Commentary: A Little Gridiron, A Little Hoops, And Something Personal


by - Correspondent -
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While few, if any, Clemson fans were happy to see running backs coach Burton Burns bolt for greener ($80,000 greener, in fact) pastures, it appears Tommy Bowden has found an able replacement.

Reports throughout Tiger Country today say Bowden has hired Andre Powell to take over for Burns. Powell comes to Clemson from North Carolina, where he spent the last six seasons as the Tar Heel' running backs coach. He was not retained by new UNC head coach Butch Davis after the firing of John Bunting.

Powell's resume' also includes a stop at Virginia, where he served as both running backs and wide receivers coach.

While at UVa, Powell tutored a pair of pretty decent tailbacks - Tiki Barber and Thomas Jones. Barber was an All-Pro in New York before deciding to retire after the just-completed NFL season, while Jones has emerged as the Chicago Bears' go-to tailback. He still has one game to play before his offseason can begin - this Sunday's Super Bowl vs. the Colts in Miami.

Powell's hidden value goes beyond running backs, though. He also comes with a background in special teams, and goodness knows Clemson's special teams need all the help they can get.

Don't look for an official announcement from the school or football office for a while. Bowden's usual mode of operation is to package any and all coaching changes into one official press release before the start of spring practice.

Meanwhile, as his background check and paperwork are being completed, Powell can rub his hands together with some excitement at the prospect of working with the likes of James Davis and C.J. Spiller.

It should make for an interesting marriage.

***

Someone asked the other day if I was worried about Clemson's basketball team.

I suppose you have to put the answer in proper context.

Sure, there is cause for concern after blowing a huge lead at the end of the Virginia game and giving the Cavs an ACC victory on your own home floor. Added to the timekeeping error at Duke the previous outing, the Tigers' ACC record now stands at 4-4 (18-4 overall). And while the NCAA Tournament is still very much within the team's reach, maybe it isn't the slam dunk it seemed to be just a week ago.

However, that's the short view of the program.

Take the long view, and it's easy to put things in perspective. Consider where Oliver Purnell has this program in year four of his tenure at Clemson. Compare that to over 50 years of almost full-time futility in the conference, and one can see that things are moving along pretty much right on pace.

Why?

Where other Clemson coaches built teams designed for the quick fix (see Barnes, Rick), Purnell is laying the foundation for a program. Brick by brick (no free throw jokes, please), layer by layer, year by year.

The depth, talent and athleticism of this team is greater than its been in any of my eight years covering the Tigers, and "old-timers" say they've not seen the makings of such a consistent program around here going back two or three decades.

So sure, fret over the missed free throws, the blown lead and the .500 record through the first half of the conference schedule.

It sure beats the heck out of all those years of fretting over another play-in game appearance.

***

Outside of allowing my daughter Becky to pick games for me, rarely do I write about anything personal in these columns.

That's as is should be. Even Becky's moments of fame are directly involved in Clemson sports and that's where I try to keep my focus, whether it be reporting or tossing out an opinion.

However, if you'll indulge me just this once, I feel compelled to pass along the following:

During my radio show Wednesday I got word that Harold O'Brien had passed away. In his early 60s, Harold ultimately lost a battle with leukemia.

You don't know Harold, his wife Drema, or sons John and Pat. But for one period of my life, probably from the ages of 15-18, I was closer to Harold and Drema than I was my own parents. Something silly about a preacher's son not relating well to his dad at that age, and needing someone to fall back on.

Well, Harold was that someone. And as John and I grew to be great friends, Harold became the man I would talk to when I felt like I couldn't talk to my own dad. Thankfully my father and I are much closer now, but during that period of my life it was Harold who was my sounding board, the man who gave me advice, a father-like figure who more than once kept me from making a stupid mistake.

The man who, along with Drema, treated me like a son of his own.

We shared a love of sports, particularly baseball, which made the bond that much stronger. But as happens, time goes by and we all move on, grow up and do different things with our lives.

I last saw Harold in 1993, when I left Florida to take a job in North Carolina. I last spoke to him on the phone, oh, 3-4 years ago. Somehow I always thought he'd be there.

Why am I telling you this? For this reason.

Four times in the past year my job has taken me to the state of Florida. Four times I've thought of calling and stopping by to see Harold and Drema, but four times I told myself my schedule was too tight and I didn't have time. Besides, there would be plenty of time to see them later.

The last time turned out to be this past Sunday, Jan. 28, when I was coming home following my broadcast of the Clemson women's game in Miami.

Harold died that day, another day I didn't have time to pick up the phone and call.

Please don't put yourself through what I'm going through now - the anger, the tears, the regret of simply not making time.

Through one of the most important periods of my life, Harold O'Brien was like a father to me. And now I'll never be able to tell him how much he meant to me.

Don't make that same mistake. Pick up the phone right now and make the call, either to just say hello or to make plans to visit.

I promise, you won't regret it.

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