Dabo Swinney: 'I'll never forget the voicemail that guy sent me'

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Friday June 16, 2017


Fans telling a coach who to recruit and who to hire is part of the job. Dabo Swinney has kept some of the memories.

Swinney recently recorded an hourlong interview on organizational culture for the Southern Textile Association / Join Fiber Buyer annual meeting in South Carolina this week. It included his philosophy on hiring assistant coaches.

The Clemson coach recounted a search for an offensive coordinator. He didn’t specify when, but it’s likely when Chad Morris went to SMU after the 2014 season. Swinney got a lot of input, including from some unexpected people.

“I still have some of the letters people sent me,” Swinney said. “I had a politician call me and tell me that if I didn’t hire a certain coach, then I should be fired. I’ll never forget the voicemail that guy sent me. It was this big name coach. At the end of the day, you have to be convicted in what you believe in. If I wasn’t going to be successful, it wasn’t going to be because I tried somebody else’s way.”

Swinney didn’t hire a "big-name" coach. He promoted running backs coach Tony Elliott and wide receivers coach Jeff Scott to co-coordinators, because he said they fit. In the two years since, Clemson has reached two national title games.

“I’m looking for certain things when I hire people,” Swinney said. “I’m looking character first, because that’s what’s going to sustain. I’m only as good as those I surround myself with. Yes, they have to have the aptitude. For example, Tony Elliott. When I hired Tony Elliott, he’d never coached running backs a day in his life. I wasn’t worried about that. We can teach you how to coach running backs.

You’ve got the skillset, the integrity, the work ethic, the heart, the fit in the culture, you believe in the philosophy of the culture. Robbie Caldwell may say it differently in his room, but the message is the same. We have to all be on the same page, and you have to have people that believe in the philosophy of the program. I’m very careful with who we hire.”

Swinney had to make two hires this offseason, after defensive tackles coach Dan Brooks retired and defensive ends coach Marion Hobby went to the NFL. Again, he didn’t go for big names. He hired Todd Bates from Jacksonville State to coach the defensive line, and he promoted analyst Mickey Conn to coach safeties.

“When I’m getting ready to make a decision on a coach, I don’t ever get distracted,” Swinney said. “If I was running the program the way other people wanted me to run it, I’m probably not the coach now.”

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with CoachingSearch.com and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News, MLive.com, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to chris@coachingsearch.com.