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Dabo Swinney

The one-time 'interim' head coach is building something at Clemson


Dabo Swinney

Dabo Swinney led Clemson to the Orange Bowl in 2011.

(Getty Images)

Colorful, unabashedly Southern and--so far, at least--fairly successful, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney appears to have a fairly decent chance of establishing himself as one of the rising stars in college football coaching business.

That is, so long as he manages to build on his recent success: He coaches down South, after all, where expectations are high and the pressure is, too.

Swinney has held the head job with the Tigers since 2008, when he was tapped to serve as interim head coach after coach Tommy Bowden resigned halfway into the season. At the time, the Tigers--a team that had been expected to do big things that season--were struggling along at just 3-3, including a 1-2 mark in the AC, and fans were decidedly unhappy about it. Bowden bowed out when the pressure got too intense, and Swinney, a graduate of the University of Alabama, where he played on the Crimson Tide's 1992 national championship squad, was given the job over fellow assistants Vice Koenning and Brad Scott. At the time, it didn't seem as if Swinney's appointment would be anything more than a temporary gig; but the coach helped the Tigers to a 4-2 finish that season, a performance that ultimately convinced Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips to name Swinney official head coach in December of that year.

At the time, Phillips said: “I have had the opportunity to watch Dabo Swinney closely over the last six years both on and off the field. He is one of the bright young coaches in America. He took over a very difficult situation for the last six games and showed me what type of coach and leader he is. I was very impressed by the way the team responded to his leadership. That spoke volumes for his abilities. We are proud to have him represent Clemson as our head football coach.”

In the years since, the one-time wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator has proven himself fairly capable of leading a big-time southern program, compiling a 29-19 record that includes two division titles and Orange Bowl bid in 2011. That bowl appearance capped a great year for Swinney and the Tigers, and although the result of their Miami excursion certainly didn’t go as planned—they got absolutely steamrolled by West Virginia that night—Swinney’s efforts have apparently been good enough in the eyes of Clemson administrators; in late May of 2012, it was reported that they opened talks with the coach about extending his contract for another six years.

That had to be taken as a promising sign for Swinney, especially given the dip in fortunes he and his team suffered in 2010. That season, a talented Tigers team could only muster an unacceptable 6-7 record, and as the season unfolded, Swinney found himself under increasing pressure. That season's results were somewhat unexpected, for the simple reason that Swinney had done such an admirable job a year earlier, leading the Tigers to a 9-5 mark, an ACC Atlantic Division title and a win over Kentucky in the Music City Bowl. Swinney's squad ended the season ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press Top 25 and, as a reward, the coach was given a five-year contract.

Before arriving at Clemson, Swinney spent seven years working as an assistant at Alabama. There, he worked as a graduate assistant, wide receivers and tight ends coach, tight ends coach and wide receivers coach. He also built a reputation as a capable recruiter--and when he arrived at Clemson, that skill helped him make a name for himself in the wider college football world. He has been named one of the Top 25 recruiters in the nation four times by the recruiting site Rivals.com, and in 2006 was ranked No. 6 overall on that list.

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