MMQB: Phillips Makes Right Call

CLEMSON - When Terry Don Phillips made Dabo Swinney Clemson's interim head coach on Oct. 13, he did so with no guarantee of future employment.

Go out and earn yourself an interview at season's end, Swinney was told. In the meantime, we're beginning a national search for Tommy Bowden's replacement.

Phillips followed through on his plan. His trips to visit various and sundry candidates for the position have been well documented, not to mention well tracked (isn't the Internet marvelous?). He hired a national search firm to help matters along, and set out about the business of finding the right fit for Clemson.

Apparently, he had the right fit in the position all along.

If the reports circulating are true, Swinney will be officially announced as Clemson's next head football coach either Monday or Tuesday. It has been reported on this site that the interview between Phillips and Swinney went well, and a job offer was extended at that time.

If this is accurate, then count me as one who believes Phillips made the correct decision.

Yes, I'm fully aware some fans wanted the big name, the home run hitter, the guy with a proven track record. This announcement will be met with resistance by some who believe their school and AD are settling, and that Phillips is making an emotional hire based in part on Saturday's throttling of the hated Gamecocks.

But those who know Phillips understand nothing could be further from the truth. Columnists and radio talk show hosts can afford to allow emotion to play into their opinions. I qualify both fronts, and have freely admitted that it would be difficult for me to keep emotion out of such a decision.

But Phillips, for all his country boy, Southern drawl, aw-shucks public persona, is smarter than that. The guy's a lawyer, for heaven's sake. And he's also at the head of a business - an athletic department with a multi-million dollar budget. One he's trying to keep not only afloat, but thriving, in this wretched economy.

He can't afford to make emotional decisions. There's too much at stake.

So while he was jetting around the country interviewing potential candidates, he also was keeping close tabs on Swinney's work. And what did he see?

He saw Swinney:

- Bring a fractured locker room together;
- Bring a split fan base together;
- Have the backbone to make a tough decision like firing Rob Spence;
- Get the team to play with an emotion, a passion, that had been missing;
- Exude a willingness to put his stamp on every aspect of the team, including Vic Koening's defense;
- Embrace Clemson tradition, and reach out to former players and coaches for support and advice;
- Guide Clemson to a 4-2 record against the most difficult part of the schedule, and getting bowl eligible in the process - something which appeared near-impossible after the loss to Georgia Tech.

"In short, Phillips has seen Swinney display all the necessary qualifications to earn the head coaching position."
In short, Phillips has seen Swinney display all the necessary qualifications to earn the head coaching position.

Still, there have been complaints along the way. The team is running the same offense, making the same mistakes. Doing this and doing that.

Remember, Swinney took over in midstream. There was no time to install a new system, no viable way to drastically overhaul either the playbook or the coaching staff. He had to take the proverbial hand he was dealt - his pocket 10s - and find a way to make it all work.

And he did. Clemson is going bowling again this year thanks to four wins in its final five games.

Detractors also say that hiring Swinney is just an extension of Bowden, and that a clean break is necessary.

But just the evidence mentioned above is enough to prove otherwise. And if the rumored staff shakeup takes place, it will be further proof that Swinney is his own man with his own philosophy.
Finally, there have been cries for a proven winner. Someone with a track record to guarantee success.

Folks, there are no guarantees. In football or life. Every coach who has resigned or been fired this year or any other was brought in because administration thought he could get the job done. And yet the revolving door continues to spin. Clemson is no different than anywhere else in that regard.

And let us not forget that arguably the three greatest coaches in school history - Frank Howard, Charlie Pell and Danny Ford - were all hired from within. They were all part of someone else's staff.

All the end product of an athletic director's search.

Does that guarantee Swinney's success? Not in the least. Again, there are no guarantees.

But it does serve as a reminder that bringing in the "big name" isn't always the most profitable route. Sometimes the best fit is right under your nose. And Phillips has sniffed out such diamonds as Les Miles, Mike Gundy and Oliver Purnell in the past.

It just might be that he's picked up the right scent again.

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