Nick Saban is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. Here's what I wrote about the Alabama dynasty a year ago, and this was before the Tide took home a fifth national title in the Saban era with a true freshman at quarterback.
But Saban has to step down at some point. The man can't coach forever, and he is 66 years old. He has to quit at some point.
And while none of us know what the future holds, in the unlikely event that Saban steps down somewhat soon, it's no secret where Tide AD Greg Byrne's first call would go: to Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. Dabo, of course, is an Alabama native, played wide receiver on Alabama's 1992 national title team and spent his first eight seasons in coaching on the Crimson Tide staff.
He's also an elite coach and program builder. He's 101-30 in 10 seasons at Clemson, with seven straight double-digit win seasons and 40-4 with three straight ACC titles, three straight College Football Playoff appearances and a national title over the past three seasons. Dabo's Clemson has become the only program that can go belly-to-belly with Saban's Tide in this current moment, so it makes too much sense not to at least kick the tires.
For his part, Swinney has never even hinted at being unhappy or restless at Clemson, yet at the same time he's been honest in saying if Alabama calls, he'll listen. They don't call it Sweet Home Alabama for nothing.
Here's what he said when asked in September:
"First of all, anybody that would even say that or suggest that, I'm humbled by that and certainly appreciate that anybody would even think that way, that they would want me to be a candidate for a job like Alabama," Swinney said. "But that's just kind of the fandom. People just naturally make connections and things like that and they never really consider all factors. I've always said 'you never say never,' because you have no idea what the dynamics are going to be. Ten years from now, Alabama may call me and want me to come to Alabama, and the Clemson people may hate me at that point. I don't know. I may have a terrible president or a terrible AD. There's dynamics that can change. I'm always just focused on being great where I'm at and blooming where I'm planted."
Clemson AD Dan Radakovich's job is to be prepared for every possible variable, and the prospect of someone making a run at its future College Football Hall of Fame coach is a Defcon 1 variable.
“I certainly hope that we’ve been able to demonstrate to Dabo that you can get to the highest level right here at Clemson, and he’s been able to do that. So there’s so many positives about the university,” Radakovich told The State. “We have a great Board of Trustees. We have an incredible president. We have some alignment going there that has allowed us to do our job, and I think that you don’t find that everywhere, but we have it here. I think that’s a big X factor.”
And there's a good chance that pitch works. Radakovich actually echoed the Anything is possible at Clemson line from Swinney himself. Here's the second part of Swinney's answer from September.
"All I know is, there's nothing we can't do at Clemson. I don't have to go somewhere else to win at the highest level, to recruit great players, to have great support -- I really don't. I'm just really fortunate," he said. "My focus is here and hopefully I can be here for a long, long time. If something changes down the road, you process those things then. But I love this place."