How close is Dabo Swinney to being the best in college football?

For the third straight autumn, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney has positioned the Tigers for a shot at the College Football Playoff and a national championship.

After losing the core of its record-setting offense, including star quarterback Deshaun Watson and most of his surrounding cast, Clemson has found a way with a new cast of young talents.
In that regard, Swinney may have done the greatest coaching job in America this season to get the Tigers back in a position to compete for a national title.

With Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops’ midsummer retirement, there are only four active FBS head coaches – Dabo Swinney, Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, and Jimbo Fisher – with national championships to their credit. Saban and Meyer have claimed eight NCAA titles between them, while Fisher and Swinney brought home the ACC’s two most recent national championships in 2013 and 2016.


The Saban Standard

With five national championships, Saban is the reigning king of major college football coaches. A sixth title would tie Saban with Crimson Tide legend Bear Bryant for the all-time record. Saban even has a pair of back-to-back titles with the Tide in 2011 and 2012, which would counter an argument that Clemson winning two straight NCAA crowns would trump him.

The prospect of a third straight Clemson-Alabama showdown in the CFP National Championship Game was diminished by the Crimson Tides’ road loss at Auburn. But does the uncertain prospect of Alabama’s postseason hopes mean that Swinney is in a position to surpass Saban as college football’s premier coach?

Although the longevity numbers aren’t quite there yet for Swinney, he’s beginning to make a case as one of the only current college coaches that can measure up to Saban.

Saban didn’t win his first national championship – in 2003 at LSU – until he was 52 years old. By then, Saban was on his 11th stop in a college coaching journey that led him throughout the Northeast and Midwest prior to his move to Baton Rouge. He’d also served briefly as Jerry Glanville’s defensive backs coach with the Houston Oilers for a couple years in the late 1980s.


Assessing Dabo

By contrast, Swinney won his first national title five years younger, at the age of 47. Clemson is just the second stop on Swinney’s coaching trail, having arrived in Death Valley as wide receivers coach in 2003 from his alma mater, Alabama. Eighteen years Saban’s junior, Swinney appears to have a long career ahead of him, and has plenty of time to catch Saban’s impressive totals in conference and national titles.

A second straight national championship wouldn’t quite catch Swinney up to Saban. At least not this year. But what it would do was send notice around the college football world that last year’s triumph over the Crimson Tide was no fluke. That the Tigers are the new ‘it’ team in all of college football. And that Dabo Swinney is the game’s finest coach at the moment.


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