Swin­ney joins Smith and Krzyzewski as un­known hires who rose to the top

The State - - Sports - BY RON MOR­RIS Colum­nist

Clem­son’s Dabo Swin­ney has joined Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski as the great­est un­known coach­ing hires in the his­tory of col­lege ath­let­ics.

There is no way to quan­tify such a bold state­ment. Yet it is dif­fi­cult to be­lieve there are three lesser-name hires who even­tu­ally climbed to the top of their re­spec­tive pro­fes­sions, at least not among the ma­jor sports.

Smith had not one day of bas­ket­ball head-coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence when then UNC Chan­cel­lor Wil­liam Ay­cock made a bold move in 1961 to give Smith the reins of a men’s bas­ket­ball pro­gram fac­ing NCAA pro­ba­tion. Smith was 30 years old.

Smith ac­tu­ally had some head-coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, if you count base­ball and golf at the Air Force Academy for three years. He also was an Air Force as­sis­tant bas­ket­ball coach dur­ing that pe­riod, which fol­lowed two sea­sons as an as­sis­tant coach at his alma mater, Kansas.

There were three more sea­sons as an as­sis­tant at UNC un­der coach Frank McGuire. Then, when McGuire re­signed in the sum­mer of ’61, many in the UNC com­mu­nity were stunned that Ay­cock would com­mit to a lit­tle-known as­sis­tant. Ay­cock did so im­me­di­ately upon re­ceiv­ing McGuire’s res­ig­na­tion and with­out in­ter­view­ing a sin­gle can­di­date, in­clud­ing Smith.

Ac­cord­ing to his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, “Dean Smith: A Coach’s Life,” Ay­cock went against the wishes of the UNC Board of Trustees who wanted a na­tional search to re­place McGuire. The Board wanted UNC to fol­low the lead of area schools, all of which had big-name coaches: Everett Case at N.C. State, Vic Bubas at Duke and Bones McKin­ney at Wake For­est.

Smith re­tired fol­low­ing the 1996-97 sea­son as the all-time leader in wins with 879. He has since been passed by Krzyzewski, Jim Boe­heim and Bob Knight. Smith’s UNC teams won two na­tional cham­pi­onships and ap­peared in 11 Fi­nal Fours.


Krzyzewski car­ried head­coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on his re­sume when Duke be­gan search­ing for a coach fol­low­ing the 1979-80 sea­son. He first was an as­sis­tant at In­di­ana un­der Knight, who was Krzyzewski’s col­lege head coach at Army dur­ing his play­ing days. Then Krzyzewski re­turned to his alma mater to lead that pro­gram.

In five sea­sons, Krzyzewski re­tained Army’s sta­tus as a re­spectable mid-ma­jor pro­gram

by com­pil­ing a 73-59 record and ap­pear­ing in one Na­tional In­vi­ta­tion Tour­na­ment. Yet few out­side the north­east had heard of Krzyzewski, and even fewer knew how to pro­nounce his name.

Tom But­ters, Duke’s ath­letic di­rec­tor at the time, had com­piled a list of pos­si­ble can­di­dates, nearly all of whom were na­tion­ally es­tab­lished coaches. The list in­cluded Tom Davis at Bos­ton Col­lege, Jack Hart­man at Kansas State, Paul Webb at Old Do­min­ion and Bob Weltlich at Mis­sis­sippi. Fos­ter’s top as­sis­tant at Duke, Bob Wen­zel also was con­sid­ered a can­di­date.

De­spite the im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of tal­ented can­di­dates, But­ters was most en­am­ored with Krzy- zewski and hired the 33year-old. ACC bas­ket­ball fans uni­ver­sally asked “Who?” upon Krzyzewski’s hire.

Krzyzewski now is the all-time men’s bas­ket­ball leader in wins with more than 1,100 in 40 sea­sons at Duke. His teams have won five na­tional cham­pi­onships and ap­peared in 12 Fi­nal Fours.


Swin­ney is an even more re­mark­able story be­cause he dropped out of the coach­ing pro­fes­sion for two years while he pur­sued a dif­fer­ent oc­cu­pa­tion. While out of foot­ball, he worked for a com­mer­cial project de­vel­op­ment com­pany in his home state of Alabama.

Prior to that, Swin­ney was a grad­u­ate as­sis­tant and full-time as­sis­tant coach for eight sea­sons at Alabama.

Af­ter the two-year hia­tus, he re­turned to coach­ing when Clem­son coach Tommy Bow­den coaxed Swin­ney into lead­ing the wide re­ceivers for the 2003 sea­son.

When Bow­den was let go mid­way through the 2008 sea­son, he rec­om­mended to then-ath­letic di­rec­tor Terry Don Phillips that Swin­ney be his re­place­ment.

Phillips named Swin­ney, who was 38, the in­terim head coach.

Few fol­low­ers of Clem­son foot­ball be­lieved Swin­ney would coach be­yond the six re­main­ing games of the ’08 reg­u­lar sea­son.

When the Tigers went 4-2 the rest of the way, Phillips named Swin­ney the per­ma­nent head coach prior to Clem­son’s loss to Ne­braska in the Ga­tor Bowl.

In 11 sea­sons, in­clud­ing 2008, Swin­ney has com­piled a 115-30 record that in­cludes two na­tional cham­pi­onships and four con­sec­u­tive ap­pear­ances in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­offs.

Swin­ney, Krzyzewski and Smith were un­knowns when they were hired.

All three then pro­ceeded to make their names syn­ony­mous with great­ness in col­lege ath­let­ics.


Coach Dabo Swin­ney has won two na­tional ti­tles with Clem­son.

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