Swinney has stayed put in a profession favoring change
CLEMSON — Moving truck companies stay in business in large part thanks to coaches moving near and far to take new jobs, sometimes on a year-to-year basis.
Dabo Swinney and Brent Venables, Clemson’s head coach and defensive coordinator, shake their heads at the phenomenon.
Swinney has spent 22 years on a coaching staff, and 27 years overall, in just two places: Alabama and Clemson. He says he’s had “a bunch of opportunities” for jobs outside Clemson, but the 47-year-old has only moved towns twice in his adult life: from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham after getting fired in 2000 from Alabama to work in commercial real estate, and from Birmingham to Clemson upon taking a wide receivers job in 2003.
“I appreciate the heck out of that,” Swinney said. “I’ve been blessed – to spend 13 years in Tuscaloosa, five as a player and eight as a coach. This is my 14th season at Clemson. So, 27 years of college football, and to have only been at two places is incredible.”
Compare Swinney’s run of continuity to others, and he’s by far the outlier. Urban Meyer, Swinney’s counterpart in Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl when Clemson takes on Ohio State in a College Football Playoff semifinal game, is on his ninth different stint in 32 years of coaching. Meyer did put in extended time as a receivers coach both at Colorado State and Notre Dame, but stayed only two years in his first two coaching jobs at Bowling Green and Utah before leap-frogging to Florida.
Washington’s Chris Petersen has brought the Huskies to the College Football Playoff in his third year in Seattle, after 13 seasons at Boise State. He split his previous 13 years between Oregon, Portland State, Pittsburgh and UC Davis.
And then there’s Nick Saban, who nears the end of his tenth year at Alabama, by far the longest he’s chosen to sit still in one place. Saban has been employed by 12 different football teams, three times bolting college for the NFL and three times returning to the NCAA level. He logged five years each as head coach at Michigan State and LSU, and four of his first five jobs lasted no longer than two seasons.
Also consider: Will Muschamp, at 45 years of age, has needed to dial up a moving company 10 times since he took his first full-time coaching position at West Georgia in 1998. That’s ten jobs in 18 years, including four different spots in his first four years in the business, and two other jobs lasting one season: Dolphins assistant head coach under Saban in 2005, and Auburn defensive coordinator in 2015 before accepting South Carolina’s head coaching position.
Former South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier had eight employers from 1978-2015, including stays exceeding a decade at USC and his alma mater Florida. Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh are each on their fifth job.
These are the cream of the crop in the coaching universe, failing to consider the mid-tier head and assistant coaches who move around from place to place either due to firings or simply their own volition to find a fresh scenery.
One theory is coaches, at their core, like fixing things, and get stir-crazy when their program is humming along with little innovative effort. That’s not how Venables, who spent 13 years on Stoops’ staff and is in his fifth season under Swinney, sees it.
“I hate it,” Venables said. “My first year (at Clemson) was so miserable, not like because of the people, but the job was just so overwhelming. You can’t take with you your reputation or your consistency with your staff or your trust, your loyalty. You’ve got to start all over, and then you’ve got teach all the coaches and players, and try to fit them. You’ve got to learn about each other.
“I couldn’t imagine that. I’d be miserable in my own skin. I don’t know why coaches do that.”
As long as Clemson stays successful, Swinney’s name will crop up in coaching carousel rumors. He previously was murmured as a potential candidate at Florida and Texas, and whenever Saban moves on from Swinney’s alma mater he’ll be the top name on the speculative list to take over the Crimson Tide.
But Swinney doesn’t sound like a man ready to move on.
“I like my job. I like where I’m at,” Swinney said. “I learned a long time ago, the grass isn’t always greener. I always try to bloom where I’m planted, and I’ve always been close to my guys.”
DABO SWINNEY, 47
Alabama, 1993-00: GA/WRs/TEs
Clemson, 2003-: WRs/Head coach
URBAN MEYER, 52
St. Xavier (Ohio) HS, 1985: DBs
Ohio State, 1986-87: GA
Illinois State, 1988-89: OLBs/QBs/WRs
Colorado State, 1990-95: WRs
Notre Dame, 1996-2000: WRs
Bowling Green, 2001-02: Head coach
Utah, 2003-04: Head coach
Florida, 2005-10: Head coach
Ohio State, 2012-: Head coach
NICK SABAN, 65
Kent State, 1973-76: GA/LBs
Syracuse, 1977: OLBs
West Virginia, 1978-79: DBs
Ohio State, 1980-81: DBs
Navy, 1982: DBs
Michigan State, 1983-87: DC
Houston Oilers, 1988-98: DBs
Toledo, 1990: Head coach
Cleveland Browns, 1991-94: DC
Michigan State, 1995-99: Head coach
LSU, 2000-04: Head coach
Miami Dolphins, 2005-06: Head coach
Alabama, 2007-: Head coach
CHRIS PETERSEN, 52
UC Davis, 1987-91: Fr./WRs
Pittsburgh, 1992: QBs
Portland State, 1993-94: QBs
Oregon, 1995-2000: WRs
Boise State, 2001-13: OC/Head coach
Washington, 2014-: Head coach
JIMBO FISHER, 51
Samford, 1988-92: GA/QBs/OC
Auburn, 1993-98: QBs
Cincinnati, 1999: OC
LSU, 2000-06: OC
Florida State, 2007-: OC/Head coach
WILL MUSCHAMP, 45
Auburn, 1995-96: GA
West Georgia, 1998: DBs
Eastern Kentucky, 1999: DBs
Valdosta State, 2000: DC
LSU, 2001-04: DBs/DC
Miami Dolphins, 2005: AHC
Auburn, 2006-07: DC
Texas, 2008-10: DC
Florida, 2011-14: Head coach
Auburn, 2015: DC
South Carolina, 2016-: Head coach
Bob Stoops, 56 – 5 stops from 1983-present (last 17 years at Oklahoma)
Jim Harbaugh, 53 – 5 stops from 2001-present
Steve Spurrier, 71 – 8 stops from 1978-2015