Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Just don’t ask him about “Clemsoning,” not that anyone would anymore.
Swinney hits the trifecta when it comes to personality: funny, folksy and charismatic. Could he be this generation’s Bobby Bowden?
The answer is a big yes, but it would help if Swinney was able to do something any coach must to be considered truly elite – win a national championship.
The similarities between Swinney and Bowden are striking. Both are Birmingham natives who grew up loving the Crimson Tide. Both played at Alabama. (Bowden would move on to Howard, which later became Samford.)
Bowden became one of the most entertaining figures in sports during his glorious run with Florida State from 1976-2009.
Swinney arguably is the most likable well-known coach in the college game today. There’s a vacuum at the top, making Swinney’s approach stand out. He dances (poorly) and regularly gives insightful, yet hilarious, post-game interviews. Both are voracious recruiters.
What’s interesting about the Bowden-Swinney comparison is where it goes from here. In many aspects, Swinney is ahead of Bowden’s career trajectory.
Bowden was 47 when Florida State hired him away from West Virginia; Swinney is 47 and has been at Clemson since 2003. He started as an assistant before first taking over on an interim basis in 2008.
Swinney has an 88-28 record with the Tigers, making his 75.9 winning percentage the sixth-best among active coaches. If the Tigers can upset the Tide, Swinney will have won his first national title 17 years ahead of when Bowden claimed his first with the Seminoles in 1993.
Aside from earlier success, their paths will converge further or drift apart depending on what happens at Alabama.
Saban is 65. He could have one or 15 more seasons left in him. Eventually, though, the job will come open. The Crimson Tide infamously passed on Bowden in 1987, hiring Georgia Tech’s Bill Curry. Bowden has admitted that he expected it to be offered and would’ve taken the job. At the time, he was 58.
Bowden was 61 when the job opened again, but Alabama hired 55-year-old Gene Stallings after not wanting to pay Bowden’s buyout clause.
That was the last opportunity. Bowden was 68 when the job opened again.
The question is will the fates line up for Swinney to return to his alma mater – and will he want to leave Clemson? If Saban left after Monday’s game, Swinney would have to be a prime candidate.
He’s young enough to have a 20-year run for the Crimson Tide and recruits well enough to keep Saban’s unmatched dynasty thriving.
Still, Swinney has built something at Clemson that could become one of the most remarkable legacies in college football lore if he stays put. Swinney is capable of a 35-year-run at Clemson. He has a better chance to become an iconic figure in the sport, like Bowden, by staying.
(You can follow Hays Carlyon on Twitter @HaysCarlyon)
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