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Answers To Intriguing “why Question” Much Different At Clemson, Duke

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By Dave Glenn and staff, ACC Sports Journal
December 2, 2002 CLEMSON — Clemson Nation is not happy with Tommy Bowden. But Bowden isn't going anywhere. Last year, the ACC had to help the Tigers buy their way into the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho. It was not exactly the type of postseason hot spot fans had in mind. This season, the team's best postseason option was the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, another relative pot hole for fans hungry for a return to the success of the Danny Ford era.

Under Bowden, Clemson has slipped behind N.C. State, Virginia and Maryland in the ACC pecking order. Considering the usual status of Florida State as the conference's premier program, that leaves the Tigers fifth (at best) in a nine-team league — the utter definition of mediocrity — and frustrated by their prolonged inability to return to national prominence. Nothing in the team's records under Bowden — 6-6 (5-3), 9-3 (6-2), 7-5 (4-4), 7-5 (4-4) — suggests that the program is getting closer to its ultimate goals.

Nevertheless, the coach is secure in Death Valley for at least another year. There are many reasons — some obvious, some not.

Among them:

  • Bowden has a long-term contact with a rich buyout provision. The coach's guaranteed income in 2002 was more than $1.1 million, and he could have approached $1.4 million by meeting various incentive clauses. (His nine assistants, combined, also made more than $1 million this year.) Bowden's deal, revised after each of his first two seasons with the Tigers, runs through 2007. The language of his contract actually makes it much more difficult for him to leave — as an example, he would owe Clemson more than $2 million if he took another college job right now — than for the school to terminate his employment. The Tigers would owe Bowden between $500,000 and $1 million if they fired him, depending on the number of years remaining on his contract at the time.
  • The current makeup of the Clemson administration made a change this season extremely unlikely all along, barring an absolute disaster of some kind. President James Barker truly defers most athletic department matters to his athletic director. The man in that position, Terry Don Phillips, has been in his position for less than a year. Phillips recently stated publicly that he's never once considered firing Bowden, and that was believable. The AD is learning new things about his coaches and his fan base on a weekly basis, and he's understandably hesitant to make major decisions until he has a better grasp of the situation.
  • Even many of Bowden's strongest critics realize he's a solid coach, as evidenced by his unbeaten season at Tulane and other major programs' (Alabama, Arkansas, Baylor, etc.) interest in hiring him in recent years. Most Clemson fans don't want to start over with another coach. They want Bowden to win — now.
  • He has shown an ability to recruit skilled players, such as receivers Airese Currie and Roscoe Crosby, cornerback Justin Miller and quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. Clearly, as Bowden himself has pointed out many times in recent years, there is more NFL-caliber talent on the Clemson roster today than there was when Bowden took over the program.
  • His offense has been exciting, if inconsistent. Woody Dantzler was an entertaining high-wire act for two seasons. With Whitehurst (a freshman), a better fit for Bowden's preferred schemes because of his advanced passing skills, the offense should only get better.
  • When cornered, Bowden has found a way out. Last year, the Humanitarian victory over Louisiana Tech put a happy face on a sad season. This year, a November victory over archrival South Carolina netted the Tigers a bowl berth while keeping the Gamecocks home for the holidays. Late in the year, these little things often mean a lot.
  • By hiring John Lovett to run the defense, Bowden took an important step toward solving a major problem. Former coordinator Reggie Herring, while a fiery guy and a Clemson loyalist to the core, was simply overmatched in the X-and-O game whenever his personnel didn't match his ultra-aggressive mentality. Lovett is much more accomplished in the art of deception, an essential ingredient whenever the defensive depth chart isn't stocked with future NFL players.
  • Bowden is 3-1 against Lou Holtz and South Carolina and has taken the Tigers to bowl games the last three seasons.
  • Most fans understand that the Tigers face recruiting obstacles because of their outdated facilities. That hasn't been a problem for most of Clemson's storied history, and most think Bowden deserves a chance to compete on a more level playing field.

The bottom line? Even the coach's critics believe he is the program's best hope of winning big in the next few years.

But there's also no doubt that IPTAY boosters and other fans want more. They want a victory over Florida State. They want a conference championship. They want to go to a major bowl game every year. They worry that Bowden has too many friends and relatives on his coaching staff.

At the same time, they believe Bowden is their best hope to get there soon. That's another reason why Bowden has job security.

Bowden hasn't helped himself off the field. If he had more “Tiger Spirit,” fans probably would be more patient with him. The coach's slick demeanor and his failure to rekindle memories of Ford haven't endeared him to the local faithful. He just doesn't bleed orange. He doesn't even exhibit the “Tiger Spirit” of predecessor Tommy West. He doesn't attend many other Clemson sporting events, as basketball coach Larry Shyatt does.

Though most fans enjoy the Tigers' wide-open passing attack, many complain that Bowden's teams are “softer” than Clemson teams of years past. In many ways, of course, those critics are right. Too many times in recent years, the Tigers have failed miserably in crucial short-yardage situations. The offensive line doesn't evoke any images of yesteryear, and that's a long-term concern with no obvious
answer.

Bowden doesn't have the same country charm Tiger fans loved in Frank Howard, Ford and West. He's Southern, but just a little bit too polished.

To his credit, Bowden hits the banquet circuit hard during the offseason and fields tough questions from fans. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't always tell his supporters what they want to hear. He often has a strong hint of wise guy to him, and that never goes over well with Clemson football fans.

Lately, the coach has been a little more humble and deferred to the administration when asked about hot topics, such as fan safety or the construction of a new football center. Wisely, he's trying his best to avoid controversy during these troubled times.

In the end, though, the coach probably never will have the relationship Howard or Ford enjoyed with Clemson fans. Bowden doesn't seem to want that, and considering his personality, it would be unlikely to develop even if he did.

So if he doesn't return Clemson back to the top of the ACC soon, he will be gone. But thanks to his long-term contract and his promise for the immediate future, Bowden will have at least another year or two to get the job done.

Only Devils Would Retain Franks

DURHAM — Only at Duke.

Carl Franks, whose four-year coaching record (5-40) with the Blue Devils includes 25 consecutive ACC losses, was retained by the school for 2003.

In explaining why after the last-second loss to North Carolina, Duke athletic director Joe Alleva said the team was now losing games by only two, three or four points — he could have added five — instead of 30.

“You have to crawl before you can walk and you have to walk before you can run,” Alleva said. “We are making progress.”

Duke snapped its 23-game overall losing streak in its 2002 opener, against what proved to be a mediocre East Carolina team. The other win was over Navy, which finished 1-10 this season. The Blue Devils led in the fourth quarter against Northwestern, Virginia, Clemson and UNC. They lost to N.C. State, 24-22, when they missed a long field goal on the last play of the game.

This marked the third consecutive season in which Duke did not win a league game. Nevertheless, Alleva and Duke administrators were willing to give Franks, an alumnus who truly loves the school, the opportunity to play out the final year of his contract.

One of the arguments for that decision was that every player who participated against UNC, plus 18 redshirt freshmen, is eligible to return next season. Duke's lone senior, linebacker Jamyon Small, was hurt at Georgia Tech in the 11th game and didn't play on a small-scale Senior Day against the Tar Heels.

Privately, Duke officials' defense of Franks includes the argument that the program he inherited from Fred Goldsmith was in such bad shape that there was no way the new coach could be expected to succeed.

Alleva has said publicly, and did again after the UNC defeat, that next year is critical. He said he would meet with Franks several times in the upcoming weeks to discuss details.

It is generally believed that Alleva will urge Franks to hire an offensive coordinator, a job Franks has filled himself during his time in Durham. But while the head coach called in all of the plays from the sideline against the Tar Heels, it's possible, even likely, they all were called from the press box by quarterbacks coach Jim Pry.

There also have been numerous demands from alumni and fans that Franks replace wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill, special teams coach Denny Creehan (who had prostate cancer surgery during the season) and perhaps veteran recruiting coordinator Fred Chatham, who is one of Franks' best friends. One Duke insider said news out of the football office would be forthcoming by mid-December.

One rationale for retaining Franks is that he deserves the last year because of the circumstances he operated under for the first three. It was only this season, with the opening of the $22 million Yoh Football Center, that Duke made a positive move in a sport in which it has been all but dormant since the late 1960s.

The school also has committed to allowing the football team to bring in more players from the lower end of the academic scale, although it would not be reduced standards. Duke simply would be permitting more players at the low end, which for it would mean fully qualified people who would graduate. Franks understands that he can't make a mistake with such players. If they don't make the grade academically, that option will be gone in a hurry.

Since Duke will have a small number of recruits next year — perhaps as few as 10 or 12, depending on how many fourth-year juniors won't be returning — the academic relief will have almost no impact at least until 2004.

So why would any school keep a coach with a record as dismal as Franks' has been? Pragmatically, the better question is this: What would Duke do if it canned Franks, even next year?

Franks is, by far, the lowest-paid coach in the ACC, with a reported package of around $280,000. His staff also is the lowest-paid, some $150,000 less than Wake Forest, the other private school in the conference. Duke did offer a good salary to defensive coordinator Ted Roof ($130,000 to $140,000), whose unit did a credible job almost all year. The Blue Devils led the ACC in rushing defense until the final week, although they were vulnerable to the pass in every game.

In his own defense, Franks has complimented his players, saying they never gave up and that nobody was quitting. There were no problems off the field and, to a man, the players defend their coach and his staff.

Duke insiders are convinced, right or wrong, that even if they hired a successful outsider, he would bolt at the first chance. Steve Spurrier, the only winning coach Duke has had since Bill Murray retired in the mid-1960s, loved the Blue Devils and was extremely loyal, but even he couldn't resist the chance to return to Florida, his alma mater.

Duke has the nation's top basketball coach in Mike Krzyzewski, who happens to be the school's highest-paid employee. He's been worth every penny. Is there a comparable football coach out there? Again, the insiders think not.

Said one: “Realistically, Carl is the only hope. If he wins, he'll still stay. Is there anybody else out there you can say that about? I can't think of one.”

There is no question that Duke is in a bind. It has been the laughingstock of the ACC for so long that there has been almost no media attention given to Franks' status. Durham (N.C.) Herald-Sun columnist Frank Dascenzo did lay the blame on Alleva after the UNC game, but he's been the lone public critic in media circles.

Future non-conference schedules are easier, although Duke does play at Tennessee next year. It also meets Western Carolina, Rice and Northwestern. A four-game series with Louisville starting in 2006 almost surely will be cancelled. There are future games with The Citadel and VMI.

But — even Alleva admits this — Franks eventually will have to win in the ACC. If not, he'll be gone, perhaps after 2003. Still, nobody even suggests they know what Duke will do then. Opening the checkbook does not seem a likely option.