Can you replace the irreplaceable? That’s a question that many Alabama football fans are asking as time marches on. While Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban has many more years of coaching left in his tank (I’d say he has less than a quarter of a tank left, yet it will be a while before that low fuel light pops on), the query is coming. Some fans are suffering over the question that’s a punch to the gut: “What happens when Nick Saban hangs it up and heads to the lake?” Aside from fans dealing with a rumbling that will break the Richter scale as well as many visits to the doctor's office for treatment of shock and depression, life will (eventually) go on. It will be then when a new question surfaces: “What now?”
My longtime friend Paul Finebaum (as well as yours truly and many others) spent considerable time with Dabo Swinney this past weekend, and as Dabo was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall Of Fame’s class of 2018, Dabo again reminded us of how grounded, how impressive this 48-year-old can be. Dabo held court at Friday’s luncheon, brought out chills on Saturday morning when he shared his testimony at an FCA breakfast and floored the crowd Saturday night as he gave an impassioned and heartfelt acceptance speech. Perhaps that’s why Finebaum, perhaps a but smitten from the weekend’s activities, told our friends on WJOX Radio, “Nick Saban will never truly be replaced, but there is now only one man who can replace Saban, and that man is Dabo Swinney.”
I have to say that Finebaum may have a point. While to some Dabo is a bit too loose in comparison to Nick’s buttoned-up corporate style, never let it be said that a coach like Dabo Swinney could not succeed at the Capstone. While Saban is guarded, Swinney has never met a person he didn’t like. While Saban chooses his words carefully, Swinney can’t stop talking. And while Saban arrives at a function often surrounded by his media folks, his driver and state police, Dabo just as soon pull his truck up to a driving range, hit some golf balls and chat with a stranger about a fish he caught.
But what about Coach Saban’s success? We may never see another run like it. Five national championships in nine years, over two dozen first-round draft picks during his UA tenure, and much because of his success, the University Of Alabama seeing record growth, from facilities to students. But think about it: Dabo Swinney, a former Alabama walk-on, a man who saw his mother suffer from polio, his father own a service station, his parent’s divorce, his mother live with him at the Fountainbeau Apartments while he was in college because the family was broke, the man who fought for everything, could be the man to lead the Crimson Tide.
Dabo’s recent success? College Football Playoff appearances the last three years with one national championship, the win coming over (gulp) Nick Saban! A team that can nearly stack up with the Crimson Tide over the last few years on the success meter. Dabo tells me, “We’re in the neighborhood now. Bama lives on a lake with a pool in the backyard while we (Clemson) are on an interior lot. But we live across the street now.” And connections? A former Bama receiver, Dabo owns two degrees from UA, his wife Kathleen graduated from Bama, and two of their three sons (Drew, Will, Clay) were born at DCH.
The one wildcard? Would Dabo want to leave a Clemson program that has seen tremendous success and facility upgrades? The money’s not the object here, as Dabo makes plenty. You remember that Coach Bryant headed to the University Of Alabama when “momma called,” but will that phone call be enough to lure Swinney back home? (Who am I kidding? Of course it will!)
I always joke with my cohorts here at WBRC FOX6 that I hope I am retired when Nick Saban calls it a career because I don’t know if my body can handle working 24/7 while the earthquake lasts for weeks. But at some point, all good things must come to an end. Bama fans will never forget all of the good things that the greatest coach in college football history has accomplished, but they also hope a new coach, perhaps a man named William Christopher Swinney will keep the train rolling and lead the UA program to more success. I’m down with it, are you?
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