Charlotte 49ers football coach Will Healy and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney both agree they have a meaningful relationship, based on the respect and admiration they gain from each other whenever they communicate.
They’re not quite in agreement on when — or if — they’ve ever actually met, however. But that’s probably immaterial.
What we know is that they will definitely see each other Saturday when Healy’s 49ers and Swinney’s top-ranked Tigers square off at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium.
“I’m anxious to meet him,” Swinney said earlier this week.
Actually, they’ve met, at least according to Healy.
That happened in March after Swinney spoke at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting in south Charlotte. Healy, who had been hired by the 49ers a few months earlier, says he listened from the last row.
Afterward, Healy approached Swinney, shook his hand and introduced himself.
That Swinney apparently doesn’t remember isn’t something that seems to bother Healy, who is always ready with a self-deprecating comment.
“I met him!” Healy said. “He just doesn’t remember meeting me. I mean, he’s met people like the president, so I’m probably pretty far down that list.”
Still, both concur they have spoken on the phone and often text each other. The first call came when Healy had just completed a winless first season at Austin Peay in 2016. Driving through Alabama on a recruiting trip, Healy’s phone rang. He noticed a Clemson number pop up.
“Hey, this is Dabo Swinney,” the caller said.
Healy thought he had been targeted by a friend’s prank. So it took Healy a few seconds to realize the caller was, in fact, Swinney, who had phoned to see if Healy might have a staff position available for one of Clemson’s graduate assistants.
They spoke for a while. As the conversation wound down, Healy recalled the gist of what he said to Swinney:
“Thank you for what you’ve done for this profession and the hope you’ve given me that you can do it your way and still be successful. I feel like when anyone like Dabo Swinney is on top of the profession (that) people want to be like Dabo. They want to treat their players the right way, they want to develop great relationships, and that it’s about something greater than football and it makes this a greater profession.
“But I was 0-11 at the time, so I think he really appreciated my input.”
Two years later, Healy was hired at Charlotte to pump life into a 49ers’ program that still hasn’t had a winning season in its seven years of existence. Swinney was one of the first coaches he called for some guidance.
“I talked to him a little bit through that process and transition getting that job,” Swinney said. “I actually talked to him about some staff things.”
At 34, Healy is the second youngest coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Swinney, now 49, was 39 when he was promoted to be the TIgers’ coach in 2009.
“I think that’s one of the great things about the coaching profession is it’s a brotherhood,” Swinney said. “It’s a fraternity and coaches meet and share stuff. It’s really unique. So I’m honored first of all that somebody would even ask me my opinion on something or my advice on something. So I’m always willing to help, especially good guys that I think are great for this profession. And I think Will’s one of those guys who’s great for this profession and has a bright future.”
Swinney isn’t the only coach to whom Healy says he turns for advice. He also stays in touch with North Carolina’s Mack Brown (whom he met at a golf tournament earlier this year in Atlanta) and Nebraska’s Scott Frost (Healy’s Austin Peay team played Frost’s Central Florida in 2017).
“I just have so much respect for how (Swinney) runs his program and how he treats his players,” Healy said. “The two guys that are on top, you have (Alabama’s) Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney. Nick Saban loses coaches every year and still gets back to the national championship (game) consistently, Dabo Swinney doesn’t lose a coach at all and creates consistency and has a program that lasts and has won the national championship game.
“So, there is not one particular way to do it, but I really like the way Dabo does it. He’s been great to me. Any time I have a question, he is able to give great insight and he lives it.”
There’s another Swinney fan in the Healy household: his son Eli.
“He actually sent me a text yesterday and said his 4-year-old had been watching Clemson ‘hype’ videos all week,” Swinney said. “So he had a problem on his hands. I told him, ‘Just keep feeding him those hype videos.’ He’s raising him right.”
Matt Connolly of the The State contributed.
Charlotte (2-1) at No. 1 Clemson (3-0)
When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson
Watch: ACC Network.
Listen: 730 AM.