on December 1, 2007 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Bowden contract extension a good thing for Clemson

Believe it or not, Clemson University did the right thing when Athletic Director Terry Don Phillips announced earlier this week that he would offer head football coach Tommy Bowden a contract extension.

For all the moaning and complaining that many Tiger fans have rendered against Bowden, Clemson’s win over arch-rival USC last Saturday night guaranteed the ninth-year coach would return for a 10th season next fall. Last August, I wrote that Bowden needed to win at least nine games this season to show that the program is moving forward and he has achieved just that.

Despite bumps in the road from Georgia Tech and Boston College and, a major bump against Virginia Tech, the fact remains that Clemson is 9-3. The road was ugly at times, even in the win against USC, but a win in their bowl game would give the Tigers their first 10-win season since 1990.

I know the offensive play calling is questionable, the coaching staff’s use of time-outs is deplorable and the kicking game is inconsistent at best. But the fact that Bowden has won 69 games, and counting, in nine seasons, has beaten Florida State 4 of the past 5 years, is 7-2 against South Carolina – 2-1 against The Ol’ Ball Coach Steve Spurrier – and has led the team to bowl eligibility each season far outweighs the negatives.

Last year, Phillips did not offer Bowden a contract extension and that was the right decision. But failure to do so for a second consecutive year would have sounded a death knell to Bowden and the excellent job of recruiting he and his staff have done in recent years. Rival coaches have already been whispering about Bowden’s fate to recruits and continued uncertainty would have damaged the current recruiting class.

An upgrade in facilities, especially the WestZone project, outstanding recruiting classes and continued national television exposure bodes well for the Tigers’ gridiron future. While this program isn’t where it needs to be, and that’s very clear, there is no doubt that it is in much better shape than was the case nearly 10 years ago. Clemson fans well remember the 3-8 season that led to the firing of predecessor Tommy West, making Bowden the third head coach over a seven-year stretch in Tigertown.

Despite a rocky 2003, where a 4-1 finish saved his job, Bowden has provided stability missing since the days of Danny Ford – with next season leaving him only one shy of equaling Ford’s tenure. The fact that Bowden is a Christian who has represented the school well, kept it clean of NCAA probation and reenergized Death Valley, gives him the best shot of eclipsing both Ford’s tenure at Clemson as well as his 96 career wins.

Those who remain unconvinced, and I must confess to wavering at times, only need to examine how similar universities have fared when changing coaches with records or achievements as good as, if not better, than Bowden’s.

The best example is Nebraska, where Frank Solich – Tom Osborne’s handpicked successor, went 58-19, with three Top 10 finishes, a Big 12 conference title and a national championship appearance following the 2001 season. His teams qualified for bowls in each of his six seasons, though he didn’t coach in the final bowl game.

But Solich was fired in 2004 and replaced by former Oakland Raiders head coach Bill Callahan. Though Callahan led the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2003, he went 27-22 overall, with only two bowl appearances in four seasons in Lincoln. In 2004, the Huskers experienced their first losing season in more than 40 years under Callahan’s watch – a feat repeated this year that led to his recent firing.

Texas A&M enjoyed much success under head coach R.C. Slocum. Slocum led the Aggies to a 123-47-2 record in 14 seasons, including four conference championships and 11 bowl games. However, the faithful still grumbled and that led administration to fire Slocum and replace him with Dennis Franchione – a successful coach in his own right at TCU and, briefly, at Alabama.

But Coach Fran could only amass a 32-28 record in five seasons with no Big 12 or division championships. Though he led the Aggies to a third bowl appearance this season, Franchione won’t be coaching in it since he resigned last week.

David Cutcliffe achieved a 44-29 record and five bowl appearances in seven seasons at Ole Miss. Included were a 10-win season, an 8-win season and three 7 win seasons, a tie for the Western Division title and a Cotton Bowl win. Despite those stats, and the ability to lure then outstanding quarterback Eli Manning to Oxford, Cutcliffe was fired and replaced by Southern Cal assistant Ed Orgeron.

But Orgeron proved to be a disaster, compiling an awful 10-25 record, with three losing seasons in three years. Especially galling to Rebel fans was his team’s 0-8 SEC record this season and 3-21 conference mark over the past two seasons. Orgeron was fired last week and has since been replaced by former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt.

Walt Harris led the Pitt Panthers to a 52-44 record and six bowls in eight seasons – not great, but not awful either. However, Dave Wannstedt, a Pitt alum who was a colossal bust as an NFL head coach, has managed to do even worse – posting a 15-19 mark and zero bowl appearances in his three years. When the Panthers play second-ranked West Virginia Saturday, it will most likely be Wannstedt’s final game.

The moral of the story is clear: Be careful what you ask for. While the Clemson football program can certainly stand some improvement, things are a whole lot better than they were in the Hatfield and West days. Stability is vital to the success of any college or professional sports program and Bowden, with his impending contract extension, has assured that this stability at Clemson will continue for at least another year and, hopefully, many years to come.