College Wrestling News

Dear Dabo: A Super Bowl Sunday Proposal

Dabo Swinney, Sam Henson

We’ve heard many high-level football coaches talk about how much they love to have wrestlers on their teams.  From work ethic to physical skills, football players who have wrestled tend to have an advantage.  However, at the NCAA Division I level, the gulf between the two sports could hardly be wider.  Today we’re writing a letter to one man who could make a tremendous difference for our sport, build upon his legacy of helping young athletes, secure it for all of time, and even help his own recruiting efforts in the process.  Clemson head man Dabo Swinney is far from the only football coach in such a position. 

Dear Dabo,

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. Around the world, football fans will gather together to watch the biggest game of the year and I’m sure you’ll be watching. Maybe Dwayne Allen, a former player of yours at Clemson, will make a big play for the Patriots. For you, players like Allen and the thousands more that didn’t make it to the NFL are your legacy. These young athletes look to you to lead, teach, and inspire. There is no question that they’ll be drawing on the wisdom you imparted and passing it on to others long after you retire. That is a wonderful aspect of coaching, but what if I told you there was another way to grow your legacy? What if I told you that on your very campus there exists a wrong that you could right? What if I told you that with one generous donation, which is well within your means, you could ensure you are never forgotten, provide opportunities for generations of athletes, and encourage more local football players to try a sport that seemingly every football coach agrees helps make them better on the gridiron? Coach Swinney, you can do all of this by reviving the wrestling program at Clemson.

You may not be aware of the wrestling history at Clemson, but the Tigers finished as high as seventh in the nation, that performance coming in 1994, before having the program cut in 1995. Sammie Henson won a pair of individual national titles there, then went on to win a world championship and Olympic silver medal. The legacy of wrestling in the south pales in comparison to that of football, however. In the pursuit of NCAA titles, athletic departments have funneled more and more resources to supporting those passionate about the pigskin, leading to many sports, wrestling being one, struggling to keep their head above water. As long as cash is king, football will maintain its place atop the college sports hierarchy. No one is here to challenge that. It should be noted that the same factors keeping football at the forefront of the American consciousness are also why you will be forgotten. The football factory will roll on, another coach will come along and succeed at Clemson, your impact will fade. Unless, of course, you revive the wrestling program.

Your latest contract is worth a total of $54 million and you are already a wealthy man. I have no doubt you already have philanthropic plans in the works, but few could be as long lasting as providing an endowment for a wrestling program that will exist for as long as college athletics are around. With the rise of women’s wrestling and the need to balance the Title IX ledgers, you could further secure your place in history by making Clemson the first power five school to field a team of female grapplers. These teams would be forever linked to your generosity, those positively impacted by the opportunities they are granted by them would owe a debt of gratitude to you, and your impact on young people would stretch farther than you ever thought possible. Every time the Clemson wrestling teams took the mat, people would remember the football coach with remarkable vision, Dabo Swinney.

Perhaps you don’t care about being remembered. Maybe you are content with the impact you have made and will continue to make in the football realm. I doubt that, though, from a man who once said, “If you’re gonna be great, you can’t ever be satisfied.” This is yet another avenue in which you can be great. On the off chance that isn’t enticing, there is another, more direct benefit to your football program in returning wrestling to Clemson. The legendary Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne once said, “Wrestlers make coaching football easy. They have balance, coordination, and as a coaching staff we know they’re tough.” One of your biggest rivals, Nick Saban of Alabama, was spotted at a wrestling match just last year as he worked the recruiting trail. Football players who wrestle make great recruits, something you admitted during your recent trip to Oscar Smith High School.

Starting wrestling programs at Clemson is a sure way to spur interest in the sport both in South Carolina and surrounding areas. There are already over 4600 high school wrestlers in the state and the south, in general, is on the uptick in producing quality athletes on the mat. You can encourage this trend further which will only help your recruiting down the line. More interest in wrestling means more local recruits who have the type of background you like. Few, if any, will give up an NFL dream to wrestle in college which means you’ll still get your pick of the prospects. The fact that you’ll also be providing opportunities for those without the size or talent to pursue college football is icing on the cake. In addition, the wrestling community is tight-knit, we have long memories, and we are loyal. If you take this step, you’d have an edge in every recruiting battle where you’re trying to convince a wrestler to choose you over another football powerhouse. Your support of wrestling will be returned in kind many times over. This is a spectacular PR move.

In closing, this may seem like an odd request. It may seem like a long-shot to many and, while I have laid out just some of the reasons why you should consider it, you may still not have any interest. However, one quote of yours sticks out to me in that regard, “It’s only unthinkable if you don’t think it.” Well, as you can tell, Coach, I’ve thought a lot about your ability to revive Clemson wrestling and make it even better than it was before. I understand it is a lot to ask, but the rewards to you, your program, the young men and women in wrestling, as well as society as a whole are worth it! You once said, “To be an overachiever, you have to be an overbeliever.” I’m asking that you believe in wrestling.

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