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Bowden Era Battling Fans, Foes, History

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

November 3, 2003 CLEMSON — Wake Forest is known as the Grim Reaper in these parts, and it's easy to see why. Clemson football coaches who lose to the Demon Deacons don't stay around for very long. Ask Ken Hatfield and Tommy West. Hatfield lost to Wake 20-16 at Death Valley in October 1993, and the heat grew so intolerable that the coach resigned about five weeks later, at the end of an 8-3 regular season. West fell to the Deacons 29-19 in September 1998, also at home, and was fired at the end of that 3-8 campaign. Hatfield finished his career at Clemson with a 32-13-1 record. West went 31-28. After falling to Wake Forest 45-17 in Winston-Salem on Nov. 1, Tommy Bowden was added to the list of Clemson coaches who have lost to the Demon Deacons. The Deacs led this one 45-0 after three quarters, making it even more unacceptable in the eyes of the Clemson faithful. Whether or not the Grim Reaper will come soon for Bowden, 34-24 in his fifth year with the Tigers, remains to be seen. Wake dominated Clemson from start to finish, and now Bowden's remaining time with the Tigers will be watched even more closely. The fans clearly have had enough, and they are sure to voice their displeasure to the administration, which has little or no loyalty to Bowden. Clemson is paying Saks Fifth Avenue money for run-of-the-mill teams. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the football program is that the largest source of remaining pride belongs to the fans. Clemson followers are a proud, enthusiastic group. The Tigers had a large contingent on hand for the first half at Winston-Salem. They want their program to be competitive again. They want to see their team win a tough game, upset a highly ranked opponent. Unfortunately, their team often lacks pride and toughness. Get the Tigers down by two touchdowns, and they'll quit on you. “I didn't have them prepared to play (against Wake),” Bowden said. “I told them, come prepared to go to work on Monday.” The time for excuses has ended. Clemson fans want results, and it has become obvious that they're not going to get enough positive results with Bowden. His program has the feel of Hatfield's final days. The coaches often look clueless, and the early word from the recruiting trail is not positive. Already, the public's focus is not on whether or not Bowden can survive. The focus is on who will be his replacement. But if Bowden is on the chopping block, he isn't showing any signs of panic. He's not taking any risks. Twice on fourth-and-short situations in Wake territory, he ordered punts. The Deacs took one of those punts and marched 98 yards for a touchdown. Trailing 45-0 on the Wake four-yard line, he ordered a field goal. Did he see the scoreboard? Bowden said before the Wake game that he made the decision to huddle and then not to huddle. After having success in the no-huddle formation against North Carolina, the offense went back to the huddle early in the Wake game. Clemson is a ship whose captain is asleep at the helm. The proud program is a bad joke, with no punch line and no punch. Clemson was in good shape after beating Virginia in overtime on Oct. 11, but now all that good feeling has evaporated. The ugly loss at N.C. State ended any faint hopes of an ACC title. The Tigers beat UNC in a wild offensive game, but the Tar Heels exposed Clemson's lack of a run defense. Wake used that Carolina film to deliver what could be a fatal blow for Bowden's tenure. UNC and Wake both blew holes in Clemson's defensive front and exposed its linebackers, the overrated John Leake and the undersized Leroy Hill. The Deacons rushed for 321 yards and threw just seven passes. Clemson's defensive front seven was lost against Carolina and Wake. Any type of game plan that requires discipline and “assignment football” is Greek to the Tigers. “We had guys missing tackles,” defensive coordinator John Lovett said. “They ran hard. We didn't tackle well. We were out of position.” After the Wake debacle, Bowden said he believed the Tigers had “some good games left.” But how many games does Bowden have remaining at Clemson? Was the humiliating loss to Wake the beginning of the end? “That's not my decision,” Bowden said. “That decision belongs to the athletic director and the president of the university. I still have three games to coach.” Many people wearing tiger paws are hoping it's three and only three. In the ultimate drama, the first of those three games is against Daddy Bowden and Florida State for Bowden Bowl V. Daddy needs the game to stay in the national title hunt. Tommy needs the game to keep his job. Rift Between Coach, Quarterback? Some evidence that Bowden is feeling the pressure came in the second half of the UNC game, when he raked quarterback Charlie Whitehurst for missing a receiver in the end zone. Bowden had wanted his QB to look for a different option on the play. On the sidelines, Whitehurst tried to talk to Bowden, but Bowden was not in a listening mood. From a distance, it did not look pretty. There are rumors that Whitehurst is unhappy with the coaching staff because they don't trust him to call audibles, but both men blew off the confrontation. “I got what I deserved,” Whitehurst said after the game. Bowden did even more smoothing over during his next weekly press conference, when he referred to an ugly sideline encounter that occurred earlier in his Clemson career. “I know what it looks like from the stands, but the fans don't know what is being said or the context,” Bowden said. “The Gator Bowl my first year, we had a point of no return. He (Alex Ardley) had lost money in the bank in academics, he had lost money in the bank in study hall, and he had lost money in the bank on the field. I don't know many coaches who haven't had conversations like that.” Bowden was right. The fans didn't know the context. But from a distance, it looked like a very angry coach screaming at a very frustrated player.

Basketball: Purnell Making Changes Members of the Clemson basketball team should take note: Oliver Purnell is determined to make changes in the downtrodden program he has taken over, and he's not a patient man. Even though he has three top-100 players committed in Sam Perry, James Mays and Cheyenne Moore, Purnell is continuing to recruit. If he's able to get more than three, he'll have a potential problem, because there are no additional scholarships available. How will he make the numbers work? “New math,” Purnell said, without cracking a smile. “It has been my experience that things happen. Guys get hurt. Guys transfer. Somebody may not buy into the program. It's great we're being talked about by the top players. We have to keep recruiting. That's why I was brought in here — to make changes.” Purnell's plan for his first Clemson team sounds familiar. Because he has Chris Hobbs, who got as heavy as 285 pounds during the offseason, and Sharrod Ford inside, Purnell wants the Tigers to play inside-out. Expect Ford to average 12-15 shots per game this season. “I'm not a system coach on the offensive end,” Purnell said. “Our tempo will be determined by our point guard. I would love to play up-tempo. I'm rigid on the defensive end. I want us to defend and group rebound.” Purnell likes Olu Babalola's size and agility, but he had serious questions about Babalola's effort after looking at last season's rebounding statistics. Meanwhile, sophomore Shawan Robinson got the first look at point guard, but true freshman Vernon Hamilton (five assists) was more effective in the Tigers' first scrimmage.