The reigning ACC Champion coach is staring a contract extension in the face down in Tiger Town and with solid reason. Dabo has got the Clemson Tigers to heights they failed to achieve under his predecessor and he is still recruiting his butt off to get talent into the program. In fact, the Orange Bowl embarrassment aside, Swinney has done just about everything asked of him by Clemson with one exception: beat South Carolina with any regularity.
Dabo Swinney has done well. He's got an offense ready to go for the Tigers, as they retained Chad Morris and set the offensive coordinator up to be one of the nation's top paid assistants for the next few years. Swinney also adjusted his defense by bringing in Brent Venables to work out the kinks that poked their heads in 2011 and got exposed against West Virginia.
In the grand scheme of things, Swinney is a decent college coach at a very good job. He has great people around him that help him get the results the folks at Clemson want, and he is one of the nation's best recruiters. He is not Nick Saban or Urban Meyer. He's a decent coach and his salary should go up but the real thing to watch with this new deal is how it is structured.
Escalators and bonuses for achievements are to be expected, but special detail and awareness should be paid to how the buyout clauses are structured. Certainly the "with cause" clause will be handled as it is in every major deal. However, the "without cause" firing is what should be noted.
We've seen Notre Dame make a serious mistake in recent years; the Irish are still paying on Charlie Weis' contract. Clemson can afford a massive buyout about as much as they can afford a decade long string of six-win seasons; they can't.
Even entering his fourth full season at the helm, no one is really sure how Dabo is going to play out at Clemson. He finished the 2008 campaign strong for the Tigers. 2009 the Tigers played for ACC Championship, losing to Georgia Tech.
2010's edition took a step back and folks were wondering if Dabo was, in fact, the man to lead the program. Then 2011 happened and the Tigers got their ACC Championship.
We still don't know what Dabo Swinney is as a head coach. While his contract extension on the heels of a championship makes sense, that uncertainty about what he is as a coach necessitates the Tigers making a smart play with their buyout.
As the landscape stands now, no one is beating down the door to pry Dabo Swinney out of Clemson, SC, use that security as a way to keep the buyout low. Keep his buyout low, keep it manageable, because if the Swinney experiment does not work, the Tigers need a way out.
Remember, if competition for the head coach comes, Clemson can always give him a raise.