A special bond: Helena Mayor Mark Hall and Dabo Swinney go back decades

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

HELENA–You could say that Helena Mayor Mark Hall had a tough decision to make the night of Monday, Jan. 9.

Not the kind of serious decision he makes on a day-to-day basis to ensure the city of Helena continues to thrive as one of the safest towns in all of Alabama.

This decision had nothing to do with being the mayor of Helena, but rather, choosing a side to cheer for when the Alabama Crimson Tide took on the Clemson Tigers in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship game.

Hall, a 1998 graduate from the University of Alabama loves the Crimson Tide, but he’ll be the first to tell you that he is also a huge fan of his good friend and head football coach of the Clemson Tigers Dabo Swinney.

The Clemson Tigers narrowly topped Alabama on Jan. 9 after Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with just one second remaining to give Clemson the 35-31 win and its first national championship since 1981.

Hall admitted he was a little disappointed that Alabama lost but said he was just as happy as if Alabama had won.

“I was just so overcome with happiness for him and for his family because of the struggles,” Hall said. “I’m an Alabama graduate so obviously it was very hard for me to pull against the Crimson Tide but with Dabo being the coach at Clemson, I’m as happy as if Alabama had won because I’m happy for him and for Tracy (Dabo’s brother) and for all the Swinney family.”

Hall says he has known Dabo and the Swinney family since 1981, dating back to his time as a Pelham police officer.

“Dabo’s brother Tracy Swinney, now head of Clemson football security, I worked with him for over 20 years at Pelham PD,” Hall said. “Dabo had gone to Alabama and walked on as a receiver and Tracy and I would go down there every week to practice when Gene Stallings was the coach just to check in on Dabo. We knew he was struggling and we just went down every week to practice so I’ve been following Dabo for years.”

Through the years, Hall attended many Alabama football games when Dabo was a player and coach at Alabama and Hall said those were the closest times he had with Dabo.

“Our closest times together was when Dabo was at Alabama and Tracy and I worked together at Pelham PD and worked for Mayor Bobby Hayes. Hayes is like a second father to Dabo and helped him through some hard times as well. All of us knew each other well and we’re all good friends.”

As time went on, Hall had the honor of taking pictures at Dabo and Kathleen’s wedding and recalled another moment when Dabo dropped by to show off his 1992 Alabama National Championship ring.

Hall has of photo of Dabo holding his newborn son Halen with the national championship ring.

“Dabo has always been a personable individual and his friendship is non-wavering,” Hall said. “Dabo is a true example of a person who will believe in you and encourage you, as well as set an example from his own actions. He’s just quite an individual.”

Hall said Dabo is the same person he is today as he was when he was a freshman at Alabama and hasn’t forgotten where he came from.

“He’s got a drive and ambition like no other person I’ve ever met and nothing could discourage him from his course of becoming a head coach in the college ranks,” Hall Said. “He went through some hard times and left Alabama and I’m sure some people told him he needed to do something else but he wouldn’t have any of it. He’s just that kind of guy.”

Hall keeps in close contact with Dabo, Tracy and others in the Swinney family and described the Jan. 9 national championship victory as “almost like a fairytale.”

“It’s really kind of surreal to see him mentioned in the same breath with Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and Gus Malzahn and all the coaches now in those ranks,” Hall said. “To know that Dabo has actually beaten every one of those coaches teams in the last year is unbelievable. It couldn’t of happened to anybody better. It’s just unbelievable to see what he came from, to where he’s at now. So anybody who says ‘he’s not deserving’ is just wrong. He’s more than deserving than anyone I can think of.”