Before the Jaguars hired Urban Meyer as their head coach in January 2021, there was speculation about another successful college coach making the jump to the NFL.
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney saw his name popping up in the news cycle last year after former NFL executive Mike Tannenbaum suggested that, if Swinney decided to leave the Tigers for a professional job, Jacksonville would be a perfect landing spot. At the time, the Jaguars were well-positioned for a rebuild with plenty of draft picks and cap room, not to mention the possibility of landing Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
When asked about the rumors, Swinney laughed off the idea of leaving Clemson, saying, “I’m not worried about the AFC or NFC. I don’t even know what they are.”
Now that Jacksonville once again has an opening after firing Meyer, could Swinney reconsider his stance? Would the Jaguars want to go down the college-to-pros road again after a disastrous stretch?
The case for Dabo Swinney as Jaguars head coach
Let’s start with an obvious point in the “for” column: Trevor Lawrence.
The 22-year-old struggled under Meyer, throwing nine touchdowns and a league-high 14 interceptions in 13 games, but it would be unfair to place all of the Jaguars’ struggles at the rookie’s feet. Amid a lost season, he has flashed the talent that made him one of the most productive college quarterbacks in recent memory. Swinney could take elements from the Clemson offense and bring them to Jacksonville to help Lawrence develop into a top QB.
A switch wouldn’t just be about what is happening with the Jaguars, though. It would also be about what is happening at the college level.
Swinney lost defensive coordinator Brent Venables to Oklahoma and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott to Virginia. Swinney chose to go with internal promotions, which wasn’t unexpected, but he could face criticism for those hires if they don’t work out. Clemson certainly had the money to bring in some bigger names. Swinney has set such a high bar that even a slight drop in wins could spark criticism and questions.
Additionally, Swinney has to deal with the evolving college football landscape. He has clearly stated his opinion on the transfer portal and NIL (name, image and likeness) legislation.
“It’s total chaos right now,” Swinney said (via Sports Illustrated). “Tampering galore. Kids being manipulated. Grass is greener and all that stuff as opposed to putting the work in and graduating. There’s no consequences. So now you’ve got agents and NIL, tampering, and you have no consequences. No consequences equals no conscience.
“There’s no reason for pause, no barrier for young people, like, nothing. Education is like the last thing now.”
If Swinney believes college football is turning into the wild west, would he bail now before more changes arrive? If the answer is yes, the Jaguars job is sitting right there.
The case against Dabo Swinney as Jaguars head coach
And now the obvious point in the “against” column: Money.
Swinney signed a 10-year, $92 million deal with Clemson in April 2019, the largest contract in college football history at that time. It runs through 2028 and includes other incentives. It also requires that Swinney is one of the three highest-paid coaches any season after his team reaches the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Simply put, this guy is getting paid. Swinney’s high salary could not only dissuade him from pursuing any pro openings, but also dissuade NFL teams from pursuing him. The potential buyout issues and contract negotiations could be enough to end a conversation before it begins.
Then, there is the football side of things. Recent history shows that hoping a college coach can find success at the next level isn’t a great bet. Meyer, Bobby Petrino, Greg Schiano, Matt Rhule, Steve Spurrier — heck, even Nick Saban struggled with the Dolphins. And Swinney is supposed to win in Jacksonville? That’s a tall task considering the dumpster fire Meyer left behind.
Compare that with his current situation, and it’s a no-contest. Despite a “down” year for Swinney — 9-3 is such a failure! — Clemson should be positioned to contend for conference and national championships in the future. Yes, the landscape has shifted, but Swinney doesn’t have to worry about clawing his way through the SEC to earn a playoff spot. Conference foes such as Pitt and Wake Forest had terrific seasons, but can they be a consistent winner like Clemson? Unlikely.
Put it all together, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear Swinney laughing off another round of rumors before turning his focus back to the Tigers.