Note: The following appears in the Syracuse gameday football program
Two teams have been at the forefront of college football in recent years. Clemson and Alabama have combined for the last three national championships and are the only schools to appear in the College Football Playoff each of the last three seasons. Since the College Football Playoff began in 2014, Alabama has been the No. 1 seed twice (2014,16), and Clemson has been the top seed twice (2015,17).
In the four years from 2014 to 2017, Clemson had 50 wins, a total topped only by Alabama’s 53, which is the most in a four-year period in college football history. Alabama and Clemson have both appeared in the top 10 of the AP poll 48 consecutive polls, tied for longest active streak in the nation. No other school has more than 20 in succession.
Additionally, Clemson and Alabama were the only two schools to total at least 10 wins each of the last seven years, and they were the only two schools to appear in the final top 25 each of the last seven seasons. In that seven-year period (2011-17), Alabama had 89 wins, and Clemson was second with 82. So you really could say this era of Clemson and Alabama success extends seven years.
When we look at the makeup of the Tiger coaching staff, perhaps there is a correlation between the above facts and the fact that eight of the 11 full-time staff members are graduates of either Clemson or Alabama.
Head coach Dabo Swinney is a 1993 Alabama graduate who learned the game and all the responsibilities that go with being a head coach from Alabama Hall of Fame head coach Gene Stallings. Swinney was an original walk-on who earned a scholarship while playing from 1989-92 under the legendary Alabama mentor.
That included Swinney playing as a reserve wide receiver and starter on special teams on the 1992 Alabama national championship team. Two members of that Crimson Tide squad now on Clemson’s full-time coaching staff are Mickey Conn, who coaches the safeties, and Lemanski Hall, who coaches the defensive ends.
Todd Bates is a fourth Alabama graduate on the full-time coaching staff. He did not play with or coach with Swinney at Alabama, but he played for the Crimson Tide from 2001-04. He was named captain of the 2004 squad.
Swinney has also recognized that Clemson graduates have had a good football upbringing, as four members of his full-time coaching staff are Clemson graduates.
That list includes his co-offensive coordinators, Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott. They weren’t just Clemson teammates from 2000-02, they played the same wideout position and were pregame stretch partners. Since their partnership began as co-coordinators, the Tigers are 45-4, tied for the best record in college football with Alabama during that time.
Danny Pearman has the unique distinction of graduating from Clemson, but he also coached at Alabama and Clemson during his career. He earned a national championship ring as an assistant coach at Alabama in 1992 and as an assistant coach at Clemson in 2016.
Quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter was Clemson’s starting signal-caller in 1998 and for most of 1999, and he is now in his fourth full season guiding that position. Clemson is 45-4 since he became the quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator.
Obviously, Swinney has done a great job recognizing coaching talent who have a pedigree from other outstanding schools as well. They don’t get any better than Clemson offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell, a Furman graduate who is coaching his 482nd college game today.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables was a top tackler at Kansas State before entering the coaching world at his alma mater, then at Oklahoma before coming to Clemson and winning the Broyles Award in 2016. Cornerbacks coach Mike Reed was a starting defensive back at Boston College before entering the football coaching world with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The point of this story is that Swinney has assembled an outstanding coaching staff. All of the men learned the basics of the game as players at outstanding programs. Eight of them are the products of the two programs that are currently the best in college football.