As Dabo Swinney continues to forward the Clemson Tigers as one of the premier college football programs in the nation, there’s a constant shadow looming cast by Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide.
There’s no arguing that Alabama is the gold standard of the sport. Five championships in nine years paint that picture pretty clearly, but Clemson has done more than most in recent years to narrow the gap.
The Tigers and Crimson Tide have met in each of the last three College Football Playoffs, splitting the first two meetings in games that would become instant classics. The last meeting was decidedly less exciting, with the Alabama defensive line overwhelming Clemson on the way to a comfortable 24-6 victory.
However, Clemson was in transition and they looked poised to retool again in 2018 with 16 starters returning and an extremely talented 17-man recruiting class already more than half-enrolled. And it’s becoming clear that Swinney’s program is one of only two (Ohio State is in the ballpark) that can compete with Saban’s bunch on a regular basis.
And that’s because Swinney is outdoing Saban in a few key areas that are allowing Clemson to compete against a machine that is now over a decade in the making.
For starters, Swinney has created a culture that is antithetical to “The Process”. Saban and Alabama are all about seriousness and order and, while that’s a tough sell to high school-age kids, the near-guarantee that players who complete the process will compete for championships and earn a place in the league overcomes all.
It’s an NFL boarding school and it’s grueling but the end result makes it all worth it.
At Clemson, Swinney takes a different tact. Of course, the program is still wholly dependent on a winning culture, but they seem to believe you can be a little bit more laid back and still accomplish those results.
That allows them to compete on a more level playing field in recruiting despite the fact that they have less to sell incoming recruits as a whole than Alabama. They haven’t established as nationally-recognized of a brand and they don’t have the benefit of playing in the SEC.
They’re not as centrally-located among recruiting hotbeds like Florida, Georgia and Texas and their in-state recruiting base isn’t as strong in South Carolina as it is in Alabama. They don’t have the history and their facilities aren’t exactly on the same par, though they are extremely impressive in their own right.
But hey, Clemson has a slide. Swinney gives off the impression that he cares for his players on a different level than Saban.
There’s always the possibility that it’s disingenuous, but the Clemson players certainly don’t seem to think so and that’s really all that matters. They buy wholeheartedly into the dream that Swinney is selling and that’s allowed them to overcome everything that works against them and to build a program that can rival Alabama.
It’s not that Saban doesn’t care about his players, he just utilizes a diametrically-opposed method to get the most out of his players. Saban is the detail-oriented disciplinarian and Swinney is the Andy Griffith Show character who aims to kill everybody with kindness.
There’s a daggum slide and a nap room in the football facility, for crying out loud.
Neither side is necessarily wrong in their approach. They’re just different.
And that’s what makes this budding rivalry compelling in so many ways. Because if Swinney wasn’t better when it came to relationship-building, Clemson would be getting crushed by a program with so many built-in advantages.
So, in those ways he’s absolutely better than Saban. It might not mean that he’s better on the whole, but it’s also not entirely out of the realm of possibility that this is merely the beginning for Swinney and Clemson football.
The post How Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is better than Alabama’s Nick Saban appeared first on Diehards.