Near the end of the first quarter of the College Football Playoff national championship game, ESPN showed a blast from Clemson coach Dabo Swinney's past: His picture from a time when he was out of football and selling commercial real estate.
After the firing of Alabama head coach Mike DuBose in 2000 and a subsequent NCAA investigation into the Tide's recruitment of Albert Means, Swinney was out of a job and close to the shadow of wrongdoing. And when former Alabama strength coach Rich Wingo, who had started a commercial real estate firm building shopping centers after leaving football, came calling months into Swinney's unemployment, the young coach found himself persuaded to hang a shingle.
Swinney explained his thinking in a radio interview in 2015.
"And so my wife and I, at the time I had a three-year-old and a two-year-old, it had been a difficult time and I just decided, I’m going to take this season off and kind of regroup and really spend some time with my boys," he said. "Really had no intentions of getting out of coaching but Rich Wingo, who was my first strength coach at the University of Alabama and a former great player at Alabama, and he was like, 'Hey, what are you going to do this fall?' And I said, 'Well, I’m probably going to be out and try to get back in after the season.' And so he talks me into coming an working with him and so for the next two years I was in real estate development and learned a lot, traveled the country, learned new things with this company I was with, met a lot of new people and had great success doing something outside of coaching."
It was that time, Swinney said, that turned him into the coach he is today.
"But the best thing is it really made me a better coach and it really gave me an appreciation that I didn’t have, I don’t think," he said. "I always thought I was a good coach and loved what I did, I always loved what I did, but I just think that the passion for coaching and teaching and impacting people’s lives, I just couldn’t find anything to fill that void. Even though I was working a 9-to-5 job, at home on the weekends, and I was making more money than I had ever made – we didn’t make any money when I was an assistant at Alabama -but that’s not why I got into coaching. When I got an opportunity, Tommy Bowden called me and asked if I was interested in getting back into coaching. I said, 'Heck, yeah.' I was really fortunate to get an opportunity. I went to Clemson in the spring of ’03 and five-and-a-half years later I’m the interim head coach. Just lucky enough to get the job, right place, right time. Players bought in and six years later we’ve built a great foundation, so it’s been quite a journey."
By all accounts, Swinney had success in the field, possibly partly due to earning an MBA during his time at Alabama. Clemson fans are probably just as happy that he did eventually get wooed back to the coaching ranks, however.