BC game changed course of pro­gram

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY MATT CON­NOLLY mcon­[email protected]­tate.com

Clem­son’s 17-0 half­time lead has turned into a 21-17 deficit, and if the Tigers are go­ing to keep this sea­son from spi­ral­ing com­pletely out of con­trol they have to score a touch­down here.

This was sup­posed to be the year for Clem­son.

The Tigers en­tered the 2008 sea­son ranked in the top 10 with an abun­dance of tal­ent, led by run­ning backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller.

But Clem­son is 3-4 as it is play­ing its eighth game of the year at Bos­ton Col­lege, and a sea­son that started with so much po­ten­tial is on life sup­port.

Two of Clem­son’s three wins have come against Divi­sion I-AA foes The Ci­tadel and South Carolina State, and the Tigers have al­ready made a head coach­ing change with lit­tle-known re­ceivers coach Dabo Swin­ney re­plac­ing Tommy Bow­den in the mid­dle of the year.

Swin­ney is 0-1 as the head man and is in dan­ger of fall­ing to 0-2 as Bos­ton Col­lege scores to take a 21-17 lead with about eight min­utes re­main­ing in the fourth quar­ter.

In­terim re­ceivers coach Jeff Scott, who was pro­moted from his grad as­sis­tant role when Swin­ney

was named the in­terim head coach, is sit­ting in the coach­ing box at Alumni Sta­dium in Ch­est­nut Hill, Mass., and thoughts about his fu­ture are swirling through his head.

Scott knows that Clem­son not only needs a touch­down to end a three­game los­ing skid. The Tigers also need to find the end zone if Swin­ney is go­ing to have a shot to re­main the head coach mov­ing for­ward.

“He told me that even though the odds are against us, if I’m able to get this job I’m go­ing to keep you full time as the wide­out coach,” Scott re­called.

Scott went home and stud­ied Clem­son’s re­main­ing sched­ule the night Swin­ney was named in­terim head coach, and he be­lieved that if Clem­son could fin­ish the sea­son 4-2 over the fi­nal six games, Swin­ney had a shot to be re­tained.

But with an 0-2 record star­ing Swin­ney in the face and sev­eral tough games re­main­ing, in­clud­ing one at Florida State, Swin­ney’s shot at be­com­ing the head coach was evap­o­rat­ing.

“I re­mem­ber dur­ing that time­out think­ing, ‘These next (eight) min­utes of this game are prob­a­bly go­ing to dic­tate the next 10 or 15 years of our coach­ing ca­reer,” Scott said.


Clem­son had a shot to make a state­ment in its sea­son opener in 2008 as the ninth-ranked Tigers faced No. 24 Alabama, led by Nick Sa­ban. In­stead, the Tigers were de­stroyed 34-10 in a mar­quee game on na­tional tele­vi­sion.

About five weeks later when Clem­son suf­fered a 12-7 loss to Wake For­est to fall to 3-3, it marked the end of the Bow­den era. He re­signed the fol­low­ing week and Swin­ney was pro­moted.

“It was a very unique sit­u­a­tion. It was very un­com­fort­able. It was the first time that I had seen any­thing like that,” Spiller told The State. “Part of me, I was def­i­nitely sad be­cause you never want to see a coach get fired … You al­ways want to fin­ish with that coach that you came in with as a fresh­man. But at the same time I was ex­cited be­cause I knew the type of job that coach Swin­ney would do.”

Clem­son AD Terry Don Phillips had ob­served Swin­ney closely through­out the 2008 sea­son, and even though he was only a po­si­tion coach, Phillips de­cided the 38-year-old de­served a shot at the head job — at least on an in­terim ba­sis.

“Dur­ing that pe­riod of time when I would walk through the foot­ball of­fices and coaches weren’t in meet­ings, there’d be players in his of­fice, where that wasn’t the case with other coaches,” Phillips said. “I’m talk­ing about players that weren’t his po­si­tion players. He just was great with young peo­ple and de­vel­oped a great re­la­tion­ship. These are things that were just very nat­u­ral to him.”


The first half could not have gone any bet­ter for Clem­son.

Davis and quar­ter­back Cullen Harper each had touch­down runs, and Mark Buch­holz made a field goal just be­fore the half to give the Tigers a 17-0 lead.

But it didn’t last long. Bos­ton Col­lege out­played the Tigers for much of the sec­ond half and took its first lead when Chris Crane found Bran­don Robin­son for a 15-yard touch­down with 8:43 re­main­ing.

Lead­ing 21-17, BC had to kick off to Spiller and Ja­coby Ford, two of the most dy­namic re­turn men in the coun­try. Teams had been kick­ing it away from the two for much of the year, but Spiller was still hope­ful he would get a shot.

Spiller did and took ad­van­tage of it, break­ing off a 64-yard re­turn be­fore be­ing chased out of bounds at the Bos­ton Col­lege 15.

“We al­ways ended the hud­dle with ‘Take it to the house.’ That was al­ways our slo­gan ev­ery time,” Spiller said. “The guys did a great job of ex­e­cut­ing and stay­ing on their blocks. I made a cou­ple of guys miss. I just ran out of gas at the end, but I knew right then that was the big mo­men­tum swing … I knew if we got a short field we would put up points and have a good op­por­tu­nity to win the game.”

Clem­son did just that as Harper found Aaron Kelly for a 4-yard touch­down with seven min­utes re­main­ing to give Clem­son a 24-21 lead.

The Tigers de­fense got a stop on the en­su­ing po­si­tion, and Buch­holz tacked on a field goal late for a 27-21 win.

“You would’ve thought we were play­ing for the na­tional cham­pi­onship,” Swin­ney said. “It was so much fun to see the ef­fort and the to­geth­er­ness and the guys just han­dling ad­ver­sity and fight­ing back. It was an emo­tional first win.”

The vic­tory was special not only for Swin­ney as his first as a head coach, but also to the players who had bought into his vi­sion and were try­ing to help him turn the pro­gram around.

“To go out there and get his first win, it was the great­est feel­ing as a player at that time to just see the joy,” Spiller said. “We had been through so much over those cou­ple of weeks, from the coach­ing change to try­ing to ad­just to how coach Swin­ney wanted to do things … If you go back and look at some of those pic­tures you’ll see ev­ery­body smil­ing, ev­ery­body happy, guys cry­ing. It was just awe­some be­ing able to cel­e­brate the win up there.”


The vic­tory over Bos­ton Col­lege turned out to be a spring­board for the Tigers.

Clem­son won four of its fi­nal five reg­u­lar sea­son games, fall­ing only at FSU.

Phillips, pleased with the progress un­der Swin­ney, made the de­ci­sion to re­tain him as the head coach af­ter con­duct­ing a na­tional search.

“We could’ve hired some­one else that had cre­den­tials at that time that were very well-es­tab­lished, but at the end of the day you’ve got to live and die by what­ever de­ci­sions are made,” Phillips said.

“There were just some in­tan­gi­bles that I sim­ply couldn’t es­cape.”

The de­ci­sion to re­tain Swin­ney was one that Spiller and the rest of the players at Clem­son were thrilled with.

ZACH HANBY Clem­son Univer­sity

Clem­son run­ning back James Davis scores a touch­down in the 2008 win over Bos­ton Col­lege.

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