Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has said he has no interest in even thinking about the Houston Texans and their head coaching position. That’s what a guy is supposed to say when he’s already employed elsewhere and is in the midst of the busy time of the year.
If he does get around to thinking about the job, Swinney shouldn’t dwell on it. And he doesn’t need to take the phone call if the Texans try reaching out.
The speculation about Dabo Swinney is only natural
The “coaching fraternity” is a real thing. With college and pro staffs so large in football, coaches make connections with a lot of people on their way up the ranks from graduate assistant to head coach. They also meet some executives along the way, and that’s the case with Dabo Swinney.
The highly successful Clemson coach is said to be a personal acquaintance of Houston Texans executive Jack Easterby, who inherited the role of interim general manager when Bill O’Brien was fired as coach and GM after an 0-4 start.
Even assuming that there is a strong relationship there, would Swinney have real confidence that Easterby has the clout to make the coaching decision and/or be there for the long haul? The more direct question is whether Texans chairman and CEO Cal McNair is done making moves.
The Texans operated under a traditional structure when Bill O’Brien arrived in 2014. The former Penn State coach consolidated power afterward to take the coach/GM role. If McNair goes back to the more common organizational chart, then does Easterby get replaced as VP of football operations by someone with stronger ties in the sport – and the “coaching fraternity” connections that go with it?
His official team biography shows that Easterby’s NFL background is paper-thin. McNair may want a VP/GM combination better-suited to deal with the team’s impending salary-cap crunch and a dearth of draft picks in the short term because of deals that O’Brien made.
The connection to DeShaun Watson is overrated
It took milli-seconds after Bill O’Brien was fired to start linking Dabo Swinney to the Houston Texans job on the basis of his connection to quarterback DeShaun Watson.
Watson helped elevate the Clemson program as the starter in 2015 and ’16, throwing for 8,702 yards and 76 touchdowns. The Tigers were 28-2 in that span, and the Watson era ended with a 35-31 win over Alabama to avenge a title-game loss to the Crimson Tide the previous season.
Swinney had already transformed the middling program that he inherited from Tommy Bowden midway through the 2008 season into a top-echelon FBS contender. Has an NFL owner even given the coach/QB connection much weight when making the decision to hire from the college ranks? Reuniting the coach and quarterback does more for Watson, who recently signed a four-year contract extension, than for Swinney.
Also, is the track record of college coaches moving up to the NFL very good to begin with? When the Texans plucked O’Brien out of Penn State, he had already been an NFL assistant. Swinney’s entire coaching resume consists of jobs at Alabama and Clemson.
The two best reasons he should stay at Clemson
It is doubtful Dabo Swinney would make the Steve Spurrier mistake of thinking that coaching in the NFL is only a 50-hour-a-week job with time to squeeze in 18 holes whenever. Spurrier learned quickly that preparing for the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants isn’t quite the same as prepping for Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Swinney has it relatively easy at Clemson, a Power 5 conference without a lot of powers. The Tigers lost one game a season ago. Every one of the other 13 ACC schools lost at least five times. Throw out 10-3 Syracuse (a program that has played Clemson tough but is now circling the drain) and every 2018 ACC team lost at least four times.
Clemson has the closest thing there is to an annual bye into the College Football Playoffs. The only two reasons for Swinney to walk away would be if the job opened up at Alabama, his alma mater, or if the NFL offered better money.
Nick Saban might leave Alabama at some point in the next few years. But making significantly more money in the NFL is an improbability. He is the highest-paid coach in the FBS after signing a 10-year, $93 million deal in the spring of 2019.
The mere chatter connecting Swinney to the Texans may earn Swinney a revised contract at Clemson, perhaps at least reclaiming the money lost to pandemic-related salary cuts, but he has too sweet a deal to seriously consider heading off to the NFL.