Recent wins haven't eased pressure

Updated: November 18, 2003, 7:31 PM ET
Associated Press

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Two big wins and a fifth-straight bowl trip haven't eased the pressure on Clemson coach Tommy Bowden.

Despite the program's first win over Florida State in 14 years and a 40-7 win over Duke that put the Tigers in line for the Gator or Peach Bowl, Bowden showed signs Tuesday that his shaky job status had taken its toll.

Bowden, who closes his fifth regular season Saturday night against South Carolina, was asked whether he thought he would return to Clemson.

Several seconds elapsed and Bowden's chin began to quiver.

"Those questions you would have to direct elsewhere," Bowden said.

Questions continued. Had athletic director Terry Don Phillips told him that he would not be retained?

"You're asking the wrong guy," Bowden said.

Was he planning to leave for another job?

"I'm headed full speed to beat South Carolina," said Bowden, voice cracking and eyes moist.

Phillips, who typically meets with reporters Tuesday, went home sick with the flu, sports information director Tim Bourret said.

Bowden is 36-24 and the only Tigers coach to qualify for a bowl game in each of his first five seasons.

However, it wouldn't be the first time Clemson (7-4) sent a winning coach packing -- or let one go before the annual season-ending rivalry.

Rice coach Ken Hatfield finished an 8-3 regular season with a 16-13 win over the Gamecocks in 1993. But he and the school agreed to separate the next week, ending a four-year stint in which Hatfield went 33-13-1 and brought Clemson its last Atlantic Coast Conference title.

Five years ago, Memphis coach Tommy West, then at Clemson, asked AD Bobby Robinson to clarify his status a few days before facing South Carolina at Death Valley. West got the news that his fifth season, in which the Tigers went 3-8, would be his last and it became public.

The Tigers responded with a rousing 28-19 victory over South Carolina and West, his wife and young son were carried off the field.

Phillips has said no one win, such as the 26-10 victory over then No. 3 Florida State, or one loss will determine Bowden's fate. Phillips, hired nearly 18 months ago, has repeatedly said he and Bowden will meet after the regular season.

Bowden's not the only one in the in-state rivalry getting heat. Lou Holtz and South Carolina (5-6) have lost three straight, and the Gamecocks are in danger of missing the postseason for the second-straight year. A Web site, www.firelouholtz.com, has popped up.

Nonetheless, South Carolina extended Holtz's contract Tuesday by one year through 2008.

"It was probably my name last week," Bowden said. "They slid my name out of there and put in his."

Holtz also said Monday that critics of Bowden were off base.

"I'm starting to like him more and more," the Clemson coach responded.

As far as Holtz's critics, Bowden says it's hard to find fault with a former national champion who has revived South Carolina's program.

It's also hard to figure out why a school might fire a winning coach.

"That's what I would think," Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst said. "But I know there are some more factors going into it. That's really all I know."


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press