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New Sheriff In Town Highly Impressive

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

June 10, 2002 CLEMSON – On the surface, the selection of Terry Don Phillips to replace Bobby Robinson as athletic director on June 4 looked like an extremely safe choice. Certainly, it wasn't as bold as naming the first African-American (Keith Tribble, executive director of the Orange Bowl, was a candidate) athletic director in school history.

But once one begins to analyze Phillips – the man and his career accomplishments – the choice begins to look like a stroke of pure genius.

"We think he is the best candidate in what was an extraordinary field of candidates," Clemson president James Barker said. "We had one athletic director tell us, ‘If you can get him, you better do it.' He can be an athletic director wherever he wants. We're pleased he has chosen Clemson."

Phillips, 54, led Oklahoma State's transition into the Big 12 Conference. At OSU, he managed an annual budget of $22 million and led a facilities campaign that raised $65 million.

"It is difficult to leave Oklahoma State," Phillips said. "(My wife) Trish and I talked about it. For us to leave OSU, it would have to be a special place and a special opportunity. Clemson is a special place and a special opportunity."

There are several similarities between Clemson and Oklahoma State. Both are land-grant schools in small towns. Both are involved in massive facility-improvement projects. Both have well-rounded athletic programs. Both use the color orange as their major color.

"Clemson has a much better budget than OSU," Phillips said. "I'm a lot smarter with money than without it. OSU had good people who worked hard. Just look at the record since we joined the Big 12. We were No. 4 or No. 5 in conference championships and in the lower third of the conference in budget."

Phillips, a native of Longview, Texas, played football at Arkansas. He played in the 1969 Arkansas-Texas "Game of the Century" and was a three-year letterman. He earned masters and doctor of education degrees from Virginia Tech, where he was an assistant football coach from 1971-78.

His dissertation on Title IX issues is considered to be one of the best pieces of research ever written on the law. He earned his J.D. degree from the Arkansas School of Law in 1996 and is a member of the Arkansas Bar, the American Bar Association and the Sports Lawyers Association. He was named athletic director at Oklahoma State in 1994. In an effort to bridge academics and athletics, he will teach a course in business law at Clemson. He also serves the NCAA as chair-elect of the Division I Infractions Appeals Committee and as a member of the Olympic Sports Liaisons Committee.

"When I was at Virginia Tech, we came down and played Clemson on homecoming," Phillips said. "We started a series inside the Clemson 10-yard line, and it was so loud we ended up on the 30. That's what you work for. That feeling about Clemson has stayed with me."

When Barker was named president, he laid out an ambitious plan for Clemson called "One Clemson." Among the goals in that plan for the athletic department were another football national championship, a national championship in another sport and two Final Four appearances in the next decade.

"That plan creates a sense of urgency on our part," Phillips said. "But the great thing about Clemson is that you're in the hunt right now. This year, you came within a heartbeat in golf, you were fourth in track, and you've gotten hot in baseball. You have to work hard every day. I like the mission for this university. I know President Barker is going to access me. That's OK."

Phillips also has seen tragedy in his career. The plane crash in January 2001 that claimed 10 lives, including those of two OSU basketball players, forever changed his life.

"You really don't know how good people are until something like that hits you," said Phillips, who choked with emotion as he recalled the crash. "You don't plan for something like that. We met all night to determine how we would handle it. We sent a crisis team to Colorado to help us provide information to the families. It was important that each family knew that every person was treated with dignity and respect. One of the things that came out of that was a through review of our travel. It was a very good report and is a very good guide."

Phillips said his first year at Clemson will be filled with planning and getting to know the Clemson people.

"I need to establish credibility and trust with the Clemson family," he said. "They need to know me and feel comfortable with me. We need to get a feel for where we're going to go strategically in each area. I believe strongly in strategic plans. We need to have a plan for each area, then work that plan. I keep a checklist on my desk. You have to have a plan, and you have to have a process to get into that plan. At the end of the day, when you're trying to access how well you're doing, you have to be able to measure your progress.

"I'm coming to a new environment with a great culture. I'm a very good fit for Clemson. There are a lot of schools that I'm not a good fit for. I like the environment, the town. … I have no reservations about my fit for the position."

Phillips wore an orange tie to his introductory press conference and then received the traditional gift that all new big-name hires receive – an orange blazer.

"This the first place I've been that I've received a jacket," he said. "I feel like I'm at The Masters."

Phillips was a surprise choice to replace Robinson. No media outlet was able to break the story until just hours before the press conference. But after he described his vision for the Clemson athletic department in his Texas drawl, the hiring of Phillips had a feeling of destiny.

"He was the best candidate nationally," Barker said. "I told Terry that I believe the Clemson family is very inclusive. All you have to do is just say that you love the place and you're in."

Bad News Following Crosby

It seems all-everything wide receiver Roscoe Crosby is doing everything he can to avoid playing football at Clemson.

During the last week of May, Crosby's mother, Frieda Hill, and advisor, Brian Peters, announced that Crosby was seriously considering elbow surgery to correct a problem in his throwing arm. (He has suffered from a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow since high school.) If Crosby has the surgery, it will take a year to rehab from it.

Meanwhile, Crosby had a couple of recent tragedies in his life. Three of his high school friends, on their way to see him play baseball in Florida, died in a fiery car crash in Georgia. Later, Crosby was the apparent target of a drive-by shooting that sent another man to the hospital

Asked about Crosby, Clemson insiders said the less time he spends in his hometown, the better. Sources in Union said Crosby has been known to hang out with a less than desirable crowd when he returns home, which he does as often as his schedule permits.

Transfer Soap Opera Ridiculous

Having lost confidence in South Carolina golf coach Puggy Blackmon, golfer Brent Delahoussaye asked to be released from his USC scholarship so he could transfer.

There was just one problem. Delahoussaye wanted to transfer to Clemson. When South Carolina denied his request, Delahoussaye started talking, shining light on some of the dark corners of Blackmon's program.

One story that came out was about Blackmon. He supposedly was on call to Tour player and former Georgia Tech standout David Duval, once leaving the USC team at a tournament so he could go work with Duval. That tidbit was just the tip of the iceberg with Blackmon. Some of his stunts are legendary among his fellow college coaches.

It also was revealed during the disagreement between Delahoussaye and USC that South Carolina has a written policy: No transfers to Clemson. Delahoussaye could have transferred to Clemson without the release, but he would have had to sit a year without any scholarship help. Delahoussaye appealed to a four-person panel chaired by Susie VanHuss, USC's faculty athletic representative, but shock of shocks, that panel denied his request. Eric Bland, Delahoussaye's lawyer, called the hearing "a joke." Bland also pointed out that a USC baseball player who recently transferred had no restrictions on his transfer request.

Delahoussaye and his parents were discussing the possibility of legal action against South Carolina. The possibility of having more negative information about the golf program in court might put a lot of pressure on the USC athletic department. Delahoussaye and his parents were holding out hope that USC athletic director Mike McGee would sign the release and end the mess.

Delahoussaye made the decision to sign with South Carolina early in the recruiting process, but insiders said Clemson head coach Larry Penley, who runs the most nationally competitive program in the entire athletic department, is very interested in adding the young golfer to his team.