Every year when we play Clemson, I flagellate myself for being so wrong about Dabo, who is now arguably the best coach in College Football. There is no denying what he has done at Clemson.
For a long time I advocated that Steve Addazio had the perfect personality and strengths to emulate Dabo at BC. We all know he never could. Although Addazio shared Swinney's emotion, big personality and love of recruiting, he never learned to empower his staff like Dabo, nor ever even came close to learning to manage a game like the Clemson coach. Now we have a new coach who shares some of Dabo's strengths. But I think Jeff Hafley can be more than Swinney...an improved, BC-version of Dabo.
The most obvious commonality I see between Swinney and Hafley is how they talk and relate to players. They both seem to relate to the kids and understand how to motivate through positivity and confidence. This persona and communication skills seem to be having a Dabo-like impact on BC recruiting. Players are excited to play for Hafley and that will hopefully translate to a talent upgrade. It is early and we are not privileged to all that is going on, but Hafley also seems to be giving his coordinators a lot of autonomy. Maybe not as much as Swinney gives his staff, but certainly more than we've seen from recent BC coaches. If Hafley can follow Swinney's model of finding the best players and coaches and then getting out of their way, he will have success.
Swinney isn't just motivation and talent evaluation. He's also been aggressive as a game manager. Though it is early, I think Hafley has shown Dabo-like qualities when it comes to game management. We are aggressive and have played to win throughout. Hafley has also had his team managed and prepared for close, tight games.
Where I think Hafley can be more than Dabo is in how he carries himself. Dabo's personality and background work at Clemson. I don't think it would work everywhere. Even if he won in Boston, I think the media and portions of our Alumni would never take him seriously. Hafley doesn't have that problem. Aside from the northeast roots, he also is more earnest and serious than Swinney. That professionalism and seriousness, combined with winning and emotion, will win over even the most cynical BC fan or Boston media member.
I will preface this by saying that although Hafley might have more upside than Swinney, I don't think that means BC is going to win multiple National Championships. The schools are in two very different situations and have two different coaches. Hafley's NFL experience means that any success will spark NFL interest. Dabo's aw shucks shtick had most of the NFL dismissing him until recently. Clemson can keep Dabo happy financially to the point where the only jobs people even speculate about for him are the NFL and Alabama. If Hafley becomes a hot name, there will be plenty of College Football factories that come calling. I don't think he will take the first job offered to him, but I also realize that if the right one comes along, it will be tough to turn down.
The unknown in all of this is how Hafley will manage himself. Dabo is one of the rare people in any profession, who stepped back after failure, recognized the mistakes he was making and then had the ability to fix those problems. Most people let their egos get in the way. Hafley seems to have the right sort of personality to self-assess. He has owned up to his mistakes and shown that he can fix them game-to-game. If he can implement those same program-wise fixes, we are going to enjoy our own version of Dabo.