CLEMSON -- Dabo Swinney had no idea his Monday would begin with planning for Saturday's game vs. Georgia Tech and end with him as Clemson's interim head coach.
But the 38-year-old assistant coach said he'd already experienced something similar to the changing of the guard that saw him replace Tigers coach Tommy Bowden, who stepped down after nine seasons and a disappointing 3-3 start in his 10th.
"It's kind of like in 1990," Swinney said. "I was a sophomore at Alabama and hadn't sniffed the field. I thought (assistant coach) Woody McCorvey didn't know my name.
"I was over with the scout team when one day he called me over out of the blue. He said, 'Dab, I need somebody who can catch the ball. I'm going to give you a chance, and if you can catch the ball, I'm going to play you on Saturday.'"
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Thus, the one-time walk-on took his first steps toward earning a Crimson Tide scholarship. On Monday, athletics director Terry Don Phillips handed him another golden career opportunity.
Swinney's shot at the top job -- which might be temporary; Phillips said he will conduct a national search for Bowden's replacement -- comes under less-than-ideal circumstances.
The Tigers are reeling from back-to-back ACC losses, at home vs. Maryland and Thursday's 12-7 offensive meltdown at Wake Forest.
The new man in charge expressed regret for Bowden, who was his position coach at Alabama and who hired Swinney in 2003 after a two-year absence following his departure in late 2000 from Alabama.
"This is a bittersweet day," Swinney said. "I've dreamed of being a head coach, but I never dreamed of getting it this way.
"From an emotional side, this is a tough business. From a professional side, it's a great opportunity. I'll make mistakes, but they'll be full-speed mistakes. I'm very excited about having the chance to see if this team can have a fresh start."
Phillips -- who twice before was involved in midseason coaching changes, at Arkansas (Joe Kines for Jack Crowe) and Oklahoma State (Les Miles for Bob Simmons) -- said he has few qualms about his choice of Swinney to coach for the final six games of this season and perhaps beyond.
"Tommy and I talked about Dabo, and we both think a lot of him," Phillips said. "I felt because of his intangibles -- how he coaches, how he relates to players -- that he has a great opportunity to pull this season together.
"I told him there are no guarantees; do the best job you can. I told him, 'Behave like a head coach and make decisions with your staff, and I'll support you.'"
Swinney wasted no time doing that. His first decision -- one he called "the most difficult thing I've had to do" -- was to fire embattled offensive coordinator Rob Spence. Swinney will run the struggling offense with assistance from tight ends coach Billy Napier, who takes over quarterbacks, and graduate assistant Jeff Scott, promoted to a full-time position.
In five seasons at Clemson, Swinney established his reputation as a top recruiter, helping the Tigers land the nation's No. 2 class in 2008. He also is seen as a coach who emphasizes toughness with his players; lack of toughness was one of the criticisms regularly leveled at Bowden's teams.
Swinney said he thinks he can change that image in the four days before the Tech game, or at least try.
"I think it's on the team, getting that across the board," he said. "They've all got to buy in, and that'll be a goal of mine."
Quarterback Cullen Harper said he could see Swinney as the Tigers' head coach beyond the end of the current season.
"I think that would be great," Harper said. "Just as a position coach, he's a guy you have respect for. He's enthusiastic, he makes it fun and enjoyable, and he's got your back. I think he can be one of the up-and-coming coaches across the country."
Late Monday, Swinney said he had not had time to think about the future. "I had about an hour" to absorb the idea of replacing Bowden, he said. "(Phillips) said, 'Dabo, you're in charge.' That was pretty sudden."
But he said he has a "head coach's book" he's compiled during his career. Until he gets past this weekend, though, Swinney said that's as far as he can look -- and that's not a bad thing.
"You're looking at a coach who has nothing to lose," Swinney said. "It might be a seven-week career, but it's going to be fun."
POSSIBLE BOWDEN REPLACEMENTS
Wake Forest coach
If you cannot beat them, have them join you. Few coaches in the country can claim they do more with less.
He's a Clemson alum (1973) who has rebuilt the Commodores from the ashes. Would not be the splashy hire, but his academic track record fits president James Barker's mold.
Texas defensive coordinator
An intense, vocal figure -- in other words, the anti-Bowden -- who has generated top-notch, physical defenses at Auburn and now Texas. Figures to be the most sought-after assistant in the college ranks this offseason.
Texas Christian coach
Clemson AD Terry Don Phillips likes his southwestern guys, and Patterson has built a reputation as a consistent winner with a physical, hard-nosed style
Clemson interim coach
Has more potential staying power than your average interim guy. Gained a ton of respect from administration as the football team liaison during last year's rift with an academic review board.