The man with the answer to Clemson’s long-term football success, and Alabama’s future, is a kid from Argyle, Texas who grew up with Texas A&M stuff all over his bedroom, and whose grandfather coached the Crimson Tide.
Tight end J.C. Chalk caught two passes this season for Clemson, and yet he has valuable, inside information for the two programs who will play for the BcS Plus 2 national title game on Monday night in Santa Clara, Calif.
Chalk’s grandfather is Gene Stallings, who played for Bear Bryant at Texas A&M and eventually won a national title at Bama in 1992. Stallings coached current Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. Stallings remains fiercely loyal to both Bama and A&M.
Clemson’s greatest fear these days is not the team losing to Bama on Monday but losing its coach to Bama eventually. Bama coach Nick Saban will eventually retire, and Clemson’s fear is that Stallings will call Swinney and ask that he come to Tuscaloosa to keep the Tide rolling.
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“I don’t think that is going to happen,” Chalk said after Clemson defeated Notre Dame in the national semifinal game, the Cotton Bowl, on Dec. 30. “I can’t speak for Coach Swinney by any (means), but I think he loves where he’s at right now. He loves Clemson. He’s built a great tradition here at Clemson. He has everything the way he wants it here. For right now he’s very satisfied to be at Clemson.”
A similar circumstance happened in men’s college basketball when North Carolina coach Dean Smith retired after the 1997 season. Then-Kansas coach Roy Williams, who was close to Smith and UNC ties, was the man the Tar Heels wanted. Williams declined.
After another coaching change at Chapel Hill occurred in ‘03, Smith called Williams and pressed him again to take over the UNC program. Williams said yes.
Saban is 67, has more money than he can count, and can retire today knowing his legacy is equal or greater than that of Bear Bryant. A compelling case can be made that Nick Saban is the great college football coach who ever lived.
Why would Swinney want to inherit that standard?
He played there, and Bama is the top job in college football. And, money. A phone call from a revered mentor, like Stallings, can influence a decision.
Nonetheless, Chalk, who is a redshirt sophomore and the only Clemson player from Texas, doesn’t see Swinney leaving for Bama.
The best news Chalk had after Clemson’s most recent win is that Stallings is doing well. Or improving.
Stallings went through a stretch where he suffered a stroke, followed by a heart attack, and then another stroke.
“For a little bit he was not looking too good but in the past month or so he’s really come around,” Chalk said. “He’s doing a lot better. He’s made a turn for the good.”
Stallings visited Clemson’s practice before the Cotton Bowl. Chalk said his grandfather is walking around, and his speech is fine.
CHALK CHOSE CLEMSON BECAUSE OF SWINNEY
Coming out of Argyle in 2015, Chalk had offers from Texas A&M, Clemson, Mississippi and “just about every Big 12 and SEC school.”
Everything about Chalk said he was going to Texas A&M. Not only is he a legacy, but his bedroom is covered in all things Aggie.
“I was a huge fan of A&M until my freshman year of high school and then I started getting recruited a little bit and my fandom started to change,” Chalk said. “It was more, realistically, ‘Do I want to go there?’ But I was a big A&M fan. In fact, if you go to my room right now, it’s covered in Texas A&M stuff.
“I had a big ‘ATM’ painted on the wall.”
Despite his ties, and child-like passion, for all things Aggies and College Station, he picked Clemson for one reason: Dabo.
“The culture here is totally different than some other schools. Coach Swinney was a big factor and the relationship I built with him,” Chalk said. “I wanted to go somewhere I could encourage my relationship with the Lord. Here they really emphasize recruiting not just good players but good people.”
About the only thing that has not flourished for Chalk since he finished a dominant career at Argyle is that success has not translated at the same rate at Clemson.
He redshirted as a freshman, and he has four career receptions in two seasons of playing. Take into account most college tight ends don’t catch many passes, so don’t expect big numbers.
“I had lofty goals coming in but I did not realize the difference between high school and college football,” he said. “When I first got here that was a little frustrating, but I figured out if I worked hard enough I’m going to be able to play. I can have success. It’s gone the way I planned but it’s taken a little longer than I thought it would.”
And he doesn’t see his head coach leaving.