Dabo Swinney has a job for life at Clemson, but what if he wants a new challenge? Would he ever consider leaving for the NFL?
Dabo Swinney is the architect behind the reigning dynasty in college football.
Entering his second decade as the head coach of the Clemson Tigers, Swinney is already a lock for College Football Hall of Fame enshrinement. His 130-31 record since taking over as interim back in 2008 is astounding. So is winning the ACC six times, making the College Football Playoff five times, playing in four national titles and winning two of them. What a decade it was for Clemson!
Swinney turned 50-years-old back in November, so he could coach at Clemson for another 15 years and become the greatest coach in college football history. However, he might get bored dominating the ACC annually, patiently waiting for a division rival like the Florida State Seminoles or the Louisville Cardinals to ever challenge him. What if Swinney wants a new challenge in a bit?
People have tried to connect the dots into thinking he’ll be Nick Saban’s successor at the University of Alabama when Saban retires to do television. Saban is in his late 60s and Swinney did win a championship as a wide receiver playing for Gene Stallings in 1992. However, you never want to be the guy who replaces a legend, even if it’s at your alma mater.
Though we’ll cross that bridge when we get there, we have to believe another former Crimson Tide player in Tennessee Volunteers head coach Jeremy Pruitt would be a more likely successor to Saban than Swinney ever would. Pruitt could be ready for that job if his turnaround in Knoxville goes according to plan. Swinney has too much history to go to Alabama at this point.
So if Swinney wants another challenge, would he have any interest in going to the NFL?
It sounds crazy, but there are a few scenarios where it could work. Though Swinney never played in the NFL or coached in the league for that matter, as all his notable playing/coaching experience has come at two places (Alabama and Clemson), there are three teams to keep an eye on.
The Dallas Cowboys, the Houston Texans and whichever team ends up drafting Trevor Lawrence.
The Cowboys have to be considered mostly because they’re the Cowboys. Of course, “America’s Team” has a new head coach in Mike McCarthy, but he wouldn’t be the first successful coach to fizzle out in Dallas because of ownership. Whether Jerry Jones is still calling the shots or his son Stephen is many years from now, you have to pick up the phone when the Cowboys call, period.
Houston is a fit because Swinney will get to coach his Michael Jordan again in Deshaun Watson. Though head coach/general manager Bill O’Brien has more job security than any of us ever thought possible, owner Cal McNair may change his mind and bring in Watson’s former college coach to lead the way. That has to be an appealing destination for Swinney in some way, right?
Lastly, having a shot to coach Lawrence in the NFL may be too good to pass up. Let’s say he ends up as the No. 1 pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars next year. Doug Marrone won’t be the head coach any more if that’s the case. No state income tax, a clean slate and a 6-foot-6 franchise quarterback. Owner Shahid Khan must give up the moon to make this happen.
Of course, there are other teams to look at in this hypothetical. The Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers are southeastern NFL franchises very close to Clemson, South Carolina. Atlanta may move off Dan Quinn as early as 2020, as he was nearly fired last year. Who knows if Matt Rhule can rebuild the Carolina Panthers? He can, but we have no earthly idea of what’ll happen.
Ultimately, we’ve seen crazier things happen before with college coaches. Steve Spurrier left his alma mater to lead the Washington Redskins. Kliff Kingsbury got fired at his before somehow getting the Arizona Cardinals gig. Heck, he might have some success there. Though we shouldn’t expect Swinney to leave Clemson for the NFL, we can’t rule it out entirely. He may leave one day.