1. Familiarity with the program
Dabo Swinney has been at Clemson since 2003 under Tommy Bowden and has a level of familiarity with the football program that would take an outsider years to obtain.
This fact couldn’t have been more obvious in Swinney’s attempt to reach out to the Clemson fanbase and student body last week. He’s well aware of the impressive fan support that Clemson can muster when the fans and students are challenged.
Few coaches coming from the outside could “take the pulse” of the program like Dabo Swinney has. It took Tommy Bowden, for example, several years after coming to Clemson to realize he had a fan support muscle that could be flexed.
After 10 years of Tommy Bowden, the fans at Clemson are ready for an emotional leader. We want to see someone at the helm of the team that understands our emotional highs and lows.
The extent of Tommy Bowden’s emotional release was picking a ref and chewing him out for three quarters of every game. I want a coach who isn’t afraid to hug his wide receiver after a great catch or to discipline a loafing kicker in the middle of a game.
It’s no secret to Clemson fans that Dabo Swinney has been the man behind the curtain of Bowden’s recruiting success for some time now. Swinney has been a force in the recruiting world, bringing in many of Clemson’s recent blue-chip players and being ranked in 2005, 2006, and 2007 by Rivals.com as a top 25 recruiter in the country.
4. Terry Don Phillips (Clemson Athletic Director)
Terry Don Phillips has taken a considerable amount of heat the last two years. From within the university, he was criticized for keeping Tommy Bowden around too long, and from those outside the Clemson community, he was attacked for changing coaches midseason.
I joined in the criticism myself after I saw him on the sidelines of the Georgia Tech game talking to Swinney. ADs have no place on the sidelines meddling in the coaching aspects of the game. However, I found his explanation that he was merely vocally upset over a poor holding call against Clemson to be satisfactory.
Whatever criticism you may have of Terry Don Phillips, it’s hard to ignore the gains Clemson athletics as a whole have made under the Phillips administration. The football program is now better than it was under (a name that goes unspoken among the Tiger faithful for good reason) Tommy West, and basketball has made huge strides under Oliver Purnell.
All of this leads to my point that Terry Don Phillips is, in fact, a good athletic director and knows good coaching potential when he sees it. As AD of Oklahoma State, he brought on board both Les Miles and Mike Gundy. Les Miles went on to win a national title at LSU, and Mike Gundy is now the head coach of the sixth-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Ultimately, if Phillips makes a poor hire this offseason, it will likely be his last at Clemson. As a result he will be fearless in picking whoever he believes to be the best man for the job, big name or not. Based on Phillips' successful past, I trust him to make the right hire, and based on what he said this week about the program’s direction, he appears to be leaning toward Swinney.
5. Clemson Tradition
Most Clemson fans won’t admit it, but what we all really want deep down is another Danny Ford (if Ford himself is not a possibility). Ford brought Clemson its crowning achievement in the form of a national championship that makes fans feel that their program is (rightly or not) superior to in-state rival’s South Carolina’s and many of the ACC programs Clemson plays on a week to week basis.
The similarities between Swinney and Ford are certainly striking: Both men were born in Alabama, attended the University of Alabama, and played varsity football there (all three things also happen to be held in common with legendary Clemson coach Frank Howard). Ford and Swinney also share an enthusiastic energy and unusual youth as head football coaches at a large Division I school.
It’s certainly not much of a job qualification to have a few glaring similarities with the Clemson coaching elite, but maybe it’ll be enough to tip the scales and allow the administration at Clemson to do the right thing and give Swinney a shot.