Dabo Swinney signed a 10-year, $92 million contract extension this April to coach the Clemson Tigers through 2028. It’s hard to argue this level of compensation given the two national championships in the last three seasons.
Both of those titles came with victories in the College Football Playoff final over Alabama, including last year’s 44-16 shellacking in Santa Clara (Calif.). Clemson officials configured the contract to ensure that Swinney continues to beat his alma mater rather than join them.
The buyout in Swinney’s contract increases significantly if he leaves Clemson to coach at Alabama, where he was a walk on wide receiver and assistant coach in the 1990s. Swinney must pay $4 million if he leaves Clemson before the end of this year, but the buyout increases to $6 million if he coaches the Crimson Tide.
This makes him the highest-paid coach in the country. The deal is bigger than the $74 million, eight-year deal Alabama’s Nick Saban has through 2025 and the 10-year, $75 million contract Jimbo Fisher with Texas A&M signed through 2027.
Sports Illustrated also points out that Swinney, as well as his annual nemesis in Saban, make substantial bonuses for making the national semifinals and final. Overall, it ended up being $400,000 less than Saban, even with the 28-point rout.
If Clemson wins Monday night’s matchup, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney will make $250,000. The national championship bonus would come in addition to Swinney’s $6 million base and his $200,000 College Football Playoff semfinal bonus.
If Clemson loses the title game to Alabama, Swinney will still take home a $200,000 bonus for the title game appearance alone. The 49-year-old coach is also eligible for a $1 million retention bonus on March 1, 2019 if he stays in South Carolina.
Swinney’s extension lifted him from outside the top-five earners among coaches last season to the top spot this fall. He ranked No. 7 with an annual salary of $6.54 million.
Swinney’s Slow Progression into Dominance
Swinney’s overall record in Death Valley is 116-30. He is a solid 9-5 in bowl games, 5-2 in the College Football Playoff and an astounding 14-2 against top-25 competition in the last three seasons.
All of these numbers explain the large paycheck now and for the future. However, it took a hot second to reach this level of dominance.
In his first three and a half seasons (he took over for Tommy Bowden in the middle of 2008), his Tigers teams posted a 29-19 record. This included a 1-3 mark in bowl games, including a 70-33 obliteration at the hands of West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl.
That embarassment in Miami seemingly knocked the program into high gear. The Tigers went 11-2 the next season and topped 9th-ranked LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. He repeated that record in 2013, capping off the year with a five-point upset over Urban Meyer and Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.
He broke a five-game losing streak to rival South Carolina the next season. In 2015 with Deshaun Watson at quarterback, the Tigers reached the national championship final (losing to Alabama). Then comes the next three years with the two titles.
The moral of the story? Sometimes, the build-up to national dominance is slow and full of ugly moments. Bad losses in bowls and to rivals? Swinney worked past that to deservedly be the highest-paid coach in the country this fall.