His name is not the only thing a little different about Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney.
The coach of Ohio State’s opponent in the Orange Bowl followed a career path that wouldn’t be found on the resumé of many other head coaches in big-time college football programs.
Swinney became Clemson’s interim coach when Tommy Bowden was forced out six games into the 2008 season. After the Tigers went 4-2 the rest of that year, he had the interim removed from his job title despite never being a head coach or even a coordinator in college.
A former walk-on at Alabama, he started his coaching career in a traditional way by working his way up to a job as an assistant coach for the Crimson Tide. But he lost that position when Mike Dubose was fired as head coach in 2000 and spent the next two years working for a former teammate selling high-end commercial real estate.
When Bowden, who had been his position coach at Alabama, called in 2003 and asked if he wanted to be his receivers coach at Clemson, Swinney jumped at the offer. Five years later, at age 38, he was running the program.
Swinney has always been known for bringing the enthusiasm.
Dan Patrick once described him as “a cheerleader” on his radio show but didn’t intend it to be a compliment.
After Clemson beat LSU with a field goal as time ran out in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl last season, Swinney picked up ESPN sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards and lifted her off the ground as she approached him to do a postgame interview.
That locker room dancing you saw buttoned-down Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio do after big wins this season? He says he got the idea from Swinney.
Every newspaper story ever written about Swinney, every television profile ever done about him seems to contain the words “upbeat” and “positive.” His mother once said he was someone who “could always see the silver lining.”
He probably needed all of that growing up.
Swinney described his family life when he was young as “very dysfunctional” in a 2008 story in the Williamston (S.C.) Journal.
His father’s alcoholism led to his parents getting divorced and the loss of the family business. He remembers climbing up on the roof of his house on summer nights to avoid the strife inside.
His mother and the family were evicted from their home, and he moved from house to house, staying with friends, several times during high school.
His mother had to share an apartment with him and his roommate while he was in college to make ends meet.
He was one of 47 players who attempted to make Alabama’s roster as a walk-on when he was a freshman and one of only two who were successful.
His enthusiasm has served him well as he made his quick climb up the coaching ladder.
And that name, Dabo, which replaced his real name, William? The way he got that might be more conventional than the trajectory of his coaching career.
As it is with many nicknames, it came from the inability of one of his siblings to say his name correctly. What he said sounded like “Dabo” and it stuck.