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Dabo Swinney on the idea of leaving Clemson for Alabama: 'You don't ever say never'

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The Tigers head coach is refreshingly honest when talking about his alma mater.

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Would Dabo Swinney leave Clemson for a hypothetically open Alabama job? The coach of the top-ranked team in college football wouldn't say yes -- but he did say "don't ever say never" when it comes to his future.

In a profile by CBS Sports' Jon Solomon, Swinney was unwilling to rule out a possible future return to his alma mater, where he played wide receiver and spent seven years as an assistant coach.

You don't ever say never. You don't ever know what the circumstances would be at any given time. First of all, Alabama may never, ever call me and I would never have a problem with that. They've got to do what they've got to do. My deal is to be great where I'm at. I had opportunities to leave Alabama. I had opportunities to leave Clemson. But I've just never been that guy about the next job. I'm about the job I've got.

That may not mean anything, but it's refreshingly honest compared to the outright denial that so often comes with the slightest shred of coaching rumors at the FBS level. Bama could pitch truckloads of money and access to the facilities and recruits that come with having the biggest office in Tuscaloosa. He'd be coaching in the conference that gets more national exposure than any other and lead a fan base that would revere him as a demigod if he can meet their high standards of success.

However, Swinney would have to follow in the footsteps of one of the most accomplished coaches in college football history, and the patience and goodwill he's earned in South Carolina won't necessarily make the trip west with him. The strategy he's used to build his program up from a four-star operation to a five-star unit may not translate with a team that's already elite. No amount of optimism would be able to explain an extended stretch without an Alabama appearance in the College Football Playoff. The work he's done at Clemson has helped him build and protect his legacy as a coach. A move back to the SEC could unravel all of it.

News on jobs that are actually open

These comments could also be a case of Swinney keeping his cards close to his vest when it comes to upcoming contract negotiations. Despite making $3.3 million this season in the early stages of an eight-year contract, the Tiger coach is just the 26th-highest paid public university coach in the nation. That number may be even lower when you factor in head coaches at private universities like Stanford and Notre Dame, who don't have to disclose the value of their contracts.

Though the university eventually granted his request to have an indoor practice facility built on campus, Clemson President James Clements wasn't exactly forthcoming when it came to the idea of giving his coach a raise to retain one of the hottest playcallers in college football. He didn't mention the financial aspect of keeping his head coach when Solomon asked him about a possible move to the SEC.

"If I'm the president of Alabama and I have an opening, guess who I'm calling? Dabo," Clements said. "So it's OK. … Dabo is building something special here. If I'm him and I'm looking at the path we're on, I don't need to go anywhere else, including Alabama."

Dabo Swinney may never leave Clemson. He's carved his place in school history, and he can ascend to legendary status by bringing home the program's first title since 1981 if his team plays up to expectations this winter. Would that be the victory that eventually sends him looking back toward Alabama in search of a new challenge? It seems not even the coach himself is sure.

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