Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.
He has two college football national championships, but there is one goal Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney has not accomplished, and it stings.
“Diaper dandy, baby!” Swinney said. “I wanted to be a diaper dandy. I am a basketball junkie and one of my dreams was for Dick (Vitale) to talk about me that way. I grew up watching him on TV. I never quite made it. Maybe I can be a senior citizen dandy someday.”
Swinney, 49, is probably not going to hear his name next to Vitale’s signature catchphrase for college basketball’s freshman phenoms. But he will be an honoree at the sold-out Dick Vitale Gala, to be held at 7 p.m. May 10 at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota.
Swinney will be honored alongside ESPN broadcaster Chris Fowler and former NBA player and coach Avery Johnson. ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe and “College Gameday” personality Lee Corso will be awarded the John Saunders Courage Award, named after Vitale’s friend and ESPN colleague who died in 2016 at age 61.
The NCAA’s reigning Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year has never attended the gala, though he said he is fond of the Sarasota-Bradenton area. He had never met Vitale until Jan. 20, 2018, when Vitale called a Clemson-Notre Dame men’s basketball game (which Clemson won, 67-58) at Clemson and told Swinney about his plans.
“I was super honored and humbled, really,” Swinney said. “I did not know much about it when he first reached out, but I did some research and thought, ‘Wow, this is incredible.’ It must have been slim pickings for me to get an opportunity, when you look at past honorees.”
Swinney started Dabo’s All in Team Foundation, which gives money to breast cancer research among other causes, in 2009. He and his wife, Kathleen Swinney, are no strangers to the disease. Dabo’s father, Ervil “Big Erv” Swinney, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007 and died in 2015 at 70. Kathleen’s sister, Lisa Lamb, died of breast cancer in 2014 at 49. The Dabo's All in Team Foundation has raised more than $4 million since its inception.
As the coach of a national powerhouse, Swinney also sees the disease in kids who visit the program to meet their heroes. He saw it in Tyler Trent, the Purdue student whose strength in the face of osteosarcoma inspired the college football world in 2018. Trent, who died Jan. 1, will have a $200,000 pediatric cancer grant dedicated to his memory at the gala. Vitale’s determination to help kids, specifically, stands out to Swinney, he said.
Like Fowler, Swinney does not plan on writing down every line of his speech. He might outline the basics, he said, but otherwise will improvise. Anyone who has listened to a Swinney press conference should not be surprised — he could talk the ear off an elephant, and enjoy doing it. He will also enjoy fraternizing with the other honorees. Swinney said he knows Fowler well from appearances on “College Gameday.” He did not know Avery Johnson until the two ran into each other at the 2017 Kentucky Derby and kept in touch.
Swinney is expecting an emotional night. If past galas are any indication, he will be proven right.
“Pediatric cancer does not get the same amount of financial assistance,” Swinney said. “Coach (Vitale) is passionate about it, relentless about it. I love that. This is something important.”