When you go off to college, the last thing most American males want is mom hanging around, momming up the place. But in 1989, when Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney went off to college at Alabama, he brought his mom with him. He had to. And to hear both of them tell it, they had a great time.
As recounted in a pretty great story by Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel, Swinney and his mother, Carol, were more or less homeless during Swinney’s senior year of high school after his father Ervil Swinney’s business failed, leading to a bad situation at home involving alcoholism and domestic abuse. They slept at friends’ houses, at his grandmother’s apartment, even in their car. So when it was time for Dabo to head to Alabama to walk on to the Crimson Tide’s football team, Carol went with him, working at a suburban Birmingham department store and maxing out credit cards to help pay his tuition.
The two shared a room, and the only bed they owned, at the off-campus Fountainbleau Apartments. Oh, and a friend from back home in Pelham, Ala., was living in the other bedroom.
“I’d feel bad for the other guy, ‘I’ve got a roommate … and his mom,’ ” Swinney told Wetzel with a laugh after the Tigers beat Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
“I mean, talk about cramping your style,” Dabo added. “It’s a wonder I ever got married.”
Nevertheless, the two Swinneys told Wetzel that they still cherish their college time together:
Whatever odd looks she first encountered when other kids realized she wasn’t just visiting, but there to stay, melted when she’d cook.
“I was the house mother,” Carol said. “I’d make chicken and dumplings, that was their favorite. Chili. Chocolate chip cookies. They’d all come over then.”
In truth, it was fun. The college kids kept her young. The jokes and stories kept her entertained. For all the juvenile debauchery, there is unmistakable sense of energy and optimism that permeates a college. And as she noted, they were safe and, at least temporarily, settled. Her son was seizing the future. A corner felt turned.
And everything worked out. Dabo Swinney eventually got a scholarship and played on Alabama’s 1992 national championship team, and now he’ll coach against his alma mater for the College Football Playoff championship on Monday. His mother remarried in 1998. Ervil sobered up and made amends with his family before he died last summer.
“And I wouldn’t trade anything for it. I wouldn’t,” Carol Swinney told Wetzel. “It was really some of the happiest times of my life because we were together, we were safe and we were happy.”