CLEMSON — Tommy Bowden had nine lives as Clemson’s football coach.
He will not be around to complete the 10th.
Bowden stepped down Monday morning after what athletics director Terry Don Phillips labeled a lengthy, candid discussion about the state of the program at the midpoint of Bowden’s 10th season.
Phillips suggested that Bowden proposed the resignation and that Phillips did not inform Bowden he would lose his job at any specific time in the future.
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“I didn’t have to,” Phillips said. “We both understand that the conference championship was critically important.
“You look at Tommy’s record, he has a very good record and done a lot of great things. But when you get in year nine, 10, 11, in that category, and you haven’t won the conference, then it becomes a credibility issue.”
Receivers coach Dabo Swinney was named interim coach, and Phillips said he will be given a legitimate shot to keep the job, depending on how Clemson finishes its final six regular-season games.
Given personnel authority, Swinney fired offensive coordinator Rob Spence, whose play-calling has garnered heavy criticism during the offense’s season-long slump.
Swinney, 38, will share play-calling responsibilities with Billy Napier, who was promoted from tight ends coach to Spence’s former role overseeing quarterbacks.
Graduate assistants Jeff Scott and Mike Dooley have become the receivers and tight end coaches, respectively.
Furthermore, Swinney said he is sticking with Bowden’s decision to start redshirt freshman Willy Korn over senior Cullen Harper in Saturday’s noon game against Georgia Tech.
“I’m going to make mistakes, but I promise you I’m going to make them at full speed,” Swinney said.
“One of the things I talked about to the team and the coaches, I have a little saying on my desk that I’ve had for years and years. It says there is nothing less important than the score at halftime. And that’s where we are. We’re at halftime. It really doesn’t matter about the last six games.
“You’re looking at a coach that has nothing to lose.”
Swinney labeled the day “bittersweet” because of his relationship with Bowden, who served as his first position coach at Alabama in 1989.
Conjecture about Bowden’s job security reached unprecedented heights after Thursday’s defeat at Wake Forest gave Clemson its second consecutive loss and dropped its record to 3-3 overall, 1-2 in the ACC.
While the Tigers are mathematically in the Atlantic Division title hunt, expectations had been high because of the team’s No. 9 preseason ranking.
In nine-plus seasons, Bowden had a 72-45 record but went 43-32 in ACC games and was unable to guide the team to its first ACC title since 1991.
And with all signs pointing to Clemson spiraling out of contention again, Phillips met with school president James Barker on Sunday to determine their course of action.
Regardless of how the move was classified, Bowden evidently saw the end of the road approaching.
Phillips said Bowden spoke of the “cloud over the program” that could continue damaging team morale and coaches’ recruiting efforts.
So, Phillips said, Bowden put the resignation proposition on the table, and the two negotiated a $3.5 million buyout — what Bowden’s contract dictated he would have received if fired after Dec. 1.
In that regard, there were no guarantees Bowden would not have learned of his imminent firing in the coming weeks, as Phillips said Bowden was “going to be a week-to-week proposition” even if the Tigers won out.
“That was sort of the corner we’d gotten ourselves in,” Phillips said.
Bowden, 54, did not take questions at Monday’s news conference but appeared to fight emotions while giving an opening statement before addressing the team.
“Terry Don approached me this morning, and we both agreed this was probably the best solution for the program at this time,” Bowden said.
“I also want to thank the players and coaches that worked so hard. I wish them nothing but success, and I will be their biggest fan Saturday.”
Tommy Bowden’s record at Clemson
|2005||8-4||4-4/3rd in Atlantic Division||Champs Sports|
|2006||8-5||5-3/T-2nd in Atlantic Division||Music City|
|2007||9-4||5-3/T-2nd in Atlantic Division||Chick-fil-A|