Monday, October 13, 2008

Bowden, a good guy, will be missed

Less than 11 months ago, I ran into Clemson athletics director Terry Don Phillips in the hallway of the ACC headquarters hotel before the conference football championship game in Jacksonville, Fla.

Phillips seemed excited about the direction of Clemson’s football program under Tommy Bowden, who was about to get a contract extension. Phillips said recruiting was going well and was pleased that the Tigers seemed to have two excellent quarterbacks in their program in Cullen Harper and Willy Korn.

But when Clemson flopped this season, Phillips was left with little choice on what to do with Bowden. It’s his 10th season, and the Tigers still haven’t won an ACC title under Bowden.

Despite Bowden’s recruiting success, a 7-2 record against rival South Carolina and significant facilities improvements, Clemson hasn’t come close to challenging for a national championship. And the specter of the 1981 national championship season loomed heavier over Bowden with each passing year.

In many respects, it’s a shame. I found Bowden to be a decent guy when I was covering the team for The State Newspaper in Columbia from 1999 to 2003.

We had disagreements, most notably when he threatened to stop taking my calls after I wrote something he didn’t like in the 2000 preseason. But he also took the time to call and congratulate me following the births of both my children after teasing me for missing post-practice interviews to attend Lamaze class with my wife.

During one remarkable week, he gave me access to his pre-game meeting with then-offensive coordinator Brad Scott as they prepared to play Louisiana Tech. They laid out their entire game plan, right down to which hash mark they wanted to start their first play from on offense, so I could write about how much their play calling resembled their script.

There aren’t many coaches who would bother to do that with members of the media, but Bowden understood the importance of openness in getting information on his team to the public.

Bowden, of course, is set for life financially because of his buyout and the handsome compensation he commanded over 10 years at Clemson. In this troubled economy, we should save our sympathy for the unemployed who can’t put food on the table and retirees whose investments have tanked.

But Tommy Bowden will be missed, even though the time was right for him to part ways with Clemson.

-- Ken Tysiac