William Christopher Swinney wears an orange tiger paw on his pullover. Beneath it, the blood that flows through his veins is the color of a crimson tide.

So much so that it’s long been a widely-held belief he’d someday follow his heart and return to his alma mater once Nick Saban decided to retire.

The fact that his buyout at Clemson is $2.5 million more if he goes to Alabama than it is for any other job in the country should tell you everything you need to know.

When your mother calls you home, you don’t argue with her. You come running.

Well, that day might have finally arrived. Saban stepped down Wednesday after winning 206 games and 6 national championships in 17 seasons with the Crimson Tide.

But the air of inevitability that once surrounded the man America knows as Dabo has gone the way of the 4-team Playoff. The 2 potential successors most prominently mentioned over the past 24 hours are Oregon’s Dan Lanning and Steve Sarkisian, both former Saban assistants.

Not long after Wednesday’s surprise announcement, a group of fans gathered around a makeshift shrine to the now-former coach outside Bryant-Denny Stadium and began chanting “Anyone but Dabo!”

It’s a development that proves timing really is everything. Even for a coach whose resume includes 6 Playoff appearances and a pair of nattys — both over Saban and Alabama, by the way — it takes being in the right place at the right time to have a shot at landing your dream job.

Had Saban had retired 2 years ago, Swinney might already be in Tuscaloosa being introduced to a room full of media members and other adoring fanboys. Maybe 2 years from now, the momentum would swing back in his favor.

But now, at this moment?

Right coach. Right place. Wrong time.

So why did Swinney’s shine dim so quickly and so dramatically?

Three straight years without a Playoff appearance is a good place to start. Ten-plus win seasons and conference championships are accomplishments worthy of celebration at some places. At Alabama, they’re only the preliminaries to the main event.

Swinney has also developed remarkably thin skin for someone with his job security. If he thinks Tyler from Spartanburg was hard on him, enough to set him off on a 5-minute rant on live radio, wait until he gets a taste of the hardest-core members of an even more demanding fan base.

The Crimson Tide has a whole army of Tyler from Spartanburgs. And to them, any loss is the end of the world as they know it.

But Clemson’s recent “decline” and Dabo’s handling of it are just a sliver of why the tide has turned against one of the Crimson’s own.

The more substantive factor is Swinney’s antiquated coaching philosophy.

Not when it comes to the Xs and Os, mind you. It has more to do with his reluctance to embrace the changing landscape surrounding the game. Particularly as it pertains to the transfer portal and name, image and likeness compensation for his players.

Maybe you can get away with building a dominant program stocked only with homegrown talent in the ACC, where you have distinct advantages over your competition in resources, facilities and reputation.

Good luck trying it in the SEC.

Alabama might be the gold standard of college football and the bluest of blue bloods nationally. But the gap between it and the rest of its conference is not as large as you think. Alabama is only 1 of 5 different SEC teams to have won a national championship since 2006.

And the best, most competitive league in the country is about to get even better and more competitive with Texas and Oklahoma joining the party in the fall.

Simply being Alabama isn’t enough to stay ahead of the pack. Georgia has already caught up with and nosed ahead of the Crimson Tide. LSU, Texas A&M and others have massive war chests of NIL money to spend on closing the gap as well.

If you don’t use every available option in your bag of tricks, you’re going to fall behind quickly. Imagine the repercussions if an NFL team chose not to sign free agents because its coach was morally opposed to the concept.

But Swinney, as principled as he might be, is smart enough to know that the rules of engagement are different in college football’s high-rent district.

It just means more there. Or so they say.

That realization would almost certainly trigger Swinney’s “survive or die” instinct and send him scurrying straight to the portal immediately upon his arrival in Tuscaloosa.

But that possibility will soon become moot.

More likely than not, Swinney’s better-late-than-never arrival into the 21st century of college football will be at Clemson, which will need to stay relevant and attractive enough nationally to find a soft landing spot upon the inevitable breakup of the ACC.

Maybe Alabama athletic director Gene Byrne will give Swinney a call as a courtesy to an alumnus. That would allow him to legitimately say he was contacted but turned the job down.

Or maybe both men will realize that the time just isn’t right for mother to call Swinney back home.

Even though he’s probably the best man for the job.