Bowden out at Clemson; coach 'deserved' fate, QB says

Updated: October 14, 2008, 1:53 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Clemson ousted football coach Tommy Bowden on Monday, four days after the Tigers -- who were the favorites to win the ACC championship -- lost to Wake Forest and fell to 3-3.

Bowden informed his assistant coaches of his ouster Monday morning. Assistant head coach/wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney has been named interim coach for the final six regular-season games and potential bowl game. Clemson offensive coordinator Rob Spence also has been ousted, a source close to the situation said.

Athletic director Terry Don Phillips said his intent Monday morning was to have a candid heart-to-heart with Bowden about the football team. But Phillips said he was surprised when Bowden offered to resign.

"There wasn't a gun to his head," Phillips said.

"He put it on the table for the sake of the program," Phillips said. "I agreed."

Bowden will be paid through the end of the season, then get $3.5 million as a buyout negotiated in the contract extension the two sides agreed to in December 2007.

Bowden sat next to Phillips in McFadden Auditorium, where he has held meetings and news conferences the past 10 seasons. He thanked the school, its administrators and his latest group of players.

"I wish them nothing but success, and I will be their biggest fan on Saturday" against Georgia Tech, Bowden said.

With that, Bowden left the stage without taking questions, walked into his office and shut the door as Phillips detailed the day's dramatic events.

It's what he deserved. Dabo Swinney is a fine man and will do an excellent job.

-- Clemson QB Cullen Harper

In an earlier statement, Bowden said: "Terry Don Phillips approached me this morning and we agreed that this is the best solution for the direction of the program. Clemson has been very good to me and my family. Both of our children are Clemson graduates.

"I appreciate the opportunity Clemson University gave me and the support of the administration while I was here. I also want to thank all the players and coaches who worked so hard for this program the last 10 years. I wish Clemson University nothing but the best in the future."

Clemson's season started with a big thud, a 24-point loss to then-No. 24 Alabama that senior quarterback Cullen Harper said "really hurt our confidence."

Harper, who was benched after the Tigers' loss to Wake Forest and replaced by highly regarded sophomore Willy Korn, said the program needed to cut ties with Bowden.

"It's what he deserved," Harper said. "Dabo Swinney is a fine man and will do an excellent job."

Later Monday, Harper expanded on his comments, explaining that Bowden "tried to motivate us, but guys were off the bandwagon. There were things I disagreed with and that my teammates disagreed with. I didn't appreciate it when he would say some off-the-wall things about me to the media. I guess one thing I can say is he gave me an opportunity to come to Clemson and play."

Not offensive enough

The timing of the end of Tommy Bowden's Clemson career might be a surprise. But after he failed to win an ACC crown in 10 seasons with the Tigers, the action itself isn't, as ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel notes. Story
Dinich: No surprise | The new guy

Below: A look at where Clemson ranks nationally in several key categories.

Stat Avg. Rank
Total yards per game 354.5 73rd
Rush yards per game 141.5 41st
Pass yards per game 213.0 58th
Points per game 26.7 56th
Harper struggled playing behind an inexperienced offensive line this season. His father, Jeff Harper, an offensive lineman on Georgia's 1980 national championship team, said Bowden's dismissal was justified.

"I'd call it karma," he said. "I thought it needed to be done. I think anytime a head coach or someone in a leadership position starts to place blame on his coaches and players, it weakens their respect on the team. His past experiences have shown he's done that."

In the wake of Bowden's ouster, two highly touted recruits have dropped Clemson from their lists, according to JC Shurburtt, who covers Southeast recruiting for ESPN.com. Safeties Craig Loston from Aldine, Texas, and Devonte Hollomon from Rock Hill, S.C., have said they are looking elsewhere. Loston is the No. 1 safety on the ESPN150 list of safeties and is No. 8 overall; Hollomon is No. 3 on the safeties list and No. 20 overall.

The Tigers were ranked No. 9 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll and were favored to win their first ACC championship in Bowden's 10th season as coach. But now-No. 2 Alabama blasted the Tigers 34-10 in the Aug. 30 opener in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, and Clemson then lost to Maryland at home and again to Wake Forest, falling to 1-2 in ACC play.

Bowden received a lucrative contract extension from Clemson after the 2007 season and after considering a potential coaching position at Arkansas. A son of Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, Tommy Bowden was 72-45 with eight bowl appearances at Clemson.

Bobby Bowden said in a statement Monday that his son "felt like it was fixin' to happen; he felt like it was inevitable."
[+] EnlargeTommy Bowden
Rex Brown/Getty ImagesClemson's 10th season under Tommy Bowden unraveled quickly. The Tigers were expected to contend for the ACC title.

"He's thankful for the experience he got there at Clemson," Bobby Bowden said. "He has no hard feelings towards them. This is just the nature of this game right now. He's disappointed but he's got his priorities in order in his life, so he'll move on and won't lose a minute of sleep over it. At least I don't have to worry about him beating me again."

Clemson center Thomas Austin said he was "caught off guard" by Bowden's departure.

"You hear rumors, but I've heard that before, so I'm definitely surprised," Austin said. "We were definitely struggling. I think that this could hopefully unify our team in the long run. We've got six games left and definitely have the ability to turn things around."

Clemson running back C.J. Spiller had mixed emotions in seeing the program move away from Bowden.

"I'm shocked. We are 3-3 because we didn't make enough big offensive plays," Spiller said. "I'm shocked by our record, and now I'm shocked that our coach is gone.

"I enjoyed playing for coach Bowden and I liked him, but in the end he was yelling at us to be leaders and it wasn't working. He did all he could to motivate us, but guys weren't buying into what he was saying. And he said a lot of the same things over and over again.

"He let the offensive coordinator [Spence] run the show, and we got away from me and James [Davis]. I think part of the problem was when he benched Cullen. Some people wanted the offensive coordinator fired; [Bowden benched] the quarterback and then he got fired."

Phillips praised Bowden for his success and the generally upstanding program he ran. But Phillips was no different from most Clemson fans in expecting that this year's team had a prime opportunity to win the ACC.

"We both understood the conference championship was critically important," Phillips said.

Mark Schlabach covers college football for ESPN.com. ACC blogger Heather Dinich, SEC blogger Chris Low, ESPN reporter Joe Schad and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mark Schlabach | email

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