CLEMSON -- When Clemson athletics director Terry Don Phillips installed Dabo Swinney as interim football coach last week, he told the coaching staff that choosing whom he would hire full-time could eventually be "easy" if things played out as expected.
Even though the Tigers lost to Georgia Tech 21-17 in Swinney's debut, Phillips sounded Tuesday as if the outcome supported that statement instead of counting as the first strike against it.
Through an intermediary, Clemson has begun to gauge various candidates' interest in the job.
The luxury those candidates are not afforded is a six-game audition with the Tigers, and Phillips expressed profound praise at the changes Swinney has enacted to unite a team and fan base fractured by disappointment.
Never miss a local story.
"It appears to me Dabo's heading the right path we need to go down," Phillips said. "There's an attitude adjustment, how kids feel about themselves, how they feel about their team and meshing everyone together.
"I think he had his finger on the pulse. He understood what our people were missing, I think he understood what our team was missing: the relationship with the students and the fans."
Whether Swinney is Phillips' leader in the clubhouse for the full-time job remains anyone's guess, but it appears evident Phillips is intent on giving Swinney a prolonged look before moving in another direction.
Phillips said the coaching search has proceeded with "a sense of urgency," and there is an initial list of candidates to which there has neither been additions nor subtractions, but "most other universities would probably have them (on their list), as well."
With the Tigers (3-4, 1-3 ACC) needing to win four of their final five games to reach a bowl, Swinney would be given the chance to coach the bowl game if the opportunity were earned, Phillips said.
For recruiting purposes, Phillips would like to have a hire in place within 10 days after the end of the regular season.
Asked whether a hire could come down before season's end, Phillips replied: "It depends on who's involved and who's not involved."
Swinney's continued involvement in reshaping so many aspects of the program's operation could be the most influential factor that keeps him involved in the search.
Phillips said he has been impressed by Swinney's intuitive leadership skills, headlined by his creation of the pregame "Tiger Walk" that drew rave reviews from all parties.
Swinney invited the student body to Thursday's practice and has already instituted organizational changes ranging from the team's dress code to its media responsibilities to the seating chart in team meetings.
On Tuesday, he unveiled a "Ring of Death" at practice, where players run half-field sprints and do up-downs for errors made during games -- an exercise in accountability players said they did not have under the previous regime.
Phillips said it would be unfair to judge Swinney's audition by wins and losses, adding that the Swinney who is coaching now will not be any different than the one who will be evaluated at season's end.
In that case, Phillips was asked, what does Swinney have to do -- or fail to do -- to alter his chances for the job?
"I believe Dabo will be a good head football coach -- somewhere," Phillips said. "Maybe here, maybe somewhere else, I don't know. This is one of those situations you look at as a whole and not a part.
"I just think we let this thing play out."