SAPAKOFF COLUMN: Dabo crazy like a fox

Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney (left) and Tigers offensive coordinator Chad Morris are enjoying the fruits of their labor this season.

Initially, it seemed like Dabo Swinney got into the eggnog a little early.

The Clemson football coach exactly one week ago was a desperate man ranting, ripping rival South Carolina with vitriolic cliches almost unprecedented among predecessors a few days after a third straight loss to the Gamecocks. Clearly rehearsed and altogether odd, considering the focus should have been on an ACC championship game most people thought Virginia Tech would win easily.

Today, Swinney is the hottest coach in college football, not a bit concerned that an imprisoned dolphin named Sundance has picked West Virginia to win the Orange Bowl.

No, Steve Spurrier won't be joining Swinney at a pancake social any time soon.

But what a week.

Saturday

Yawn. Just another woodshed whipping of mighty Virginia Tech.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Swinney said, "I would like to announce that I will be taking my Clemson talents to South Beach."

Hilarious material, if you like LeBron James, Cuban coffee and holiday comeback acts.

Sunday

Swinney officially accepts the fruits of Clemson's first 10-win season since 1990, first BCS bowl invitation and first trip to the Orange Bowl since the 1981 national championship victory over Nebraska.

Monday

Outrage across the nation over Virginia Tech's Sugar Bowl invite.

Which makes for a double BCS cash bonanza unlike the ACC has ever known.

The perfect storm involved the SEC's Sugar Bowl vacancy and Houston's surprising loss to Southern Miss, but the ACC doesn't get The Big Easy payday if Dabo doesn't do it in Charlotte.

If some Clemson fans seem unconvinced -- and Swinney in the moments after the ACC title game said those folks who quit on the Tigers "don't deserve this" -- the bean counters at ACC headquarters are singing "All hail Dabo."

Tuesday

Dabo Swinney and nine other guys nominated for the Liberty Mutual coach of the year award.

Wednesday

Momentum is all about recruiting, and the Dabo roll continued with South Carolina losing its top recruiter (former Tennessee running back Jay Graham bolted for Knoxville).

Today

Clemson Nation is abuzz with news of offensive coordinator Chad Morris' new deal, apparently six years at $1.3 million per. It's the richest contract for an assistant coach in ACC or Palmetto State history. It's pretty ridiculous when you consider how many new laptops and lab mice Clemson might be able to purchase for that much money.

In other words, more good news for Swinney.

Striking a chord

The conversation completely changed in less than a week.

It looked like a bleak December with Clemson fans in search of upside drama forced to watch ex-quarterback Tribble Reese woo Birmingham bachelorettes in the "Sweet Home Alabama" semi-reality show.

Now, thanks to Dabo and Co., they can keep replaying the ACC championship game while surfing the web for South Florida stone crab options.

No doubt about the turning point.

"That's why Carolina is in Chapel Hill and USC is in California and THE university in this state is, and always will be, Clemson," Swinney said at the end of his response to ex-South Carolina quarterback Todd Ellis belittling Clemson.

Even veteran Clemsonologists were amazed that Swinney "went there." More than a few athletic department staffers winced at the eagerness of the whole thing. Overall, most South Carolinians prefer their rivalries minus the pepper.

It's apparent that at some point between the ride home from Columbia and practice last Thursday, Swinney was influenced by a confluence of emotion:

--Three straight decisive losses to South Carolina.

--Spurrier's talk about the friendly rivalry and Dabo being such a swell guy.

--Chatter from Tigers fans angrier than a suspended elf.

No one in orange likes losing. While Spurrier was sincere, the niceness wasn't appreciated in the context of 34-17, 29-7 and 34-13.

Probably best not to underestimate Swinney, the product of a rough childhood, a wiry walk-on wide receiver at Alabama who helped the Tide win a national championship before falling into the Clemson head coach gig without having ever served as a coordinator.

But now Swinney must back up his bravado, make the most of his $1.3-million offensive coordinator and take advantage of the hole in South Carolina's recruiting flank. If he does that, there won't be enough room on South Beach for Tiger fans that "deserve" Dabo's Clemson talents.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com.