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Tommy West....some vindication?

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I don’t know if all of you have been able to read the various coach interviews put out by TI this month, but they are certainly bringing back old memories for me. I think a few of them have been revealing and some of the coaches have been pretty candid about things that happened at Clemson while they were here. Red Parker’s interviews painted him in a more forgiving light than most opinions you hear from old-timers around CU. Danny was Danny, and you could tell when he was being mum on something that irks him. Hatfield’s only proved to me that I still hate the man with a passion.

I know most Clemson people did really like Tommy West as a man and wanted him to succeed because we felt like he understood us. Even though he went 3-8 in that last season, and deserved to be fired for it, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who really hated him.  I think the only times I wanted to strangle him were after the Syracuse loss and the next opener against UNC. After the VT loss I was too exasperated and after the Wake loss you knew it was over. Most people hated Bowden more (like myself) despite never having such a bad season. However, the interviews with West have been pretty candid and he has admitted where his mistakes were, unlike a lot of coaches. That is refreshing.

Most folks argue that West could never recruit here. When you look at the talent on the field in 1997-2000, it’s hard to argue that there was any other problem. However if you look harder you’ll see that his first few class rankings were high and the problem was that we could never get them into Clemson. Almost half of the 1995 class that signed in February never enrolled that fall. The same problems crept up again and again in ‘96 and ‘97, and West has pointed out that it wasn’t the NCAA Clearinghouse that nailed us, but our own Admissions Dept. ILB Idris Price and QB T.T. Toliver were just two of the players that would be rated at 5-star level now, who never got in school. Price was yanked off the bus before that opening loss to UNC by Admissions. Can you imagine the uproar if our Admissions department stopped Charone Peake, Mike Bellamy, or Watkins from enrolling now?

"I always used to tell people that they never realized how good an academic school Clemson is.  I always felt like Clemson had a chip on its shoulder about some things, because it was selective in admissions but perhaps wasn't as known academically as some of the other universities in the conference, despite Clemson being a great academic institution.

"At this point in time in the 1990s I thought our administration decided that test scores were more important than Clemson.  And I loved Clemson because Clemson was great granddaddy, son, daughter and just everybody went there.  It was a family place.  It was a college for people of the state of South Carolina.  But I saw us changing.  And now if a kid from Cheraw, South Carolina wants to go to Clemson and has the score and his whole family has gone to Clemson but there is a better test score in New Jersey, then all of a sudden we started taking other people.  And that had nothing to do with football, but I did see Clemson changing at that time for what I felt was for the worst."(via)

Max Lennon was still President when West was hired, and we all know that he wanted to clean up Clemson and raise our national stature academically, which is all well and good, but doing it at the expense of athletics is where it raises my ire. You can be good at both without hurting one or the other. How much the Admissions side affected the later West classes (97-98), I don’t know. It is likely that they told him who he could and couldn’t recruit, as they did under Bowden. Jim Barker later used the AARC to push away several top recruits until Clemson fans got wind of it and raised hell. Now their only remaining severe restriction has been the prohibition of JUCO enrollees at Clemson, in part due to elimination of majors. We have far fewer majors than we did when I enrolled. Barker has eliminated several of those majors where we "hide" players who would have a tough road in school in pursuit of Top 20, but his lip service has been that he wants to work with Swinney to get those majors back, so we’ll see.

While West’s losses cannot be totally blamed on his recruiting, because he picked some horrible offensive coordinators (Moody, Ensminger) and had a ton of off-the-field issues, these problems do paint his tenure a bit differently. It would’ve been easier to replace guys like Anthony Downs, Antwuan Wyatt, and Lamont Pegues that left us in a bind at positions if we could get their replacements in school. It would’ve been nice if we didn’t have to use Louis Solomon as a passer and Patrick Sapp (at all) at QB. Also, Bobby Robinson never did jack shit for Clemson facilities improvements while everyone else in the ACC passed us by in the 90s, and we’ve only now caught up. West proposed something like the WEZ ten years ago, and advised Bowden to push for improvements when he got the job. If West had been given something better than McFadden and Jervey Gym, and been allowed to bring in the classes he recruited, things might have turned out much better. West made similar complaints about things at Memphis when he was fired there too. You can’t be fighting against your own people when you want to elevate a program.

Its even more clear now that Clemson coaches have been handcuffed by the administration for the last two decades, and with only a 2% drop in giving (according to Billy D), it seems like Clemson fans either don’t know or don’t realize that they are the ones that let it keep going.

But even though Tommy West wasn't ready for the job and never should've been given the reins at Clemson, I still like him.

Looking back now, what would you have done differently in your five years as head coach?

West. "If I could do it now, #1, I wouldn't have messed up the bowl game in 1995. I wouldn't have taken those kids to Daytona. I really messed that thing up. We had been on a roll and I messed that up. #2, I would have given Rick Stockstill the offensive coordinator job in 1996. I messed that up … badly. It's not like what we were doing in 1995 was broken. We were on the verge that year of becoming really good on offense at a place where there hadn't been a lot of good offensive teams. And #3, find a way to win one of those big games in the bowl. We just weren't able to get LSU and Auburn, but we could have. We just didn't win those games. We couldn't win that game and get over the hump." (via)