Clemson's Bowden steps down
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Tommy Bowden decided he'd done all he could do for Clemson football, telling his athletic director Monday he'd step aside for the future of the program.
AD Terry Don Phillips said his intent Monday morning was to have a candid, heart-to-heart with Bowden about the football team. So Phillips was surprised when Bowden offered to walk away in midseason.
"There wasn't a gun to his head," Phillips said.
"He put it on the table for the sake of the program," Phillips said. "I agreed."
Bowden will be paid through the end of the season, then get $3.5 million as a buyout negotiated in the contract extension both sides agreed to last December.
Bowden sat next to Phillips in McFadden Auditorium, where he's held meetings and press conferences the past 10 seasons. He thanked the school, administrators and his latest group of players.
"I wish them nothing but success and I will be their biggest fan on Saturday" against Georgia Tech, Bowden said.
With that, Bowden left the stage without taking questions, walked into his office and shut the door as Phillips detailed the day's dramatic events.
Assistant head coach and receivers coach Dabo Swinney will take over the club. Phillips urged him to act like the team's head coach and make difficult decisions knowing he had the administration's full backing.
He did that almost immediately, relieving offensive coordinator Rob Spence of his duties. Swinney and newly assigned quarterbacks coach Billy Napier will handle playcalling duties.
"This is a situation where if you're going to have a fresh start, it's just kind of a time for change and to move in a different direction," Swinney said. "That's what it boiled down to."
Swinney promised he, his staff and players would approach the next six games full out and wide open. "You're looking at a coach with nothing to lose," he said.
The reactions of Clemson players ranged from sadness to shock to acceptance.
Tailback James Davis broke down in tears when he talked about Bowden.
Center Thomas Austin was surprised such a move was made at midseason.
Quarterback Cullen Harper, benched by Bowden on Friday, backed away from comments on ESPN.com earlier Monday that the longtime coach deserved his fate.
"You never wish that upon anybody," Harper said.
Bowden "was one of the reasons I came to Clemson," Harper continued. "I wish the best for coach Bowden. I hate that it had to come to this. But we're going to move on and we'll be fine."
Swinney says backup Willy Korn would indeed start Saturday's game as Bowden announced last week.
The day's odd events capped a six-week fall for a team some figured to contend for a national title.
The year began with the Tigers ranked No. 9 and picked to win the Atlantic Coast Conference. But an opening 34-10 rout by Alabama and recent losses to Maryland and Wake Forest raised calls again for Bowden's ouster despite the contract extension that tied him to the school through 2014.
"I appreciate the opportunity Clemson University gave me and the support of the administration while I was here," Bowden said in a statement released by the school.
Phillips heard the anger from Clemson backers. However, he said Bowden's choice was his own and not fueled by fans' dissatisfaction.
Clemson went 72-45 (43-32 ACC) and made eight bowl appearances under Bowden, who was honored as ACC coach of the year in 1999 and 2003. But the son of storied football coach Bobby Bowden never brought Clemson fans what they wanted most -- a championship.
Bobby Bowden said Monday his son "felt like it was fixin' to happen; he felt like it was inevitable."
Georgia coach Mark Richt's was disappointed by Bowden's departure. Richt's son, Jon, is a freshman quarterback who signed on in large part because of Bowden.
"I think it's obvious what my feelings are for Tommy Bowden," Richt said. "I entrusted him with my son."
Phillips didn't figure his talk would turn into a program-shaking move. But after two meetings, the pair eventually decided that should the coach stay, a dark cloud of indecision would continue to hover over the team the next six games.
Phillips praised Bowden for his success and the generally upstanding program he ran. But Phillips was no different from most Clemson fans in expecting that this year's team had a prime opportunity to win the ACC.
"We both understood the conference championship was critically important," Phillips said.
The departure ends a season of harsh criticism for Bowden, something that had become all too familier during his time with the Tigers.
In 2000, the Tigers started 8-0 and rose to fifth in the country, only to lose three of their final four games. Four years later, Clemson followed its nine-win 2003 with a 1-4 start.
Two years ago, the Tigers looked like the class of ACC. They opened 7-1, only to go on a 1-4 closing slide that included an unexpected, 13-12 home loss to Maryland.
Clemson won nine games last season and, with experienced skill players on offense, figured to be the league's powerhouse this fall. Harper was picked this summer as favorite to win the ACC player of the year and the Tigers to win their first league crown since 1991.