Face the facts folks. You cannot hate Dabo Swinney no matter how hard you try. Alabama fans know this is true after watching their beloved Crimson Tide lose 44-16 to the Clemson Tigers a couple of weeks ago for the national championship of college football. He is the man they want to replace Nick Saban when the best coach in college football decides to call it quits for a career.
And, why not?
Swinney is a former Crimson Tide receiver who began his coaching career under Gene Stallings – the last coach to win a national title at Alabama before Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. It was Swinney that Stallings took a particular interest in after he graduated from the University of Alabama, after winning a national championship as a player. Swinney was out of football and Stallings coaxed – heck, he demanded – Swinney come back to the college football ranks as a graduate assistant coach.
Stallings just plain told Swinney, “It’s your job. Take it.” Well, it was something like that, but probably much harsher than Swinney expected. But, Stallings was right. Coaching college football is what Swinney needed to be doing. It was what the Lord had prepared him to do in life – at least a portion of his life. The other things He prepared Swinney to do were teach young athletes there is more to life than sports. He prepared Swinney to teach young athletes to do what He taught Swinney to do – persevere.
Remember, for a good portion of his young life, Swinney was homeless. He bounced from family friend to family friend to survive. He decided to walk on at Alabama and got an apartment for himself and his mother. Swinney survived what life and the Lord threw his way. He was not angry with the Lord for the life he led early on. He was thankful and the circumstances of that life made him a more faithful servant of the Lord. He is a true believer, a Christian. He makes no apologies for his faith and never will.
It is because of the experiences of his life that he is where he is today – one of the most feted coaches in his sport. A coach young athletes flock to when he offers them a future at Clemson as a player, as a student and as a person with a lot of success ahead in their lives.
Phenix City’s own Justyn Ross knew he was going to Clemson long before he told anyone on National Signing Day in 2018. When he made his decision, Ross simply said the reason was, “It (Clemson) felt like home.” He also said he fell in love with “Coach Swinney.” That was much to the disappointment of the Crimson Tide and its many fans. But, Ross made the right decision for Ross. He was thinking ahead to what was in store for himself at age 30. “Where will I be then?” he asked.
Well, I do not know where Ross will be at age 30, but I do know where he is right now. He is on the National Champion Clemson Tigers football team. He is being coached by one of the best coaches in college football. He is in a place where everyone seems happy to be – next to Dabo Swinney.
I cannot blame Ross for wanting to be with Swinney. Heck, if I had a son who wanted to play college football and learn a lot more than just how to become a professional football player, I would want him with Swinney. He has so much to teach. And, young athletes have so much to learn.
You can usually tell what is inside of a coach by the things he says. Swinney said the most important thing he learned from Stallings was, “You do not have to sacrifice your family to be a good coach.” He keeps his family close. He believes “recruits and their families want and deserve to know who you are as a person, not just what kind of coach you are.”
Back in July when the ACC Days kicked off, Swinney was asked a question that brought out a big smile. A reporter asked Swinney about God and his faith and its place in his life.
“Man, that is the easiest question I’ve had all day,” Swinney said. “Well, I mean, that is just the priorities of my life. I grew up in a family that I was taught there was a God and all that, but I didn’t really have a relationship with Christ until I was 16. And that was a game changer for me. That’s really become the foundation of my life.” It is the foundation Swinney has used to build his career in college football. Don’t you want your children to hear that from the people who influence their lives?
I wish I had the space to keep writing about this amazing coach – and human being. There are few men on the face of this earth who can match the life he lives. Like I said when I started this column, you just cannot hate Dabo Swinney.
One more thing before I close, Swinney says a lot of things, but the quote I began in the title of this column is especially good for everyone to hear. “To be an overachiever, you have to be an over-believer.” Swinney is an over-believer. He makes those around him over-believers as well.
Mark Clark is a local sports writer for The Citizen of East Alabama.