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Volume 21 No. 31
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Dabo’s mantra for old friend at Clemson: ‘Just make us better’

Amid the increasing evolution of college football support staffs, SportsBusiness Journal sought out some of the unique people and positions that have been part of that growth.

Turnipseed played football with Dabo Swinney at Alabama.
Thad Turnipseed asked the question that typically comes up: Am I on the football staff or am I part of the administration?

The answer is both. Among the many hats Turnipseed wears as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney’s right-hand man is to control the brand message for the defending national champs. That might start with social media but extend to major projects, like the layout and design of the new $55 million football operations building.

As the former owner of a construction and flooring business in Alabama, Turnipseed sees special projects like the groundbreaking ops center as “right up my alley.” Now that it is open, Turnipseed has been instrumental in directing everything from the food services to the creation of a career development center inside the building.

Essentially, Swinney, as the boss, sets the tone for the program. Turnipseed is the get-it-done guy.

That has turned Turnipseed into one of the most valued behind-the-scenes football administrators in the country, although after being featured in The New York Times earlier this year, it’s debatable how far behind the scenes he really is.

“When Dabo hired me, he told me, ‘I need a bulldog,’” said Turnipseed, who played football with Swinney at Alabama. “He knew I was the kind of guy who wouldn’t take no for an answer. When you own your own business, you develop a sense of urgency to get things done.”

Turnipseed’s path into football administration began at Alabama with its coach, Nick Saban. His job, as Turnipseed tells it, was to “Keep Nick happy.” Turnipseed was technically part of the Crimson Tide’s administration and carried an associate athletic director title.

He worked on fundraising, capital projects and event management, but Saban never let him stray too far from football. By 2013, Turnipseed was ready for a change and Swinney came calling at just the right time.

“I asked Dabo, ‘What do you want me to do?’” Turnipseed said. “He said, ‘Just make us better.’ Whatever Dabo does, he wants it to be the best in the business. That’s the culture we’ve built.”

— Michael Smith