Despite $54 million deal, Swinney-Clemson bond not about the dollars


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Dan Radakovich discusses why Clemson’s Dabo Swinney deserved raise
SCOTT KEEPFER/Greenville News/WOCHIT

CLEMSON – Dabo Swinney has never been a show-me-the-money kind of guy.

In fact, when presented with his first contract to become Clemson’s head football coach back in 2008, Swinney barely scanned the fine print.

“I just signed whatever was put in front of me,” Swinney said. “I was a pretty cheap investment.

“I told (then-athletic director) Terry Don Phillips just to leave me on the contract I’m on; I’m making more money than I’ve ever made. I’m good.”

Swinney made $800,000 that first year.

“I thought, ‘What am I going to do with all that?’ ” Swinney said. “I had no idea. I had never had that kind of money, had never even dreamed about it, to be honest with you.

“I had a longevity clause – if you’re still here in five years, we’re going to give you $100,000 or something like that – and I said, ‘Beautiful. Let’s go!’ ”

Swinney has been going full bore ever since, crafting an 89-28 record along the way, including 70-13 the past six seasons.

Oh yeah, and winning a national title in January.

That dramatic 35-31 victory – against his alma mater, no less – made Swinney one of only four active college FBS coaches with a national championship to their credit, and that weighed heavily into Friday morning’s decision by Clemson’s Board of Trustees to reward the former walk-on at Alabama with a new eight-year contract worth $54 million, or an average of $6.75 million per year through 2024.

Swinney’s previous contract paid him an average of $5.33 million annually.

The new deal is lucrative, to be sure, particularly for a guy who would’ve assumed the post on a wide receiver coach’s salary, and places the 47-year-old Pelham, Ala., native in an exclusive neighborhood.

Swinney, who took years to diligently pay off his student loans and once shared an off-campus apartment with his mother because of financial constraints, is now the third-highest paid college coach in America, trailing only Alabama’s Nick Saban and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh.

Saban and Harbaugh make an average of $8.1 million and $7.6 million, respectively, under their current contracts. Swinney also is the highest-paid coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference, surpassing Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and his $5.7 million annual income.

But more important than the numbers is the statement made by this latest deal – namely, that Swinney is committed to Clemson, and the university and its powers-that-be are willing to invest royally to assure that the Swinneys maintain a local mailing address.

“What he’s done with our program has been incredible,” Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich said after Friday’s announcement. “He means so much to our athletic department, to our university, to our community. He and (wife) Kathleen are just incredible ambassadors for the institution.”

The love affair is mutual.

“My family and I have been extremely blessed to be part of such an incredible university and community for the past 14 years,” Swinney said. “This contract makes a strong statement. It is a mutual commitment reflective of the program we have built and continue to build at Clemson. The Clemson family does so much to support our program, and I couldn’t be more proud to be your head coach.”

The total value of Swinney’s new deal is $54 million, including signing and retention bonuses. The deal included a $1.5 million signing bonus that he’ll receive next month.

Swinney also could potentially earn up to $1 million in incentives based on his players’ academic performance, postseason success and Coach of the Year awards.

Swinney’s buyout would be $6 million should he leave Clemson at any time before Dec. 31, 2018, then decrease to $4 million in 2019, $3 million in 2020, $2 million in 2021 and $1 million in 2022 and 2023.

The university’s buyout should it part ways with Swinney would be $5 million multiplied by the number of years remaining on the contract in years 1 through 6, then the remaining base salary plus supplemental income and licensing monies in years 7 and 8.

Given Swinney’s popularity and success, including a school-record six consecutive seasons with 10 or more victories, neither buyout scenario appears likely.

Indeed, the Board of Trustees probably feels like it got a bargain.

“When you look at the market, the market’s now defined because Dabo has won a national championship here at Clemson,” Radakovich said. “The market’s defined by those four individuals (Urban Meyer, Saban, Fisher and Swinney) who are currently active coaches that have national championship victories. It further includes coach Harbaugh at Michigan because he had a Super Bowl appearance, he’s been at a very, very high level. So that’s kind of the market, really the parameters we used in doing our market assessment and ultimately created the terms based on that.”

Bottom line? Swinney’s bank account may look a lot different than it used to, but Dabo and Kathleen remain unchanged.

“We ate lot of SpaghettiOs in college,” Kathleen said a couple of years ago. “But we didn’t know any different. We were happy, and it was fun.”

And apparently still is.

More: Top college football salaries

 

 



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