By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
When Dabo Swinney accepted the National Sports Media Association’s Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year award last week, his acceptance speech was not the standard fare of such events.
Instead of extolling the virtues of his team and its accomplishments (The Tigers became the first-ever collegiate team to post a 15-0 season with their win over Alabama in the National Championship contest), Swinney instead called Woodrow “Woody” McCorvey, Clemson’s associate athletic director for football administration, up to the podium.
“This is how God works through the game of football,” Swinney said after McCorvey, who lettered in football and basketball at Escambia County Training School in Atmore, joined him. “Woody McCorvey is from Atmore, Alabama, and I am from Pelham, Alabama. Football brought a guy from Atmore together with a guy from Pelham, and we meet up at the University of Alabama.”
McCorvey was born in Grove Hill, but his family moved here in 1955 when his father — Woodrow McCorvey Sr., who would later become principal at Escambia County Middle School — was hired as principal, teacher and coach at ECTS.
McCorvey Jr. and Swinney became acquainted when Swinney was a receiver at Alabama and McCorvey became the Crimson Tide’s receivers coach when Gene Stallings took over the helm of the UA football program.
Swinney said the meeting was a life-altering event.
“I’m a young sophomore in 1990, and he became my position coach,” the Clemson coach said. “I played for him for three years, then he was instrumental in me getting into coaching. He and Coach Stallings gave me the opportunity to be a graduate assistant.”
With racial segregation still the norm at the time, McCorvey was unable to attend Alabama and became a standout quarterback at Alabama State. Finally, McCorvey erased the color line and became offensive coordinator at Alabama.
“In 1996, Woody was named offensive coordinator, the first African-American offensive coordinator in the history of the University of Alabama,” Swinney pointed out, drawing a lengthy round of applause. “He broke down a barrier, and he wanted me to be his receivers coach, so I (went) to work for Woody in 1996.”
Swinney, who refers to McCorvey as his “national security adviser,” returned the favor when he took over the Clemson program in 2008.
“When I got the job at Clemson, the first person I called was Woody, who was offensive coordinator at Mississippi State,” he said. “I said, ‘Woody, man, I need you to be by my side. I don’t want you to coach a position, I want you to help me coach life; I want you to help me run the program.”
Swinney noted the impact McCorvey has had on his coaching career and his life.
“You don’t know how impactful Woody McCorvey has been in my life,” he said as he hoisted the Coach of the Year trophy. “He’s been right by my side. So, even though my name is on this trophy, he ought to be on there somewhere, too.”
He closed with more accolades for McCorvey, whose mother Dorothy still resides in Atmore.
“If you don’t think football matters, are you kidding me?” he said. “Highway (U.S.) 31 and a little pigskin brought these two men together, and he has been a best friend, has been like a father to me in life.
“I just felt like, I came up here on this stage and accepted this award, but Woody McCorvey deserves it just as much as me.”
Watch Swinney’s complete acceptance speech below.