Clemson football: Dabo Swinney and Kirby Smart weren’t created equally

UGA football fans are clearly jealous of Clemson football’s success over the last decade under head coach Dabo Swinney – it’s understandable given most of them were not alive the last time their Dawgs actually won a national title in college football.

In an article written and posted over the weekend, we stated Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart had done less with more and that they were more pretenders in the national conversation than actual contenders – both of which are true.

One of the opinions stated repeatedly on Twitter was that like Dabo, Smart needed time to rebuild a program and that success doesn’t happen overnight.

That is true – success does not happen overnight but the programs that Swinney and Smart took over are not comparable and thinking they took over the same type of program is comical. Swinney took over a 1975 Gremlin while Smart took over a 2010 Ferrari.

Taking a simple look over recruiting and talent will show that each coach took over very different programs when they were hired.

Clemson fired Tommy Bowden because he couldn’t win more than eight games a year and couldn’t get to the ACC Championship game. UGA fired Mark Richt because he went three years without getting back to the SEC Championship game.

Bowden went 3-5 in bowl games as the Clemson football head coach while Mark Richt went 10-5 in bowl games as the head man at UGA.


We went back and looked at the recruiting classes that were signed by the previous head coaches of Clemson football as well as UGA – Tommy Bowden and Mark Richt.

The five classes before Dabo taking over Clemson football, 2004-2008, the Tigers had a five-year average ranking of 19th in the country. Their best class was 2008 when they had the ninth-ranked recruiting class in the country.

Kirby Smart had a cupboard that had a lot more in it when he took over just before the close of the 2016 signing class. Before Smart took over, the five-class average ranking for UGA football, 2011-2015, was eighth-best in the country.

The worst-ranked class they had in that five-year period was 2013 when they were 12th in the country.

This doesn’t even take into consideration the 2016 class that Richt put together before he was fired. The 2016 class was sixth in the country and all Kirby Smart had to do was sign the kids on the dotted line as Mark Richt already had the entire class committed.

Looking at the five-year rankings before each coach was hired, the Tigers had just one class inside the Top 10, while the Dawgs had just one class outside the Top 10 and that was still a great class at 12th overall in 2013.

Over the last five years, UGA has dominated recruiting, as they have averaged the second-best class in the country, yet they have no major trophies to show for it. Meanwhile, Clemson football has averaged the 11th best class in the country and has six straight College Football Playoff appearances, four national title appearances, and two national championships.

These coaches are not the same.

NFL Talent

We also took a look at the five NFL drafts before each coach taking over, like recruiting, this wasn’t close either.

Kirby Smart took over a program that had become an NFL factory before his arrival, while Dabo Swinney had to turn Clemson football into one.

From 2011-2015, UGA football had 28 players selected in the NFL draft. That does not include a dozen players that were already on the UGA roster when Smart was hired in December 2015.

From 2004-2008, Clemson football had just 13 players selected in the NFL draft. When Dabo took over, there were less than 10 players on the roster that would hear their names called by the NFL commissioner.

No matter how badly UGA fans want you to believe that Kirby Smart took over a down-and-out program, the fact is that he didn’t. He took over in an ideal situation where the previous head coach had won numerous division titles, conference titles, and bowl games. All Smart had to do was fine-tune a couple of areas to compete.

Dabo had to completely rebuild the culture and teach guys how to win while getting elite-level recruits to believe in what he was trying to build.