On a cool evening on October 9, 2008, in Winston-Salem NC, Clemson was out of answers. When Tommy Bowden was hired in 1999 he was supposed to lead Clemson to their first ACC Title since 1991. Instead, Clemson was 3-3 for the season with a Thursday night loss to Wake Forest. By late Monday morning, Tommy Bowden would no longer be Clemson's Head Coach.
"You can't lose to Wake Forest on Thursday night," Tommy Bowden says. "You just can't do it."
Instead of finishing out the season, Bowden resigned and recommended Dabo take over in lieu of two other assistants that had head coaching experience. Dabo was the wide receivers coach and was 39 years old. Not the obvious choice, but an intriguing, and has history would have it, wise choice.
In the years since Clemson, has gone 142-34 with 9 Division titles, 7 ACC titles, 4 National Championship appearances and 2 National Titles. It wasn't a completely smooth road with Dabo enduring a losing season in 2010 and a bowl loss to South Florida. The 2011 season looked better, but a 70-33 loss to none other than West By God Virginia prompted a change at DC. Dabo made changes on his staff when needed and the results are indisputable.
Dabo's pay in 2009 was $900K: Hardly notable at the time. He was a risky choice and as such commanded a lower salary, but that left a lot of money for assistants.
Justing Hamilton is 39 years old. He's a former Virginia Tech and NFL player who has steadily risen over his coaching career in a path that recently accelerated.
As an experienced manager over the last 20 years, I have had to mentor and develop the people that reported to me, including my own replacements. I see things in Justin Hamilton that aren't on his resume. He's a risk, but I believe he has a lot of upside.
Hamilton is a former player at VT and in the NFL player. That isn't everything, and by itself does not qualify someone to be a coach. However, Fuente's own words are notable:
"His voice carries tremendous weight on the field and in the locker room because he's worn that helmet and experienced many of the same things the young men in our program are going through"
Let's be honest, we've all been here:
The Jury is still out on Hamilton's defense, however, one thing is clear from the West Virginia game, and some games from 2020. He and his staff were able to adjust, and motivate their players. The Virginia Tech defense in the second half of the West Virginia game responded, stayed focussed and put the team in a position to win.
Most people want leaders that are, or appear to be firmly in control. The last thing I want in a difficult situation is for the person in charge to look like they are going to fold like a tent.
In watching Hamilton, he never looks confused to me. I see two facial expressions: Determined, and for lack of a better description, Pissed AF. This matters because when things aren't going your way, you don't want your coach looking like they have no idea what's going on. That doesn't inspire confidence and certainly will not put a player in a position to succeed or turn things around.
Hamilton as HC could free up money for assistants, much like Dabo did early in his tenure at Clemson.
This is perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the equation. A common issue that is raised is that Virginia Tech doesn't have enough money for good assistants. Well, when your HC's pay is almost half of your coaching budget, that is true. Below are the COVID adjusted salaries for the coaching staff.
For the sake or argument, let's say Hamilton gets paid $900,000 his first year as HC. To make things simple, let's assume everything stays the same except for Fuente and Cornelsen. What might that look like?
Edited thanks to Horse's observation with a note. $7,053,000 is total for assistants and the HC.
$7,053,000 - $3,825,000 - $441,000 - $300,000 = $2,487,000
$7,053,000 - $3,825,000 - $441,000 -$600,000 = $4,866,000 this is how much can be distributed among a HC, DC and OC.
$4,866,000 - $9,000,000 = $3,966,000 this is how much can go to the DC and OC.
Could Hamilton hire a competent OC and DC for a total of almost $4M? Probably. I would even bet on it.
EDIT: For those who are looking at this from a minutiae vs. conceptual perspective:
Add $1M to Hamilton's pay to get him to $1.9M and you still have almost $1.5M per coordinator:
I'm not saying this is exactly what the numbers would look like, Hamilton could make more and there would still be plenty of money for assistants.
Hamilton has intangibles that I believe are valuable. He's also a Hokie: It's one thing to care about Virginia Tech Football because you are paid to, and you have a lot of integrity. It's another to care about it because you lived and breathed it.