Monday, October 13, 2008

The Life and Times of Tommy Bowden

As most of you know, I live in upstate South Carolina. I get more than a normal dose of the Clemson Tigers. Having said that, they've probably become my 2nd favorite ACC team to follow.

Tommy Bowden was fired today, after 10 years of a roller-coaster ride with fans and players. The circumstances are eerily similar to those of Chan Gailey

- Fine, Christian coach & a nice guy
- unquestionable morals and ethics
- Recruits pretty good kids
- Players mostly stay out of trouble
- Players move steadily towards graduation
- Recruiting improved steadily during his tenure
- They go to bowl games every year
- Fans frustrated with questionable offensive playcalling
- Team has serious letdowns against "inferior" opponents
- Team tends to win when they are the underdog
- Team never can seem to reach that mythical "next level".
- Never "handle" being a top team.

The similarities are incredibly similar if you ask me. My belief is that Bowden lasted 10 years as opposed to Gailey's 6 for the following reasons:

1. Bowden averaged closer to 8 wins per season while Gailey was closer to 7.
2. Bowden had a 7-2 record against his arch-rival SC Gamecocks, while Gailey was 0-6.
3. Bowden had a knack for pulling himself out of the "fire" at just the right moment each season
4. The administration / athletic department generally backed him, while Georgia Tech saw a change in both the AD and Georgia Tech president.
5. His last name is Bowden. Face it, that means something.

Here's his coaching record:

Bowden's Coaching Record
Year School Record Bowl
1997 Tulane 7-4 No Bowl
1998 Tulane 11-0 W, Liberty*
1999 Clemson 6-6 L, Peach
2000 Clemson 9-3 L, Gator
2001 Clemson 7-5 W, Humanitarian
2002 Clemson 7-6 L, Tangerine
2003 Clemson 9-4 W, Peach
2004 Clemson 6-5 No Bowl
2005 Clemson 8-4 W, Champs Sports
2006 Clemson 8-5 L, Music City
2007 Clemson 9-4 L, Peach
2008 Clemson 3-3 ?
Tot. 12 seasons 90-49 4-5 in Bowls
* - Bowden did not coach in the Liberty Bowl.

So here is Tiger-nation at a cross-roads. What we are starting to see now is the unraveling of the Tiger-family. Anyone who has a family knows that things are never the same inside the walls of your home compared to what the outside world sees. And so it is that we find benched QB Cullen Harper quoted on ESPN as saying "He got what he deserved". Ouch. Forgetting the fact that we play these guys this week, what you would hope to see is the team banding together, closing the walls of the outside world and figuring out how to deal with internal issues while presenting a solid face to the outside world.

Having said that, there were clearly chemistry issues with this team and staff under Bowden's leadership.

  • Bowden and Harper went back-and-forth on a couple of issues earlier in the season. Bowden made some comments about Harper being tougher and how he should have lowered his shoulder on a play to get a first down instead of running out-of-bounds.
  • Bowden handled benching Harper this week by leaving him a voice-mail and letting Willy Korn find out on the internet. Not professional
  • Harper said later on Monday that Bowden "tried to motivate us but guys were off the bandwagon. There were things I disagreed with and that my teammates disagreed with. I didn't appreciate it when he would say some off-the-wall things about me to the media. I guess one thing I can say is he gave me an opportunity to come to Clemson and play."
  • Cullen Harper's daddy is getting into the act now.
  • Offensive coordinator Rob Spense was sobbing as he left the field after an embarrasing loss to Maryland. CJ Spiller ended up consoling the guy as they walked off the field. Nice - a 19/20 year old consoling a grown man who is supposed to be a leader. Strange if you ask me.
  • James Davis and CJ Spiller have both been their own little soap operas in the off-season. If you remember, Davis almost never played at Clemson, as he left for home in ATL prior to his first camp. He finally showed back up, but in every off-season there have been talk of transfers by Spiller, unrest by Davis, and this jockying about who was "the man" in the backfield - all the while presenting this great facade of being best buddies and "Thunder & Lightening".
  • Tommy Bowden promised true freshman running back Jamie Harper the first carry of Clemson's season if he committed to the Tigers. Harper got that carry against Alabama, promptly fumbled the ball, then sat on the bench the rest of the game. It appears he did the same thing with Spiller and Davis. Maybe it's just me, but this is a sign of the inmates running the asylum. I cannot imagine Paul Johnson EVER doing anything like this. You earn your spot on the team if I'm the coach. You "have a chance to play if you work hard" would be my take. What does it say to the players on the team if you're promising recruits things like that. To me it totally lacks leadership and it's unprofessional
There are others things that have happened, but to me there is a thread of something more problematic. Put these things together and it paints a picture of a nice guy that had lost control of his program.

Here are some facts based on tonights reports:

  • Clemson AD T.Philips says that Bowden actually resigned and it was Bowden's idea - not his. He just happened to agree with the idea for the betterment of the program. Bowden will get paid through this season and then get his $3.5M buyout.
  • Having indicated Bowden "resigned", per ESPN, AD Terry Don Philips had met with the staff last week and told them that if they did not beat Georgia Tech they would be fired. Ahhhhh, I see now. Resigned. Right. Maybe Bowden looked at our film and realized he had no chance. :-)
  • Dabo Swinney is the interim head coach. Swinny is the WR coach, is VERY well like by the players, and one of the key guys responsible for Clemson's recent recruiting success. Swinny is a former Alabama player and almost went to work for Saban's staff at one point.
  • OC Rob Spence was fired by Swinney. Not surprising considering how poor their offense has been. Swinney and Billy Napier will call the plays.
  • Willy Korn will be the starting QB.
  • Swinney had his first press conference this evening and was evidently fairly outspoken and straightforward, challenging the players - "All I can tell you is the guys that run out there every Saturday, for the next six weeks, they are going to be playing with their hair on fire. We are going to unify this group. One heartbeat- everybody playing together. That's our only chance. I told them today, if you can't do this this and this, get on out of here. But if you show up on the practice field tonight you're all in. We have pocket 10's. I need my players to be all in. "
  • Here's what Swinney said about Georgia Tech - "Swinney: Defensively, they are really good. They've got as good a front as we've played. No. 91 is a baller. He's going to bring it. No. 93 is probably a top 10 NFL type talent, Michael Johnson. Those two guys that's probably where it starts. Good inside. Really good at linebacker. They've got veterans in the secondary. They kept somethings from Tenuta. It's going to be a difficult task. Best we have played. Offensively, I have not studied them. But they force you play disciplined to defend the option. Coach Johnson - how about going up against that guy? He's a heckuva a football coach. He can call this stuff in his sleep. "
  • Clemson lost two of their high-profile recruits already.
  • Names being kicked around for the job include Will Muschamp (Texas), Jim Grobe (Wake Forest), Lane Kiffin (Raiders - fired), Tommy Tuberville (Auburn), Mike Leach (Texas Tech), Todd Graham (Tulsa), Bobby Johnson (Vandy), Bud Foster (VaTech), Todd Grantham (Dallas Cowboys), Gary Patterson (TCU),



Let's take stock of things.
  • Clemson had incredibly talented offensive weapons that have been poorly utilized
  • Their offensive line is a patchwork of underperforming kids whose performance rivals that of Georgia Tech's - which is to say - not good
  • Their head coach and offensive coordinator have just been fired
  • Players are stabbing their former head coach in the back and starting to open up about how bad things have been.
  • The fanbase is 90% focused on who they can bring in to be their next coach.
  • No doubt the remaining coaches are going to be distracted, manning their phones, mining their industry contacts and focusing on "what about me?".
  • Oh yeah, you know they've been instructed to get on the phone to current recruits to settle down the situation. Do you remember the priority that Paul Johnson made the recruiting part?
  • Meanwhile the remaining staff needs to figure out a gameplan against one of the best defenses in the ACC, and get their kids how completely change what they do defensively to stop the triple option.
  • Clemson will be giving a new QB his first collegiate start.
  • CJ Spiller will not play
  • Offensive lineman Corey Lambert won't play as he nurses a foot sprain.
  • Georgia Tech will have both Josh Nesbitt and Jaybo Shaw back and per the AJC Nesbitt is back to 100% based on testing his limits today.
It all sets up great for the Jackets, right? The interim guy is going to calm the waters, rally the team, redesign the offense, teach assignment football, hold press conferences, call recruits, and more? Seems like a disaster for Tiger-nation right?

Well, not so fast. I've had a bad feeling about this game all week, and the events of today pretty much sealed my opinion. I hate to say it, but I think Georgia Tech is about to sinks to the depths of our season. I see a major beatdown coming, and not one we're going to enjoy. It's stupid to prognostic like that, but it's how I feel.

At the end of the day, Clemson isn't going to magically sprout an offensive line or completely change their playcalling to turn their entire season around. In my mind, players are going to come out with emotion like they have not displayed yet. Emotion isn't going to carry the day, but we saw ourselves what happens last week when one team flys around and plays with rage while the other goes through the motions. I'm not talking about Michigan / Toledo either.

I want to be wrong and hopefully I will be, but I don't see this game as a rousing victory for Georgia Tech. As it is, the GT / Clemson series is always a good one and usually comes down to the wire. This could just be another weird chapter in our rivaly's history. Our players better come out on fire themselves and the staff better have these guys ready this time or it's going to be a long day.

What do you think? How is this thing going to play out?