The NBC telecast of March’s WGC Dell Match-Play golf tournament went to commercial, and the personnel began to exchange off-the-air barbs. With the NCAA basketball championship in the headlines, the guy who had played in a title game provided a convenient target.
Why, the dart-throwing colleagues asked sportscaster Terry Gannon, didn’t you make the winning shot for N.C. State’s “Cardiac Pack” with the 1983 crown at stake? Why, they wanted to know, why .... on and on.
Suddenly, Peter Jacobson, prompted by the newest guy on the crew, piped up, “Don’t give Terry such a hard time. He shot 90 percent from the foul line that year.”
Whoa. Imagine the reaction. These guys are pros with numbers and all, but c’mon. Really? Who could come up with a statistic from 35 years ago that no one would have any reason to remember? Who could find that data without some research? Who would have that information on the tip of his tongue?
Tim Bourret did.
Working only his second golf tournament with the Golf Channel/NBC and providing Jacobson with statistical fodder for the audience, Bourret did that day in March what he has done for the past 40 years: He provided information quickly, efficiently and accurately.
The folks around Clemson athletics would not be surprised. Indeed, he joined Frank Howard and one of his mentors, Bob Bradley, in becoming synonymous with the Tigers.
For 40 years, Tim Bourret has served Clemson with distinction in the sports information office. His recall of shots, situations and athletes is astounding, and he carved out a career to envy.
Now, on July 13, he is retiring. Sort of.
He still will do Clemson basketball commentary and will be around Tigertown when his new gig, statistician for NBC golf, doesn’t have him in Scotland for The Open championship or in Boston or Philadelphia or Atlanta for the FedEx Cup playoffs.
But with him not on deck 24/7, the Tigers might have to buy a computer.
Call Tim Bourret the Connecticut Yankee who landed in Clemson in an odd string of circumstances. Could have been Kansas State, but the Wildcats picked someone else. Could have been his alma mater, Notre Dame, but a move to diversity foiled that plan. Could have been Pitt, but after saying “yes,” he said “no.”
No matter. Clemson athletics are far richer the way the plot unfolded. The Tigers received a man who became the gold standard of sports information directors and would be inducted into his profession’s hall of fame.
Oh, yes. There is this, too: Until the eve of his junior year in college, he had no inkling that athletic departments included a sports information office. He knew and played sports; he did not know about sports information.
Growing up in West Hartford, Conn., Bourret made all-conference in baseball and played in the American Legion World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, a tournament that featured Dale Murphy. But he passed on playing high school football for what he considered a good reason: His team scheduled games on Saturday afternoons, and fall Saturday afternoons in the Bourret household meant listening to Notre Dame games on the radio.
Clarence (Chuck) Bourret graduated from Notre Dame after service in World War II, passed his love for Irish football to his son and introduced him to statistics during those Saturday broadcasts. An engineer who worked on the team that produced the fuel cells for Apollo 11, Chuck Bourret also started his son on his career path.
“My dad represented Notre Dame at high school fairs in Connecticut, and he had breakfast with Roger Valdiserri at a seminar,” Tim says. “He told Dad he ran the sports information office, and Dad thought I might like that. I wrote Roger and told him I would work for free. ‘Free’ was the magic word, and I got a job that August (1975).”
Later, in rummaging through files, Bourret found his original letter to offer his services. The notation scribbled across the top in Valdiserri’s handwriting: “Let’s hire this guy. Looks like he would be a good summer slave.”
The “slave” became a star.
The orange passion
Bourret interviewed for the assistant sports information director job at Kansas State and Clemson after earning his master's at Notre Dame in 1978. He had received his introduction to the Tigers the previous fall at the Notre Dame-Clemson football game — “Joe Montana vs. Steve Fuller,” he says.
Golf coach (and later director of athletics) Bobby Robinson and sports promotion director Jerry Arp took him to dinner on his arrival for the Clemson interview, and, he says, “Mr. Bradley took me to lunch at Mac’s Drive-In the next day.”
Words from Arp stuck with him. “Jerry told me, ‘Mr. Bradley will treat you like a son,’ and he did,” Bourret says. “I’ve been so fortunate to have worked for two of the finest, Roger Valdiserri and Bob Bradley.”
He had discovered Clemson’s passion for football in that 1977 game. Arriving at the stadium long before game time, he and Valdiserri saw the bank behind the east end zone already packed with fans.
“Roger asked me, ‘What have we gotten ourselves into?’ ” Bourret says.
If that scene weren’t a reminder of the passion for Clemson athletics, Bourret received a reminder early in his first year.
“Part of my responsibilities was to create a daily Clemson sports report,” he says. “I would tape a two- to three-minute update of news involving the Tigers and people would call in to listen. Then, one day, I got tied up and forgot to do it.”
His office phone rang about 11:30 and what he calls “the voice of God” spoke: “Mr. Bourret, this is (university president) Dr. Edwards. I just wanted to let you know the Clemson sports report has not been updated today.”
Bourret laughs at the memory and says, “I doubt if Roger Valdiserri ever received a phone call from (Notre Dame president) Father Hesburgh about the Notre Dame sports report.”
That orange passion fit perfectly with Connecticut Yankee. With his return to Notre Dame falling through in 1979 and his on-again, off-again affair with Pitt a few years later, Bourret and Clemson turned out to be a match made in heaven.
A part of history
Bourret created a “40 memories for 40 years” for a Clemson publication. Some are predictable, some not. And he reveals some back-stories that did not make the headlines.
No surprise: The Tigers’ 2016 national football championship tops his list. He calls it “the most thrilling game I have seen” that included Clemson’s fourth-quarter rally and the winning touchdown with one second remaining.
“The final play was a tangible example of the composition of Dabo Swinney’s program. A five-star quarterback (Deshaun Watson) threw the game-winner to an original walk-on (Hunter Renfrow),” he says.
And only Tim Bourret would think of this: “The score gave Clemson 35 points, the number of years since Clemson won its only other football championship.”
Speaking of Swinney, he recalls the day Dabo Swinney became the Tigers’ head coach.
“I could write 5,000 words on October 13, 2008,” he says.
Long story short, Director of Athletics Terry Don Phillips had told Bourret the previous Friday he would meet with coach Tommy Bowden “to tell him where he stood.” Basically, Bowden needed to win the ACC Atlantic Division or else. Bourret says Phillips told him that Bowden replied, “Why don’t you make the change now?”
Writes Bourret: “It might be the most momentous day in Clemson football history, and we owe a lot of credit to the foresight of both Terry Don Phillips and Tommy Bowden, who knew Swinney had the football acumen and leadership qualities in every aspect of the job.” And he wonders, “Would Dabo have been considered for the job after the season?”
One of Clemson’s finest basketball victories has Bourret’s fingerprints all over it. The Tigers went into the final seconds tied with No. 1 Duke in 1980, and Bourret, seated next to the bench keeping statistics, noted the Blue Devils’ inserting Chip Engelland into the game.
He had seen a Duke-Providence game on local television during a visit to Connecticut earlier in the season and Duke used Engelland to inbound the ball, then take a return pass for the winning shot.
“That’s before teams had access to so much video, and I didn’t know if the Clemson staff knew the play,” Bourret says.
He passed the information to assistant coach Dwight Rainey, who told Billy Williams to be aware of the return pass. Williams defended the shot that missed, and the Tigers won in overtime.
He remembers the baseball game in which a Clemson player launched a high drive near the foul pole. The umpire watched, then gave the home run signal, and the Tigers’ batter circled the bases.
Meanwhile, Clemson coach Bill Wilhelm emerged from the dugout to engage the umpire, arguing that even though the Tigers got a run, the ball had been foul. “Coach Wilhelm was so honest,” Bourret says. “His retirement press conference was held in the perfect place, the first base dugout.”
And then there was the night of infamy in his first year at Clemson when Ohio State coach Woody Hayes hit Clemson’s Charlie Bauman after an interception in the late stages of the Tigers’ Gator Bowl win.
“Jim Phillips and I were in El Paso, Texas, and broadcasting the Clemson-Texas-Tech basketball game being played at the same time,” Bourret says. “During a timeout, we heard the engineer at the Greenville radio station talking into our headset, ‘Woody hit him! Woody hit him!’ We had no idea what he was talking about at the time.”
Two memories stand out that define Bourret: “That was the only interception of Bauman’s career,” he says, “and Derrick Johnson made the winning shot” in a 58-57 basketball victory.
Pure Bourret, and he’s right, of course.
Never in the spotlight
The years rolled by and the memories accumulated and the number of friendships mounted. He focused on football and golf over the past few years, but he’s all inclusive in his favorite athletes and coaches.
“I worked with basketball at the start at Clemson and developed a great relationship with (coach) Bill Foster,” Bourret says. “He had a great, positive attitude.
“One of his players was Bobby Conrad, and he is one of the many athletes I have admired over the years. We’ve kept in touch. Bobby is a federal judge now, and I just went to his 60th birthday party.”
In football, there is Jeff Davis, the ringleader of the Tigers’ 1981 national football title, and C.J. Spiller, the amazing running back. In golf, there is Richard Coughlan, who is now an assistant coach at the University of Texas. “And (women's basketball player and longtime Clemson administrator) Barbara Kennedy,” he says. “What a wonderful athlete and wonderful person.”
Spiller, of course, was in demand for the media, and he would attend the Tigers’ weekly news conference on Tuesdays.
“To tell you what kind of guy he is, he once had a flat tire coming to the press conference. Some wouldn’t have cared. He called and asked if we could reschedule,” Bourret says. “Of course, he was such an exciting player and not many people knew what went on behind the scenes his senior year.
“He had a toe injury, which people tend to think is not a big deal. Well, he didn’t practice until Thursdays each week. After the Florida State game, he came to the locker room in agony. But he met the press. People don’t appreciate what he went through.”
More Bourret: “People remember Charles Warren’s winning the (individual) NCAA championship in 1997, but they don’t remember that Coughlan was player of the year.”
And this: “Barbara Kennedy averaged 29 points a game her senior year and led the country in scoring. But she didn’t get the recognition she deserved. The NCAA did not recognize women’s basketball until her senior year, and her career statistics are not in the record books.”
The athletes aren’t the only ones who have profited from his guidance.
Annabelle Myers, assistant athletics director for athletic communications at North Carolina State, who got her start in the sports information field at Clemson under Bradley and Bourret, ponders those days and all the athletes who have felt his influence.
“Think about all the stars Tim has worked with, and he’s never got in the spotlight,” she says. “He’s amazing to see. He gets his satisfaction in knowing that he’s doing a good job.
“On top of that, to have him as a sounding board — to be able to run things by him and get his perspective — is important to me. All these years later, I still ask him how to do different things.”
Different things? Yes, Bourret does that, too.
He has written books, including "Basketball for Dummies," in association with former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps. He handles color commentary on Clemson basketball broadcasts and, truth be told, he could handle football play-by-play.
In fact, he has.
After Jim Phillips' unexpected death in 2003, the family asked Bourret to call the Tigers’ next game, against Middle Tennessee State. Those who fretted that he would struggle, including Bob Costas, worried needlessly.
Costas had called to offer condolences and asked, “Who will be doing the game Saturday?” Bourret: “I am.” Costas: “When is the last time you did football?” Bourret: “I never have.”
Finally, Costas: “Well, there are a lot of names and numbers.”
Although he did not have time to study the Middle Tennessee jersey numbers until the night before the game, Bourret performed flawlessly. He even used some knowledge from practice to predict a long pass from a particular formation. Sure enough, Charlie Whitehurst fired deep for a score.
Now, there’s NBC’s golf — and Annabelle Myers says, “That’s perfect for Tim.”
'A great run'
Bourret’s philosophy comes from his mentors, Valdiserri and Bradley.
“You have to be honest in your dealings with coaches, players and the media,” he says. “The most important thing is your integrity, your honesty. You have to treat people fairly and with respect. Both did that.”
And so did Bourret, and respect for his work came naturally.
Sanford Rogers, who has worked with Clemson sports information for years, did the transcription for one of the Bourret-Phelps books, and he joined Bourret on a trip to South Bend for a book signing.
“Clemson had an off-week, and Notre Dame was playing Purdue,” Rogers says. “After the book signing, we went to the game. One of the national writers came over, tapped Tim on the shoulder, and said, ‘I’d like an interview with William Perry and Terry Kinard.’ Tim could have arranged it. He has such respect from the media.”
Tom Roy, producer of NBC golf, approached Bourret two years ago about joining his team. Bourret was intrigued. He had known Roy’s wife, Anne, for years – “She helped me run the Bookstore Basketball Tournament at Notre Dame and we kept in touch,” he says – and through her came to know her husband. Then, the Roys’ children attended Clemson.
Roy repeated his offer over the winter, and Bourret, who will be 63 in December, recalled a scenario from the past.
“I don’t have any mixed feelings,” he says. “Forty years ... a great run. Everything has been terrific. I remember back in 1969 that Bill Russell announced his retirement from basketball in Sports Illustrated. (The Celtics) had won so many championships; I thought that was the neatest thing, to retire when you’re really good.
“The last three years in football ... really good.”
Really good. That’s Tim Bourret. For more than 40 years.