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What I Learned From Being Dead Wrong About Dabo Swinney

Please, learn from my mistake.

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Clemson vs Pittsburgh Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to level with you guys, I was 100% certain this coaching search would be wrapped up by now. I totally understand why the K-State faithful is beginning to squirm in their seats, because this needs to be done soon, and if it’s not done soon, it needs to remain open for a specific reason (which I’ll get to at some point).

After the 2008 season, Clemson fans were sitting in the same seat. We (I’m a Clemson grad, so I’m using ‘we’ today) had just finished the season on a decent note with interim head coach Dabo Swinney winning 4 of the last 5 games to become bowl eligible. Sure we lost to Nebraska by 5 points in the Gator Bowl, but all-in-all it was about as good an ending as you could expect for a team that fired their coach midway through the season. We were ready to get the coaching search under way, and I was certain Clemson was going to snag a big name.

My list looked something like this:

  1. Mike Leach - Texas Tech Head Coach
  2. Lane Kiffin - Recently fired Oakland Raiders Head Coach
  3. Gary Patterson - TCU Head Coach
  4. Bill Cowher - Retired Steelers Head Coach (every fan base has a white whale)
  5. Will Muschamp - Texas DC / Head Coach in Waiting (Lol, it hurt me to type that)
  6. Brent Venables - Oklahoma defensive coordinator (oh the irony)

I was certain that Terry Don Phillips was going to come through and land one of my top 4, and if not, I was OK if we settled for a hot up-and-coming coordinator. What I was 100% sure of is that I wanted absolutely nothing to do with Dabo Swinney continuing in the head coaching role.

I appreciated what Dabo did for the program as an interim. I hoped that whoever Clemson brought in would consider keeping him on staff, because he was a top notch recruiter, but Clemson had to better than a WR coach who was only a few years removed from selling commercial real estate.

This was Clemson. We have a National Championship. We have one of the best stadiums in the nation that is packed every home Saturday, regardless of wins and losses. Clemson had the support of a top 10 program, and I was ready for a top 10 coach. In my opinion, Clemson was not a program where the head coach should be learning on the job. I wanted Clemson to play Big Boy Football and that required a Big Boy Coach.

Clemson fans were promised a “nation wide” coaching search by AD Terry Don Phillips, and since we had a head start on the field by firing Tommy Bowden mid-season, I was confident we were going to land someone with a great resume.

Then December 1st, 2008 happened. Terry Don Phillips called a press conference and announced that Dabo Swinney would remain the head coach at Clemson.

Once the shock wore off, the anger set in. Clemson had conducted a “nation wide” search only to hire an unqualified assistant? I was outraged, and I wasn’t alone. The message boards were on fire with hate for Terry Don Phillips. How could he be so lazy? How could he sell the Clemson program so short? We weren’t mad at Dabo because who wouldn’t take a dream job they had no business being offered, but we enraged at our A.D.

Our only solace was that Terry Don was on the back end of his career and we just needed to wait it out until he retired (or was fired) so someone who actually knew what they were doing could come in and fix the football mess Terry Don had created. In the mean time, I would faithfully burn up message boards with Dabo hot takes and TDP jokes while I seethed my way through more losing football.

I was convinced that Dabo being named head coach was some sort of divine punishment for a past life transgression.

My wailing and gnashing of teeth over Clemson football continued for two more seasons. I mean sure, Dabo managed to go 9-5 in 2009, his first year as a head coach, but he also inherited a ton of talent, including C.J. Spiller (whose recruitment probably landed Dabo a shot at the job in the first place) and former 5*, number one overall recruit Da’Quan Bowers. Bowden wasn’t fired because he couldn’t recruit, Bowden was fired because he couldn’t win big with what I thought at the time was a supremely talented roster. Dabo had a chance to win the ACC but coughed up a 4th quarter lead to Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship game.

2010 was a total disaster. Clemson ended the season going 6-7 and I was ready to light the torches and march on the Terry Don’s office. He gambled on Dabo and lost, it was time to cut his losses and hire a real coach. The 2010 team was loaded with talent, but Dabo and offensive coordinator Billy Napier couldn’t get on the same page. Napier would call a play and Dabo would override the call on the sideline (or at least that was the rumor). Clemson was basically using two offensive coordinators, and the results was an inconsistent, uneven mess, but what could you expect from a head coach so obviously out of his league.

The 2010 off-season saw Dabo fire Billy Napier and bring in Chad Morris, a hot new offensive coordinator from Tulsa with an offense he honed as a head coach at multiple Texas High School teams. It was a hire that Dabo had to get right, and he hit a home run. Morris turned Clemson’s offense into must see T.V. with one the best collection of skill players ever assembled (WRs Nuk Hopkins, Martavis Bryant, Sammy Watkins, Adam Humphries, Jaron Brown, Charone Peake all still play in the NFL). Dabo brought in the talent, Morris did the play calling, and Clemson won the ACC.

Yes, the Orange Bowl was a disaster, with Clemson losing 77-33 to West Virginia, but I had promised to quit complaining if Clemson won the ACC, and Dabo won the ACC. After the West Virginia debacle, Dabo fired defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, brought in Brent Venables, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now you may be wondering why I just had you read the early history of Dabo Swinney on a K-State site.

My major take away from being totally wrong about Dabo Swinney is that fit is more important than resume. Dabo was a perfect fit for Clemson and Clemson’s culture even though he didn’t have the resume to justify his ascension to head coach. Terry Don Phillips trusted Dabo’s vision, and Clemson has been rewarded with one of the top programs in the nation.

This isn’t to say that K-State shouldn’t go out and hire a coach with an impressive resume, or that they should roll the dice and hire from within. If a big name head coach or coordinator has a vision for Wildcat football, they should be on the list. At the same time, I don’t think a resume that lacks Division 1 head coaching or coordinating experience should be rejected out of hand either.

I know some people are upset that current North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman might be on the radar, and honestly, I don’t know enough about him to proffer an educated opinion just yet, but I will say that you shouldn’t dismiss him because he doesn’t have the D1 coaching resume you were looking for in a head coach. If he has a vision for Kansas State football that appeals to Gene Taylor, he should be considered.

I have no idea how this is going to end up. Taylor could make the perfect hire that sends K-State into an entirely different level of college football. Taylor could make a terrible hire that sees the Wildcats in the exact same position in another 3 or 4 years. Sometimes hires look great on paper (Bret Bielema and Arkansas come to mind) only to look terrible on the field. Sometimes hires look terrible on paper (like Dabo), only to lead their team to greatness on the field.

At this point, I’m not sure Gene Taylor can hire anyone that would satisfy all factions of the Wildcat fan base. If you end up in the aggrieved faction, at least let it breathe for a couple seasons before going scorched earth. I know it’s a difficult ask, and I know I completely failed at it when it when my beloved school doing the hiring, but I’m not exactly the standard anyone should be striving to meet.

Learn from my mistakes people. At this point, the best thing you can do is rally behind whoever is named head coach and hope for the best. That way you can claim credit if it works out, instead of having a long list of shameful hot takes hanging around your neck like an albatross.

If it doesn’t work out, there is always plenty of time to light the torches and gather the pitchforks.

P.S.: For those of you who made it to the end of this article, I’ll give you a little bonus. If this coaching situation stretches into January, it’s because a certain candidate won’t discuss any job until after his team has either won (please, please, please, please) or been eliminated from the playoffs.