The Clemson Tigers fell flat on their face in their Week 1 opener against the Duke Blue Devils this past Monday, falling in an embarrassing 28-7 road defeat. Turnovers and missed field goals doomed them in the contest as the offensive woes that plagued them last year carried over even with a new offensive coordinator in Garrett Riley scheming up the plays.
While Clemson is still projected as a favorite in the ACC, the program’s descent from its heights as a College Football Playoff contender has been apparent for the last few seasons. With the exception of Will Shipley, dominant offensive players of the caliber of a Trevor Lawrence, a Travis Etienne, or a Tee Higgins cannot be found within the program at the moment. They could try to fill those spots by utilizing the transfer portal, but head coach Dabo Swinney has stubbornly stuck to his guns in focusing on internal player development over the portal. With the program starting to fade as a national power and Florida State beginning to re-assert itself, could the Swinney era at Clemson be coming to an end soon?
The answer is an emphatic no.
First off, Clemson and Swinney just agreed to a new 10-year, $115 million contract last September that made him the second-highest paid head coach in college football. The contract runs through 2031 with a salary increase each passing year. To no surprise, the deal includes an astronomical buyout where the school would owe Swinney at least $60 million if they fired him between now and 2025, $57 million in 2026, and the remainder of what he is owed from 2027 onwards. That’s a lot of change for a school that is crying poor because of the ACC’s media rights revenue situation.
Swinney has often been cited as a potential replacement for Nick Saban when the Alabama head coach eventually retires and Clemson did carve out a clause in case he returned to his alma mater. Swinney would owe the university $7.5 million if he left after this year or in 2024, and that number decreases over the rest of the decade. While the Crimson Tide themselves could easily cover that cost without thinking twice, it’s unlikely they’d consider giving the keys to their native son from Pelham, AL. Remember, Clemson’s rise over the past decade has been almost antithetical to Alabama, as the Tigers have only landed a few top-five recruiting classes during their run. Swinney’s methods of roster management and avoidance of the transfer portal would be a non-starter in Tuscaloosa.
And even with them fading as a national title contender, Clemson still occupies a space within the sport’s elite. The “disappointing” season they experienced last fall was a year where they won 11 games and captured their seventh ACC title in eight seasons. That sustained run of dominance would’ve been inconceivable during the Tommy Bowden years in the 2000’s and Clemson is not firing the guy who achieved it because he lost a Week 1 game at Duke.
Barring scandal or a complete nosedive over the next few years, Dabo Swinney will continue to roam the sidelines at Memorial Stadium for the foreseeable future. The head coach does face a reckoning when it comes to his views on the transfer portal and NIL, but the university has remained loyal to him and they won’t pull the plug on his tenure anytime soon.