Clemson Football has been fortunate to have head coach Dabo Swinney for many years. During that time he has had much less turnover on his staff than most programs.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban had been with his program a long time as well. When he retired last week, the Crimson Tide athletic department moved quickly to find a new head coach.
They hired Washington’s Kalen DeBoer within three days. DeBoer has just led the Huskies to the national championship game. He seemed like a great hire to most observers.
No matter what outsiders think of the DeBoer hire, it hasn’t stopped players from deciding to move on to other programs.
Ten high-profile players have entered the portal since Saban’s announcement. This is in addition to the twenty that were already in the portal before Saban retired.
Most of the players that were in the portal already weren’t expected to be impactful departures for the Tide, but the ones who have left since are a different story.
Julian Sayin was the highest-rated quarterback in the 247Sports Composite for the 2024 class. Caleb Downs was a freshman All-American safety for Alabama this past season. Isaiah Bond and Kadyn Proctor are both rated as 5-star transfer prospects by 247.
Of the ten departures, only one is rated as less than 4-stars by 247.
This comes as a surprise to many who assumed that Alabama was too strong of a program to suffer these kinds of losses, even under such circumstances, but it is a testament to how strong some players feel their resumes are tied to the resumes of the coaches around them.
For Clemson fans, it makes one wonder what the impact would be if Swinney elected to retire or leave the program.
On the surface, it doesn’t seem like that is something we would have to worry about any time soon. Swinney is just 54 years old, far from Nick Saban’s age of 72.
However, we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Take Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops for example. He was just shy of his 56th birthday when he elected to retire from his post as the head coach of the Sooners. He did return for a brief interim period when Lincoln Riley left for USC and he coached in a minor league, but he hasn’t shown any desire to get back into coaching.
One of the things we have heard since Saban retired is that the ‘business’ of the new age of the transfer portal and NIL was one of the things that he did not like.
We can infer that Swinney is not a fan of the ‘transactional’ nature of college football either. He shows no signs of slowing down, but it is hard to predict how his enthusiasm may change in the coming years.
Would Clemson suffer the same fate as the Crimson Tide should Swinney decide to enjoy his retirement or take a job in professional football? There are arguments for both outcomes.
Swinney has tried to build his program with a different kind of chemistry than most others. This has led to criticism in many respects, but it has statistically yielded a program that is less susceptible to annual turnover due to both the transfer portal and early entry to the NFL.
Would the chemistry Swinney built help prevent mass departures from star players of Swinney left? This would probably depend on who Clemson hired to succeed him. If they hired from within and the new head coach was someone the players knew would maintain the same strategy for building the program (maybe Nick Eason?), it would probably decrease the risk that the Tigers would lose key talent.
While this could decrease the risk, it would not eliminate the risk in this day and age.
If the Tigers did not feel they had a qualified candidate internally and looked at an external hire, then it is very likely that the program would have similar departures to what Alabama has seen in the past ten days.
We should note that Alabama has already taken four transfers, including one this week from Washington who followed DeBoer. With the ripple effect Saban’s retirement has created, there has been a new influx of players into the portal.
It is reasonable to believe that DeBoer and his staff will be looking at and taking several more transfers to fill out their roster. Alabama is still Alabama too. They might not be annual Top 3 finishers in the recruiting rankings, but they will still pull talented groups.
Time will tell how this impacts the Tide in the big picture, but there is a good chance this is just a bump in the road. It could be the same for Clemson if Swinney were to decide to relax and enjoy his retirement.