February 16, 2004 CLEMSON There was a ray of hope after Clemson's Jan. 31 victory over No. 12 North Carolina, suggesting that perhaps better things were ahead for the struggling Tigers. First-year coach Oliver Purnell has done about all he can possibly do. He's pushed every button. He's juggled the lineup. The bottom line is that his team plays pretty good defense but does little else. The players struggle with the fundamentals of passing and shooting, basic skills most Division I players have before they arrive on campus. If you're a Clemson fan, go ahead and make a one- or two-night reservation starting Thursday night in Greensboro, because that's where you're going to be if you care enough to follow the team. The Tigers are destined for another ACC Tournament play-in game. During the loss to Wake Forest on Feb. 12, the Tigers put on an embarrassing display (17 of 34) from the free throw line. Point guard Vernon Hamilton converted just one of eight attempts from the line. Wake took control of the ugly game midway through the second half, and Clemson could not stop the Deacons'momentum. You always give the other team credit,Purnell said. But in a lot of ways, we beat ourselves. If we don't defend and rebound, we can't win. The Tigers also can't win when they don't understand the scouting report. Before the Wake game, Purnell talked about screening fouls. Against Wake, junior forward Sharrod Ford picked up two offensive fouls for moving screens. Despite several weeks of concentrating on reducing turnovers, the Tigers had their standard 20 against the Deacons. The turnovers aren't exasperating anymore,Purnell said, but the free throws were tough to take. Purnell's patience is growing short. After a frustrating first half, he put guard Shawan Robinson on the bench for 10 minutes in the second half for making excuses. At halftime, we talked about our frustrations, and I told them no more complaining,Purnell said. After Shawan turned the ball over, he tried to explain to me why he turned the ball over. We don't have time for that. At Florida State on Feb. 14, the Tigers battled their way back into the game to trail by just four 48-44, with 9:20 remaining only to have senior Chris Hobbs erupt and get a technical foul and his fifth foul. Good senior players simply don't make mistakes like that. We have a lot of things to point to,Purnell said. We need to look in the mirror. Are you satisfied? Nobody around Clemson is satisfied. But most of the fans understand that this is a building process. Purnell has plenty of time, and his track record suggests he will point the Tigers in the right direction, but there's no doubt the coach is facing the toughest challenge of his career.
Football: Staff Shakeup In Works The rumor started where most rumors start these days on the internet. By the first week of February, most newspapers in South Carolina had written the story. According to insiders, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden is shaking up his staff. Of course, Bowden isn't commenting, and he says he won't confirm anything until the start of spring practice. According to several sources, here are the details: Quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain is the new offensive coordinator. Offensive coordinator Brad Scott has been re-assigned to the offensive line. Offensive line coach Ron West is moving to the defensive line. Defensive line coach Thielen Smith will handle the safeties. Jack Hines (Bowden's brother-in-law) is moving from outside/whip linebackers to tight ends. Four coaches defensive coordinator John Lovett (cornerbacks), linebackers coach David Blackwell, running backs coach Burton Burns and wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney will not be affected by the shakeup. The burning question: Why? Why shake up the staff after the brilliant four-game run that ended the 2003 season? Some observers have speculated that the changes didn't happen after the season, but that they actually occurred after the embarrassing 45-17 loss to Wake Forest. Meanwhile, there were several other interesting theories floating around. Theory 1: Bowden is trying to shake up his staff without doing any direct firings. Scott has worked for both Bobby and Tommy. Most media outlets called the anticipated move a massive demotion for Scott. The only move that really doesn't make any sense is the one for Smith, who has spent his entire career coaching the defensive line and linebackers. Hines, the assistant all Clemson fans love to complain about, will be coaching his fourth position in four years. One source said Scott, West and Smith all could be gone by the end of February. Theory 2: O'Cain is being rewarded for a fast finish. In the final four games of the season, Clemson was aggressive offensively and used some imagination, something that had not been present in the first nine games. O'Cain, a former Clemson quarterback, learned a lot of his offensive theories from former N.C. State head coach Dick Sheridan. When he was the head coach at N.C. State, O'Cain almost always had good offensive teams with excellent skill players. One source said O'Cain was being courted by other schools, so Bowden named him the offensive coordinator in order to keep him. Theory 3: Bowden is providing some payoff for his contract extension. Some believe Bowden was told to make staff changes by the administration. Remember how long it took for Bowden to sign the extension? He got choked up during his South Carolina game press conference, and he left on a beach vacation during Thanksgiving weekend without the extension being settled. Perhaps it wasn't mainly about money, which is difficult to imagine with Bowden. Perhaps he was agonizing because he knew he was going to be forced to make some difficult decisions.
According to sources, there is an interesting situation developing in the athletic department related to football. Clemson does not have a high school relations position, a job similar to the one being filled by Clyde Wrenn at South Carolina. Wrenn used to be at Clemson as former head coach Danny Ford's recruiting coordinator. Georgia and Georgia Tech both have ex-high school coaches filling a similar position. When Wrenn was at Clemson, the Tigers owned the state of South Carolina. Since Wrenn has been at USC, the Gamecocks have owned the state of South Carolina. Clemson has identified a solid candidate for the high school relations position former Union (S.C.) High coach Mike Anthony, who retired after the 2003 season. Anthony won state championships at Union and is well-known around the state. Bowden desperately needs someone on the staff who can help improve Clemson's relationships with the state's high school coaches. If Anthony takes the job, and that's a big if according to a couple of insiders, it will be an all-around position, not just football. One source said if the job does develop, Anthony will not answer directly to Bowden.
Temple Provided Nice, Safe Fit Temple has one of the worst Division I-A football programs in the nation. That's one of the main reasons Bowden recently jumped at the chance to sign a two-for-one contract with the Owls. According to sources at Wofford, the Terriers were interested in a return trip to Death Valley, but Bowden had no interest in playing the Division I-AA Terriers. Why? Wofford was much too tough on the Tigers in 2002. Bowden can't use the they're I-AAexcuse, because Furman is on some future schedules. One big reason Wofford wasn't given another game is that the Terriers are much tougher than the woeful Owls, without the benefit of a I-A victory for bowl purposes. What was sad was Clemson's spin on the Temple contract. Senior associate athletic director Dwight Rainey and Bowden both said about the same thing, that the Tigers needed a breather on their schedule. That's true and certainly defensible for many programs, but if one of your stated goals is to win the national championship, you simply don't go out of your way to play Temple. At the same time, Clemson's 2004 schedule is one of the most difficult the Tigers have ever faced. The Tigers open with Wake Forest and Georgia Tech at home, then travel to Texas A&M and Florida State. After a week off, they go to Virginia for a Thursday night game. Clemson is the only ACC team that has to travel to both Tallahassee and Miami next season. Ouch.