Bowden, Tigers part without sharing an ACC crown
For 10 seasons at Clemson, Tommy Bowden has been trying to emulate the success of his father, Florida State coaching legend Bobby Bowden. After the Tigers' 3-3 start failed to meet high preseason expectations, Bowden instead followed in the footsteps of his younger brother Terry.
Tommy Bowden walked into the office of athletic director Terry Don Phillips on Monday morning and agreed to end his tenure, effective immediately, 10 days short of the 10th anniversary of Terry Bowden's resignation as Auburn head coach.
The timing of the end of Tommy Bowden's career at Clemson came as a surprise, but the action itself did not. An autopsy would show that his tenure perished because of a lack of championships.
Football means more at Clemson than at any of the other original members of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The league's expansion five years ago is a dye job: The ACC's roots are the color of basketball. When Clemson hired Bowden after he coached Tulane -- Tulane! -- to an 11-0 regular season in 1998, the Tigers had gone seven years since their last ACC championship. Now they have gone 17.
Bowden, 54, went 72-45 (.615) at Clemson. His Tigers went 43-32 in ACC games, and never finished a complete season with a losing record in conference play or overall. They went 7-2 against South Carolina, the despised in-state rival, and won four of the past five against his father's Seminoles. Clemson has been consistently good under Bowden but only occasionally great. Most schools serious about their football demand that statement be transposed.
Last season, Clemson came within a dropped pass at the goal line in the final seconds of their last ACC game of beating Boston College and winning the Atlantic Division. After the regular season, Phillips extended Bowden's contract through 2014. But the extension came with a demand that the Tigers win the Atlantic this season.
The voters, seeing a veteran team that went 9-4 in 2007, ranked Clemson No. 9 in the preseason polls. In a prime-time, nationally televised opener at a neutral site, Clemson got humiliated by No. 24 Alabama 34-10. After close losses to Maryland and at Wake Forest, the Tigers appeared ready to fall out of the ACC Atlantic race. Phillips told Bowden and his staff last week that if the Tigers didn't win their home game against Georgia Tech on Saturday, they would be fired. Bowden pre-empted the ultimatum on Monday morning.
His teams came close to winning a championship in several seasons. In 2005, the Tigers finished 4-4 in the league, one game out of the Atlantic title. Two losses came in overtime; the other two by a total of five points.
In 2003, Wake Forest humiliated Clemson 45-17, dropping the Tigers' record to 5-4. Bowden knew that he had to win to save his job. No. 3 Florida State loomed, and no matter how much ESPN and everyone else promoted the father-son rivalry, Tommy had gone 0-4 against his dad.
The Tigers dominated the Seminoles, winning 26-10, then humiliated their archrival, South Carolina, 63-17, and finished the season by upsetting No. 6 Tennessee 27-14 in the Peach Bowl.
After such a great finish, Clemson began 2004 ranked No. 15. The Tigers lost four of their first five games. When everyone stopped watching, they won five of their last six.
The same flop sweat flowed at the start of this season. Bowden won't be around to see what happens when everyone stops watching.
Tommy Bowden inherited his father's sense of humor, often making himself the butt of the jokes. When he signed an extension before the 2004 season, he remarked how he hoped someday to retire and watch his dad coach. Even though his overall record of 90-49 (.647) would be the envy of most coaches, the strain stayed close to his surface.
Sitting in his office a few days before the Alabama game, Bowden discussed his father's storied career. At this moment, Bobby Bowden has won 377 games. Tommy Bowden expressed his admiration by saying how hard it is to win even 100 games. He won't reach it as soon as he -- and Clemson -- had hoped.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at email@example.com. His new book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, and Traditions," is on sale now. For more information, go to TheMaiselReport.com.