July 28, 2003 CLEMSON The media members who cover Clemson finally have gotten the message, and the watch is on. In mid-July, there were several articles around the state addressing the same question: Is this Tommy Bowden's final season with the Tigers? At his annual preseason media outing on July 16, Bowden was calm, cool and relaxed. He's under a massive amount of pressure, but he's not showing it. Trying to get a straight answer out of him is like trying to get a straight answer out of an Enron executive, but Bowden undoubtedly knows what could happen if the Tigers don't produce this season.
You either win a lot of games and leave or you lose a lot of games and leave, Bowden said. You lose one way or the other. That's the nature of this profession. There is a sense of urgency with every game you play here. Expectations are high. Four bowl trips (in four years) at a lot of schools is pretty good. But that's not the objective here. The objective here is to win the right bowl games.
Every player on the 2003 team was recruited by Bowden. For the first time, there are no Tommy West holdovers remaining. This is Bowden's team. The coach says he never said anything about Clemson being a rebuilding project when he was handed the job in December 1998, and that revelation puts even more pressure on him to produce this season.
I never took this job with a four- or five-year plan, Bowden said. This is not a job you take that involves words like patience and rebuilding. There has been a sense of urgency here from game one. The plan was to win immediately as many games as you could and improve on that from year to year.
I don't think they'll (the fans) lower the expectation. I don't think that ought to be lowered. I think we do need to be realistic about where we are and what we need to accomplish. They have won a national championship here. That ought to be the goal here.
Play-Calling Duties Add Pressure
After calling less than 50 percent of the plays last season, Bowden said he will call close to 100 percent of the plays this season. (Move over, Brad Scott and Mike O'Cain.) It is a bold move on Bowden's part. If the offense is successful, he can thump his chest and take all the credit. If the offense flops, as it did last season, the fans will know whom to blame.
The Tigers worked on the I-formation in the spring. The question is: How much will they use it? Bowden won't say, but the guess among most insiders is that the I will be saved for the Tigers' short-yardage and goal-line situations.
I did a poor job developing a short-yardage and running mentality, Bowden said. That's more my mistake than the players. The I-formation, by the type of offense, is more compact. You're taking out a wideout and putting in a tight end. You're taking out a wideout and putting in a fullback. It's a more hard-nosed approached. By design of formation defensively, you're going to become more hard-nosed because a linebacker has to take on a fullback and a defensive end has to go mouth-to-mouth with a tight end.
Bowden said he believes most of the preseason negativity surrounding the Clemson program is because of the Tigers' final game of 2002, the humiliating 55-15 loss to Texas Tech in the Tangerine Bowl. The Tigers were picked fifth by the media members at the ACC Kickoff, but most preseason magazines picked the Tigers sixth or even lower.
If the South Carolina game (a 27-20 Clemson victory) had been our last game, we would've been in pretty good shape, Bowden said. It's not like we're a million miles away. It's not like the Georgia loss, the Florida State loss and the Virginia loss were huge losses. Those were pretty close, competitive games. We were close to a 10-win season, but it seems like most of the attention goes on the negative ones.
One of the main reasons all of the attention went to the negative ones was that the negative ones were on ESPN. Clemson fans don't like losing, and they certainly don't like getting blown out time and time again on national TV. Two or three blowout losses this season obviously would not help Bowden's cause.
Bowden said his team must show improvement this season, but he wisely won't
attach a number of wins to the improvement factor. In his defense, few, if any,
coaches in the country will predict a number of wins during the
But the rumor persists that Bowden must win eight games and a bowl game to return for the 2004 season. Most fans are expecting somewhere between six and eight victories. Linebacker John Leake said at the ACC Kickoff that Clemson would go undefeated. Memo to John: That won't happen, but your attitude can't hurt.
Improvement Tough To Measure
Bowden is seeking improvement. Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips has said fixing the football program is the No. 1 priority in the athletic department. The athletic department needs the cash, and football pays more bills at Clemson than at any school in the ACC. (Example: The Tigers posted $20 million in gridiron revenue and a $10.4 million football profit in 2001-02. Among the other eight schools in the conference, only Florida State had a profit of more than $6 million, and four programs were under $4 million.) A more successful program would pay a lot more bills.
How the improvement Bowden seeks will be measured is not up to the coach. That task belongs to Phillips. If the Tigers start losing and looking disorganized, as they did several times last season, some fans will lose interest. Lower attendance figures would be very bad news for Bowden.
How will Phillips measure improvement in the football program this season? That's a good question. Bowden said he will measure improvement by trying to fix several weak spots in his team short-yardage running game, punting, special teams, turnovers.
I want to be an improved team, Bowden said. We want to look at some of the games we lost and pick one or two things that cost us the most and make sure to improve on those. I think we'll be an improved team. I don't know how that improvement will relate to wins and losses.
People who pay the money want to see improvement, and they want to see it from year to year. I want us to rush for 2,000 yards again. If we can do that, that means we will have the ball longer, we'll have better field position and we'll have a better running game.
From Hot Seat To Fiery Furnace
Bowden knows he's on the hot seat. He even used his extensive Biblical knowledge to joke about his hot seat.
I've gone from the hot seat to the fiery furnace, Bowden said. You remember Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? (Daniel 3:12). They went in the fiery furnace, but they came out.
For Bowden to come out of his furnace, the Tigers are going to have to pull off two or three upsets and then win the games they're supposed to win. But after struggling with both Wake Forest and Duke last season, there are no guaranteed victories on the schedule.
If all you think about is winning seven, eight and the daily e-mails, you cannot survive, Bowden said. I'm anxious to get going again. There are a lot of things to be excited about. It's been difficult to have to sit here and fight six months of criticism after playing so bad in the Tangerine Bowl.