Alabama Football: Dabo has learned from Saban to “Never say never”

CLEMSON, SC - SEPTEMBER 09: Head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers and head coach Gus Malzahn of the Auburn Tigers shake hands following Clemson's victory over Auburn in the football game at Memorial Stadium on September 9, 2017 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images)
CLEMSON, SC - SEPTEMBER 09: Head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers and head coach Gus Malzahn of the Auburn Tigers shake hands following Clemson's victory over Auburn in the football game at Memorial Stadium on September 9, 2017 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images) /

One day, Alabama football will need to be coached by someone not named Nick Saban. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney continues to keep that avenue open.

While with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, Saban officially and infamously denied the possibility that he would be the head coach of Alabama. A short time later, he contradicted himself and did become the head coach of the Crimson Tide football team, to the ire of many Saban critics.

Swinney has learned well from the master that one does not declare or deny anything until it happens, especially if that is what one may want in the future.

According to John Taylor of NBC Sports, Swinney “is extremely consistent with this bit of lingering and ongoing speculation” that he would take the mantle as head of Alabama football once Saban decides to call it a career. “Given that connection, the school of thought is that, when Nick Saban decides to retire, the Crimson Tide’s first call will be to Swinney.”

The Clemson head coach said, “You don’t never say never” in November of 2015. Since then, Clemson and Alabama have met twice in the last two national championship games, splitting the victories with the possibility of the rubber match happening this season.

When asked about it again this Wednesday on the Kirk Herbstreit/Ian Fitzsimmons podcast, Swinney repeated his words: “I’ve always said you never say never because you never know what the dynamics will be.”

Taylor breaks down the dynamics by showing how the money flows into Swinney’s wallet. Clemson may have signed Swinney to a seven-year contract that will pay him $54 million until 2024, but he had buyout clauses built into the contract. He would only need to pay $6 million to get out before December of 2018, and the price continues to drop by $1 million up to 2022. That is hardly locking up a top coach for the foreseeable future.

They look a lot more like escape clauses than buyout clauses.

As Taylor suggests, even if Swinney spent all seven years with Clemson, he would only be in his mid-50s while Saban would be in his 70s. If Swinney wanted the job between now and seven years later, he could jump ship, at any time, to do it.

The question is: would Swinney want the job?

Let’s put the fact that Swinney has a great connection to Alabama aside. Being from Birmingham, Alabama and having played Alabama football as a wide receiver are too easy to be factors in the decision. There are other factors to consider.

What if Swinney loves it at Clemson, which he does. Why leave that? Legacy and level of competition could be major factors.

Right now, Clemson is 4-0 and sits second only to Alabama in the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Poll rankings. However, the next highest ranked team out of the Atlantic Coastal Conference, Clemon’s division, is Virginia Tech (4-0) sitting 12th in both polls and the University of Miami Hurricanes (2-0) who sit in 13th place by USA Today and 14th place by the AP. Louisville (3-1) sits at 18th and 17th in those respective rankings, although they have looked like they need to be in a shootout if they are to win any games.

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Florida State is incredibly sitting at 25th for USA Today, even though they are 0-2 and are missing their starting quarterback for the season.

Alabama sits in the Southeastern Conference, who has Georgia (4-0) ranked in the top ten, and Auburn (3-1) ranked in the top 15 in both polls. Florida (2-1), Mississippi State (3-1), and LSU (3-1) are all in the top 25 by the AP poll. All of these teams are tough competitors who have held high spots in the polls for years. Some have questioned the SEC’s dominance in college football for the last couple of years, but the fact remains that the competition looks tougher than in the ACC.

If Swinney wants to validate his legacy as one of the best head coaches of all-time, he needs to do it against tough competition. What better way for him to do it than the team he grew up loving since he was born?

Plus, it would not be like Swinney would have to reinvent the wheel by coming to Alabama. Much of what Swinney likes to run happens to be the same in Alabama football. Tough defensive linemen who are hungry for quarterback sacks, smart linebackers, a fast secondary, and a tough offensive line that can block a quarterback who likes to run as well as throw. Sound familiar?

Of course, that may be the only drawback; Alabama would be a place to tinker with Swinney’s ideas, but he might want to leave his own mark. That mark is firmly left with Clemson.

Either way, as long as Clemson continues to have success, the job seems like Swinney’s to take if he wants it. Saban and Swinney have been publicly bro-mancing  for years now, complimenting each other’s style and success. If anyone was to be heir to the Alabama football thrown, who better than Saban, the king himself, to endorse Swinney’s coronation when the time comes?

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Knowing Saban’s style, he would never tell the press anything directly, but not denying Swinney’s chance to lead Alabama in the future would go a long way to fuel the fire of these rumors. If anything, Swinney has acted like a learned heir by not making the same mistake that his possible predecessor did: Swinney neither confirmed or denied his future intentions.

Step One to fitting in as Alabama head coach: complete.