FLORENCE, Ala. — Former football coach Tommy Bowden refutes the portrayal of his departure from Clemson, calling the midseason move a “dismissal.”
Bowden addressed questions about his tenure Tuesday for the first time since his Oct. 13 departure, which athletics director Terry Don Phillips and the school have characterized as a resignation initiated by Bowden.
“I kind of anticipated it,” Bowden said. “I was not naive to the expectations.”
Bowden spoke to reporters as part of a fundraising function at the University of North Alabama, where brothers Terry and Jeff Bowden serve as coach and graduate assistant, respectively.
Four days before Tommy’s departure, the Tigers lost at Wake Forest, dropping them to 1-2 in ACC play and damaging their chances of reaching the conference championship game for the first time in Bowden’s 10-year tenure.
After meeting with school president James Barker on Sunday, Phillips greeted Bowden at the coach’s office before sunrise Monday morning.
“I went to work that morning fully anticipating coaching that day and night,” Bowden said. “I had been a head coach for 12 years, and I had always turned it around. Never had a losing season. We were going to spin out of this thing. My offensive line was going to get better.
“Now, it might not have pulled out to win the championship. We might have pulled out and gone to a bowl. I had always done that. I just figured we were going to do it again. (Fans) were going to be mad, I knew that. I knew the pulse, I wasn’t naive. The natives were going to be restless, but they’d been restless before. We’d get this thing turned around.
“But understanding the climate, I kind of anticipated the knock (on the door).”
During the news conference that afternoon to announce Bowden’s departure, Phillips suggested Bowden proposed his resignation after a candid discussion about the program’s direction.
Bowden said when it became apparent he lacked the administration’s support, he agreed to begin negotiating terms of a buyout.
“I’m sure if we had talked longer, I probably could have (stayed a bit longer),” Bowden said. “But at that point in time, Dabo (Swinney) was obviously in their thought process, and we had just finished in the top five in recruiting the year before.
“We were moving into a new facility, had a solid staff and players, momentum was going, they had a guy there (Dabo) they were obviously happy with — to me, it was a smooth transition. You like him, he’s here, staff’s in place, let’s make this as smooth and as painless as possible.”
The disagreement appears to be little more than a matter of semantics.
Phillips maintains he did not inform Bowden he would lose his job at any specific time, but said he didnot have to because of the emphasis placed on reaching the conference title game.
Clemson had yet to be eliminated from contention, but sources have said the school was prepared to announce a coaching search once the team was out of the race.
“I stand by my comments at the press conference of October 13,” Phillips said through a school spokesman. “When I met with coach Bowden on the morning of Oct. 13, I did not enter the conversation with the intention of dismissing him. We had a frank discussion about the state of the program and I told him we were in troubled waters.
“At that meeting, he put on the table the option of resigning right away and added that coach Swinney would be someone to consider as his replacement. I told him to think about it and come back to me, which he did a couple of hours later. At that second meeting he said he thought it would be best if he stepped down now.
“As I said previously, coach Bowden did an outstanding job for this program, and we are appreciative of his hard work. He left the program on solid ground.”
Bowden received a $3.5 million buyout — what he would have been owed had he remained through the regular season — and Swinney, formerly the receivers coach, was promoted from interim coach to the full-time job at season’s end.