CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Coaches
Who were the top 20 coaches since CFN started in 1998? No. 9 Dabo Swinney, Clemson
CFN Era Top 20 Coaches: No. 9 Dabo Swinney, Clemson
CollegeFootballNews.com is turning 20 this season, so we’re looking back on the greatest players, games, coaches and more since we first kicked things off back in 1998.
Wins and losses are certainly a part of it all – okay, a massive part of this – but it’s also about who came up with the biggest coaching performances over the long haul. Consistency matters, championships matter, and personality plays a role, too.
Who are the 20 coaches who defined college football since 1998?
One note, accomplishments before 1998 don’t count, other than when it comes to a coach’s legacy and overall status.
Dabo Swinney, Clemson (2008-2016)
Unlike almost all of the other coaches on this to 20 list, Dabo Swinney is just hitting his stride.
Only 47 going into the 2017 college football season, he’s still young, already accomplished, at the highest of levels, and with a surprisingly fantastic resume.
Swinney’s rise wasn’t any sort of meteoric rise – and he even left the business for a time along the way – taking over 20 years to go from a receivers coach at Alabama to the Clemson head man.
But he made a name for himself – besides his unusual nickname/first name – with his always-positive, high-energy style and phenomenal knack for recruiting high-end talent.
Tommy Bowden had done a solid job at Clemson, but he couldn’t get the program out of the world of the above-average. He never had a losing campaign in his nine full seasons, but he never won ten games and never won an ACC title.
Midway through the 2008 season, it was time for a change. Clemson was 3-3 and not going anywhere, and Bowden was gone. Swinney stepped in, went 4-3 the rest of the way, and a few years later created a powerhouse.
Clemson won the Atlantic Division in Swinney’s first full year, giving Georgia Tech a whale of a time in a 39-34 loss in the ACC title game, but the team fell back in 2010 going 6-7.
And then it all kicked in.
Clemson won the ACC championship in 2011, but ended the season with a 70-33 thud against West Virginia.
The 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship would be Swinney’s only bowl loss over the next five seasons.
He won 11 games in 2012 – highlighted by a breakthrough Chick-fil-A Bowl thriller over LSU that became the catalyst for what was to come – and ripped through another 11-win season in 2013, closing out with a win over Urban Meyer and Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.
With a 10-3 record and a 40-6 domination over Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl to close out the 2014 season, the stage was set for a two-year run going 28-2 with two appearances in the CFP national title game.
With the 2017 victory over Alabama for the national championship, Swinney holds the distinction of winning six bowl games in five seasons over four head coaches – Bob Stoops and Urban Meyer get counted twice – who had won a national championship.
Now add Swinney to the fraternity of coaches with a national title.
Biggest Moment: Deshaun Watson to Hunter Renfro
It could be argued that the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl win over LSU was close.
Obviously that’s not as big as winning a national title, but considering the blowout loss to West Virginia the year before, and Clemson’s reputation for being good, but hardly great, taking down a fantastic LSU team in the final moments after a clutch drive became the moment when it looked like Swinney had something going.
The entire final drive against Alabama to win the national title became the moment when he really did arrive as one of the elite coaches in the game. Of course, Deshaun Watson had everything to do with it, but Clemson beat Alabama. Swinney beat Nick Saban. Nick Saban lost a national title game.
Yeah, it was a pick play that probably should’ve been flagged, but it wasn’t.
Watson rolled out, found a wide-open Hunter Renfrow with one second left on the clock, and after a year of waiting for the shot at redemption from the 45-40 loss in the national championship the year before, Swinney’s team had pulled it off.
Dabo Swinney’s Best Season: 2016
The 2015 team got through the first 14 games unbeaten, while the 2016 team sputtered and struggled a little bit to get the engine going – and there was a wile loss to Pitt. But the Tigers were on a mission, and they played like it when they absolutely had to.
While they didn’t exactly get better as the 2016 season went on – they struggled to get by Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship – it was as if they just wanted to get back to the College Football Playoff and the regular season got in the way.
Once they got in, they took their game to a whole other level with the 31-0 stomping of a fantastically talented Ohio State team. One win over Alabama later, and Clemson had its first national title since 1981.
Dabo Swinney’s Worst Season: 2010
As far as bad seasons go, this one wasn’t all that awful.
It was the only losing campaign of Swinney’s first nine years, but there were a whole bunch of close-call losses that could’ve gone the other way.
Call it a case of a relatively young team finding its way.
It lost to eventual national champions Auburn 27-24, and followed it up with a 30-21 loss to Miami.
There was a 16-10 loss to Boston College, a 16-13 loss to a strong Florida State, and dropped the Meineke Car Care Bowl to South Florida 31-26.
In all, Clemson lost five games by six points or fewer, but it still wasn’t pretty. The Tigers would start out 2011 with eight straight wins on the way to the ACC title to make up for it.
CFN Era Coaching Record: 89-28 in nine seasons
2015 ACC Coach of the Year
2016 College Football Playoff National Title
2011, 2015, 2016 ACC Champion
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell