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Alabama 2008--What Happened, Why it Happened, and the Fallout

Our article did not do justice the disappointment and sobering facts of the game.  We got our asses handed to us. Period.  That was it for Tom, you cannot sugar coat that one.

The fact that the media over-hyped the 2008 team was not a surprise.  How could you not expect a team returning Spiller and Davis to do great things?  The problem here was that the Clemson football program looked good on the outside but really had some fatal flaws within that were exposed early in the 2008 season.  We were already pissed and our patience thin with both Tom Bowden and Sleepy TDP.  In actuality, while Tom is to blame for the poor onfield performance, TDP is to blame for paying extra to keep Tom around.  In short, Tom Bowden worked our athletic director and we are the ones left with the bill and the heartache. 

***DISCLAIMER***For the record, we were ready for a head coach change long before the '08 debacle.  We saw the writing on the wall years before and were really mad that Clemson extended his contract in '03.  Thus, when Arkansas offered to take this coach off of our hands, both Dr. B and I were in party mode--well cautious excitement because we both knew that the admin could do something really stupid like:  trying to keep Bowden in Clemson, extending Tom's contract, offering him more cash, or creating a buyout for Tom's contract that would hurt Clemson.  So, instead of Arkansas PAYING Clemson for Bowden's services, we (TDP and the administration) do all of the above and royally screw ourselves.

What happened:

Alabama was a well coached football team.  After a couple of years of probation and good recruiting by Nick Saban/Mike Shula.  After taking over from Shula, the Sabanator instilled his will and technical expertise on this team.  The Tide beat Clemson up and down the field.  Clemson was dominated up front and was completely overwhelmed by a better, more fundamentally sound team.  Again, this was Saban's second year as Bama's coach and his predecessor was handicapped by NCAA scholarship limitations in the years leading up to 2008, yet wiped the floor with our Tigers.

Why it happened:

Tom did not adjust to his surroundings.  How many times did you watch a Clemson game in the '00's and say to yourself "Why the hell did we not make adjustments in the second half"?  TB would not deviate or adjust to game situations on Saturdays.  He also had the same problem within his staff.  CTB had a non-firing policy for the first part of his time at CU.  Tom would not pull the plug on things around him and adjust to what was really going on.  This point pretty much captures all of the items listed below, but is important to understand in the criticism that ensues.

Tom is not a head football coach (for a big football program).  Tommy Bowden is VERY talented at a lot of things.  Tommy would be an excellent preacher, politician,  public speaker, or athletic director.  In fact, I really think the latter would be an excellent fit for Tommy and whomever would give him that chance.  Bowden was a good positions coach and a good assistant coach. He was a good head coach at a smaller school.  I am sure Coach Bowden understands the game of football very well.  However, he is not ready to be the head man at a big time football program, and I really don't think it is in his personality.

Bowden's campaigns were annual roller coasters.  When asked about such, Tom would tell the media in some fashion or another that it really wasn't his job to get the players excited for games and that he was, IMO, managing his team as a CEO would run his company.  That only works if you have developed really good and professional folks underneath you AND you are able to dictate the overall rules that you want your team to follow.

Tom did not acquire the people needed to implement his plan.  As mentioned above, CTB's strategy revolved around managing his program and giving his assistants free-reign to do whatever they wish--very similar to his father.  For those of you who don't know me, I love to read and implement Jack Welch's concepts developed from his time at GE (highly recommended reading includes both "Winning" and "Straight from the Gut").  I like the idea of empowering all levels of the pyramid.  In order to do this, however, you need to develop or acquire talent that can handle their jobs and can make decisions.  This is where Tom ran into a buzz-saw.

Clemson had some really good assistants while here, yet the bad ones (or ones who received poor direction from the head man) really sunk the ship.  Early on, brother in law Jack Hines was given a job here.  Hines may be a good guy but a football coach he is not.  Everything he touched turned to crap and Tom had to either make up excuses for his shortcomings or move him to another position.  I respect the family loyalty of Bowden, but cannot respect him turning a blind eye as this assistant cost him game after game at whatever his role was at the time.  This is inexcusable.

The offensive coordinator spot is one for easy criticism.  After Rich Rodriguez left for West Virginia, this spot was in disarray.  Clemson utilized some rediculous setups (including a Brad Scott/Mike O'Cain/Tommy Bowden co-offensive coordinator arrangement at one point).  In '05 we were blessed with the "Mad Scientist", Rob Spence.  All of the above had one thing in common:  Predictability.

I think it is no coincidence that Dabo's first actions as an interim coach was to fire some of Tom's assistants and promote rookies and grad assistants to fill the open slots.  That really says something when you would rather have a grad assistant on your staff than one of your fellow coaches, but I cannot blame Swinney at all.  Spence was the first to go.  Once teams realized they could put 7-8 men in the box then play tight coverage, his offense was shot.  Why Tommy did not make him adjust was beyond me but was par for the course.

Tom did not recruit players to be successful.  Tommy and his crew did a nice job pulling in skill talent and talent along the defensive line.  We cannot argue this point nor the fact that TB closed well on these guys, particularly Jamie Harper and C.J. Spiller.  The real problem here was up front.  While we (rightfully) give Brad Scott hell here, ultimately the head coach has control of his team and can dictate how things should go.  Since Brad cannot develop offensive linemen AND since tom refused to get rid of his friend, Tom needed to overcompensate for this problem and recruit MORE offensive linemen to make up for inadequacies in development. 

Tom did not develop the talent that he recruited.  Busts are understandable.  Things happen and you are dealing with 18-21 year old young men.  This fact is acceptable and missing a few due to these factors is acceptable.  Roscoe Crosby falls into this category, as he had issues outside of football and unfortunately did not perform to his potential...again, not Tom Bowden's problem.  A guy like Kelvin Grant is different.  We all heard about Grant's "raw talent" and how he was on the verge of super-stardom.  He was in school for four years, was an All-American in high school, yet this staff could not sculpt and put his talent to work.  Is this Grant's fault?  Without being at practice every day, I say NO.  Grant won a couple of off-season awards and blew up in the '04 Spring Game.  Tom repeatedly praised his talent yet could not coach him to success.  I am not trying to go all Tom Bowden on you, but a guy like Nick Saban assures that he challenges and gets the most out of his players.  If they are not willing to put forth the effort he requires, Saban will suggest players transfer and will pull schollies, if necessary.

Tom lacked authority and did not implement proper team attitude.  The team did what the team wanted to do, the coaches did the same.  Clemson was soft under Bowden, trying unsuccessfully to be a finesse squad.  When the Tigers desperately needed a tough yard, they did not have the toughness nor the attitude to get it (displayed in the '04 Georgia Tech game).  The other thing that was obvious is that his teams often quit and would not fight back from adversity.  This difference was blatant after Coach Swinney took over, as the team did not always play well but did come out with fire and fought to the end.  Rarely under Coach Bowden did the team respond to getting punched in the face early. 

The Fallout: 

The Clemson Nation finally realized that Clemson would never win big under Coach Bowden.  The fans were put on notice and Bowden was given one final chance to right the ship in what was hyped to be "Clemson's year".  A second half collapse against Maryland and a pathetic performance against Wake put the nail in the coffin.