach, so if it’s not Swinney, then some of the names mentioned at Texas could be targets at Alabama.

Ideally Swinney would remain settled at least until his youngest son graduates from high school, which would be in about eight years. His current contract places him among the 30th highest paid coaches in the nation, but as the salaries continue to escalate Swinney’s lags behind those at schools yet to achieve what Clemson has in five seasons.

Over the next few days and weeks, Clemson has an opportunity to virtually eliminate most of the potential angst. In many respects, football is the window to Clemson University and Swinney is the face at the window. Any other point of view would be naive.

As one of the nation’s top public universities, playing in a sandbox with the big kids, Clemson needs to be mindful of what he can mean to the school – not just the football program.

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