So who is the college football Coach of the Year in South Carolina this season?
Dabo Swinney seems like the obvious choice. Clemson is a consensus No. 1, and 12-0. The Tigers with a win over North Carolina on Saturday night in the ACC Championship Game get a precious playoff berth, probably as the top seed.
If relative accomplishment is the standard, Charleston Southern’s Jamey Chadwell is hard to beat. The Buccaneers not only made the FCS playoffs for the first time in school history, they earned a national seed. Wins over Coastal Carolina and The Citadel are highlights of a 9-2 record. CSU was picked to finish third in the Big South preseason poll.
But Mike Houston might be the leader in the clubhouse. The Citadel was picked seventh — that’s one spot above last-place VMI — in the Southern Conference preseason poll. The Bulldogs finished tied with Chattanooga atop the SoCon standings. They are 9-3 with back-to-back wins at South Carolina and Coastal Carolina going into a second-round playoff game at Charleston Southern on Saturday.
Who better to talk about Swinney, Chadwell and Houston than the three coaches themselves.
Chadwell on Swinney: “What’s most impressive about what he’s done is that for so long he had to deal with the ‘Clemsoning’ stuff and now he’s got it where they’re expected to win every game. When you’re the favorite, and you still get your guys to perform at a high level, that shows how good of a coach you are and how those players respond. He’s a guy I try to study and learn from. He is who he is. He doesn’t try to be what people want him to be. He’s one of the top coaches in the country.”
Houston on Swinney: “First off, I’m really happy for him and his family and that staff because they’re all just really outstanding people. My wife and I know Dabo and his wife and they’re as genuinely good people as they come off in the media. He’s done just a phenomenal job there. He’s energized the fan base and built the best team in the country.”
Swinney on Chadwell: “Jamey has done one heck of a job. And he did a great job at Charleston Southern last year, a place where it’s been hard to win.”
Houston on Chadwell: “Jamey has done a good job, and not just this year. He’s done a little bit of the same thing Coach Swinney has — he’s energized the fan base and done a good job turning them into national contenders. I’ve never doubted his abilities as a coach. What he and his staff have accomplished is a credit to him.”
Swinney on Houston: “Coach Houston has that thing rolling at The Citadel, and he and his staff did a great job at Lenoir-Rhyne, too. They had a huge win at South Carolina, and they earned it. They earned that win doing what they do.”
Chadwell on Houston: “What’s been impressive is he’s got the guys that Coach (Kevin) Higgins left, the older guys, and then he’s mixed in his guys, the younger guys, to buy in to what he’s doing. To be able to make the run that they did, to go up there and upset South Carolina, has been pretty impressive. But he’s proven that before; he did a good job at Lenior-Rhyne. He knows what he’s doing. Our staff and our players know that when they come in here (Saturday), it’s going to be a well-prepared team.”
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff