CLEMSON — Most of us have taken a carousel ride at some point in our lives.
You climb on a brightly painted, fiberglass horse and listen to pleasant, non-threatening music, taking a steady, circular, consistent spin at a slow pace.
The coaching carousel, meanwhile, is nothing like its namesake.
It lurches. Stops and starts. Spins in unpredictable directions. Anxiety and paranoia rule the day.
It’s no fun for anyone – except, perhaps, coaches and their agents.
Clemson and head coach Dabo Swinney are experiencing it first-hand.
Sunday, Auburn announced it had hired Swinney's defensive backs coach and co-defensive coordinator Charlie Harbison for the same position, creating an opening on his defensive staff.
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris is the highest-paid assistant in college football, and after revitalizing a moribund offense with his hurry-up, no-huddle system, one of its hottest properties.
Last week, Morris interviewed with N.C. State, was connected to Auburn’s head coaching vacancy and shot down rumors that he would interview for South Florida’s head coaching position.
One by one, those possibilities closed up, sending Swinney and Clemson fans’ blood pressure back towards normal. N.C. State hired Northern Illinois’ Dave Doeren. Auburn hired Morris mentor Gus Malzahn. South Florida hired Western Kentucky’s Willie Taggart.
Even dominoes further down the line fell into place: Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and North Carolina’s Larry Fedora stayed at their schools following overtures from Tennessee, and Baylor signed coach Art Briles to an extension.
Then, Saturday, a bolt from the blue: Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville stunned college football by taking Cincinnati’s job – a step down from the Big 12 to the soon-to-be-non-BCS Big East, replacing Butch Jones, hired Friday by Tennessee.
Just like that, Morris – a Texas native who spent 16 seasons as a head coach in the Texas high school ranks – was right back in play. CBS Sports reported that he was a prime candidate for the job, along with Texas A&M offensive coordinator and former Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables could also be in the mix for the position; he has made no secret of his desire to become a head coach, and he's tight with A&M athletic director Kirby Hocutt, a former Kansas State teammate.
And if not those three, then perhaps Briles, a Texas Tech alum, would be interested – which would then throw Baylor open.
And what about the Arkansas State job that Malzahn left behind?
The dominoes seemingly never stop falling, and they create stunning scenarios.
Who’d have imagined Bret Bielema would bolt the dairy fields of Wisconsin for the hog farms of Arkansas?
Even when the current carousel slows to a crawl, just wait until the NFL regular season ends.
Two weeks ago, college football had “Black Sunday” the day after its regular season ended.
The NFL’s regular season wraps up Dec. 30; New Year’s Eve will double as “Black Monday.”
Oregon coach Chip Kelly is a prime target of NFL general managers; he nearly took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ job last season before the Bucs plucked Rutgers’ Greg Schiano.
Perhaps Morris isn’t an Oregon guy, but who knows where the dominoes will fall once Kelly – or another FBS head coach – bolts for the NFL?
Swinney said Friday that he won’t comment on coaching rumors, but he has a plan in place if necessary.
“I love having a staff that wants to be the best. Guys having opportunities to further themselves, I have no problem with that at all,” he said. “You want to have a quality staff that is going to have opportunities to advance their career from time to time. When that happens, you go hire another quality coach and move forward.”
If Dabo has a short list, here’s some unsolicited advice: keep it updated, and keep it handy.
You never know when the carousel will force you into action.