The high-profile, high-salary relocations were plentiful in this year’s rendition of the silly season, although Clemson—even without any new major additions or departures from the staff—came away victorious. And that’s exactly the point.
Change, in many ways, is a great thing. It’s a headline-generating, yearly affair that college football programs bank on, hoping that a fresh voice and influence will lead to an immediate bump in recruiting and that results will soon follow.
It’s why 70 FBS schools—more than half—have endured change at the head coaching position over the past three seasons. It’s also why this trend isn’t expected to divert its current course any time soon.
But if you’re in the rare position to stay the course, you’re in business. Staying on this desired path over an elongated period of time, however, is a near impossibility in this age of television money, immense pressure and the willingness to spend.
Head coaches and quality assistants with a proven track record are often targeted. Of course they are. Not only are they targeted, but often times, they are lured away with a strong financial incentive to leave.
That’s what makes Clemson’s offseason so impressive. Not loud, or really all that newsworthy, but productive. It won’t garner the same praise as, say, a Washington or Penn State for landing marquee hires, but it kept its most important commodities without offering up the bank vault to do so.
There’s something to be said about that, even if we don’t often praise or appreciate continuity. And by keeping head coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris together—or at least it would seem that way with major vacancies filled—the Tigers can build upon an already stable foundation.
Other marquee programs are searching for that foundation. It's why the coaching carousel has become such a spectacle, one Swinney, remarkably, remained out of. Given the state of the program and incredible success over the past few seasons, it was a bit of surprise he didn’t gauge interest elsewhere.
Thanks to the school’s latest long-term commitment, that likely won’t change any time soon.
Over the weekend, it was announced that Clemson signed Swinney to a new eight-year contract. The money will be a substantial jump from the bargain $2.2 million he made this season, although it's still reasonable given the current resetting market. The details of the contract were first reported by Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier.
Eight years, $27.15 million, fully guaranteed if fired any time in the next three seasons. I guess Clemson's sure about this Dabo guy.— Aaron Brenner (@Aaron_Brenner) January 18, 2014
Without including incentives, the deal averages out to roughly $3.4 million per season. The term “bargain” is relative, but this term certainly applies given the state of the program and the dollars doled out elsewhere. This is a bargain that has benefited Clemson a great deal already, and it also gives the team flexibility to spend elsewhere.
Swinney released the following statement on his new contract, which was posted on the university’s website.
I’m extremely excited and appreciative for the opportunity to continue to build our program under the leadership of President Jim Clements and our athletic director Dan Radakovich. The future of Clemson University is extremely bright and the future of our football program is as well. While we have accomplished many goals, we still have several out there to reach and we will continue to work to get there. Kathleen and I are looking forward to continuing to be a part of the great community of Clemson, the Upstate and the state of South Carolina.
Locking up Swinney long term at a reasonable price is the story, but it’s not the only story. His assistant coaches are expected to receive a bump in pay as well, and this has been a significant part of the head coach's strategy: take slightly less money and spread it throughout the program.
That’s where Chad Morris comes in.
The team’s offensive coordinator—the man who finds himself connected to rumors to just about every vacancy these days—will likely be back in 2014. Morris was reportedly a finalist for the Vanderbilt opening, and he’s been rumored to just about every other marquee opening over the past few seasons. He hasn’t budged, at least not yet, which is tremendous news for an offense that has thrived over the past few seasons.
Morris made $1.3 million in 2013, making him the highest-paid assistant coach in college football. It’s a lot to invest in a coordinator, but recent results justify the price tag.
Even with the incredible security he has at his current school, Morris will be a head coach sooner than later. There’s nothing Clemson can do to prevent that, although the paycheck without the head coach headaches certainly has gone a long way.
For the time being, having him on staff is an enormous lift, however long he decides to stay. The outlook is incredibly bright, even with a fair amount of offensive weapons to replace in the short term.
Of course, the program isn't perfect, and there is still ample room for growth. Beating South Carolina at some point would be nice, the lone black eye still lingering over Swinney's legacy. Winning a national championship is still on the to-do list as well, although this shows just how high the Tigers have climbed in terms of expectations.
Over the past few seasons, few teams have accomplished what Clemson has been able to do. Swinney’s 51-23 overall mark at the school is noteworthy, as are 22 wins over the past two seasons with complimenting bowl victories over LSU and Ohio State.
Things could be better, although we’re nitpicking at this point. More specifically and more importantly, things could be a whole lot worse.
Clemson isn’t in the radical transformation phase like many others; it’s in the fine-tuning phase: make small changes to a successful system and keep what’s gotten you to a certain level of success intact. By locking up the two key figures that make this system go for another season—and the head coach much longer and at a reasonable price—Clemson came away from the latest bit of coaching chaos a quiet victor.
It’s not a big splash, just more of the same. And sometimes, more of the same doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves.