Swinney’s hot seat part of nature at Clemson

Despite an ACC championship and another Atlantic Division title in three full seasons as Clemson’s head coach Dabo Swinney doesn’t have great job security, according to various media outlets and some sports radio in the state of South Carolina.

CBS’s online site ranked Swinney third on a list of ACC coaches on the hot seat entering the 2012 season. The site noted, “Swinney has lost three straight to cross-state rival South Carolina, by an average of 20 points. He’s 1-3 in bowls capped off by the 70-33 debacle in the Orange Bowl. (Sammy) Watkins won’t be around long, and some might see Swinney’s window of opportunity closing if they don’t produce this season.”

Wilmington Star-News respected reporter Brett Friedlander wrote that that even with last year’s success, Swinney doesn’t “have the luxury of breathing easy.”

Charleston Post & Courier wrote that the contract he signed this summer “gives Swinney added security” as if it was still lacking.

And the Aiken Standard noted that even after signing the extension, Swinney’s personal salary is just 31 percent of the total football staff’s combined compensation, ranking last among all BCS coaches.

Similar success at a lot of schools, including in the ACC, wouldn’t keep such a watchful eye on Swinney. But at Clemson, it’s simply part of the nature of the job. Frank Howard and Danny Ford are legends, but most others are viewed differently by the program’s base. And since Ford left in 1989, an escalation in demand and expectations from the Clemson faithful have become as much a part of the program’s reputation as its orange uniforms and pre-game entry into Memorial Stadium.

Over time, that has translated into how many in the media view the position, and the security of the man in that post. Hence, the constant hot seat talk.

Consider: Ken Hatfield (1990-93) was run out of town despite winning 10, 9 and 9 games in three of his four seasons back when teams played 11-game regular season schedules. Hatfield went 32-13 overall. Tommy West (1993-98) was next, though his termination in 1998 was justified.

Then came Tommy Bowden (1999-2008), who went 72-45 and was on the cusp of breaking through a couple of times, but his teams always hit a snag.

Bowden was the hottest of all young coaching commodities when Clemson hired him away from Tulane, where his final Green Wave team went unbeaten and had a Heisman candidate in Shaun King in 1998.

Bowden’s second Clemson team started the season 8-0, and it appeared as if his Tulane magic was filling Death Valley. He appeared headed toward greatness similar to his legendary father’s level, but the Tigers dropped three of their last four contests and only reached nine victories two more times before Bowden was terminated in the middle of the 2008 season. The storyline surrounding his last several seasons at Clemson were about his job security until it finally got him.

Swinney is fine for now. He has a lot of qualities that suit Clemson well. His outward passion may strike some as odd, but should be applauded and encouraged with this program. Clemson needs to be a fighting, scrapping program with a touch of finesse, and its coach reflects that.  

The 42-year-old coach’s stated goal is to compete for national championships. Getting an ACC title a year ago, despite being blown out West Virginia in the Orange Bowl in record-setting fashion was a necessary step for the program to take if it’s to ever achieve its ultimate goals, Swinney says. It’s a building block.

“They (players) won a championship, and I don’t know how you measure a program other than championships,” said Swinney. “They’re not easy to get or we’d have more than one in 20 years, I can tell you that.”

But the truth is that Swinney is just 29-19 and a stumble this or next season likely will bring out the pitchforks. Every coach that has followed Ford, who led the Tigers to the 1981 national championship, dealt with coaching in his shadows and the demands of the job. Swinney has already felt it some, and those who follow him will as well.

So until Swinney has strung together something truly special he will be on the hot seat there, fair or not.

That’s just the way it is.