CLEMSON — No matter what the outcome in tonight’s NCAA quarterfinal soccer match with Creighton University, Clemson head coach Trevor Adair will appreciate what it all means.
For Adair, the last six weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions that have seen his Tigers make the schools greatest run since 1997, while at the same time living through the pain of seeing his father, Billie Adair, die from cancer.
“With the team doing so well, it is all so bittersweet,” said Trevor Adair from his office Wednesday underneath the stadium steps of Historic Riggs Field. “I haven’t really enjoyed (the run), but the success of the team has helped me get through it and has helped me through the tough times.”
Billie Adair’s battle with cancer ended last week on Thanksgiving Day. Trevor Adair last saw his father six weeks earlier when his dad was diagnosed with the disease.
“It was tough for me to get on that plane and leave because I knew then that it was the last time I would see my father alive,” he said.
After learning the news of his father’s death, Adair and his family flew to his homeland of Belfast, Northern Ireland where he helped lay his father to rest.
“It’s one of the toughest things I have ever been through,” Adair said.
What made it even tougher was that Adair’s team was playing Notre Dame that same weekend in the third round of the NCAA tournament. Adair did his best to coach the game, though he was a thousand miles away listening on a cell phone and his mind somewhere else.
“It was a very interesting experience,” he said about the Tigers’ 1-0 victory. “It was nothing like the video I watched today.”
Adair said he did all he could to help pull his team through one of the biggest victories his program has had in nearly seven years. Through the cell phone and text messaging, Adair helped the Tigers (14-5-3) adjust to what Notre Dame might do in the second half and then how they adjusted to the Irish’s adjustments.
“I had a lot of confidence in the players and the coaches,” he said. “A good coach always hires a good staff and I had all the confidence they could lead the team.
“They handled it well without me. I was there in spirit and by cell phone.”
The Clemson players knew their head coach was doing all he could and even more than what any of them expected.
“I can’t imagine how it all might have been for him,” said Clemson keeper Phil Marfuggi. “It was an added emotion and it made us all play that much harder for him.”
But adversity is what has brought this Clemson team together. Adair credits a 1-0 double overtime loss to then No. 6 Virginia as the day when it all turned around for his team. In that game, Clemson suffered a red card just 20 minutes into the match and played the rest of the night with just 10 players.
“I told the players ‘if we play every game like we played that last 70 minutes with one less player against a team as good as Virginia, then we will not lose another game,’” Adair said.
Since then, the Tigers have lost just once – a 2-0 defeat to No. 4 North Carolina in the ACC Tournament. Since that Oct. 7 game, the Tigers have posted a 9-1-2 record, including nine victories in their last 11 matches.
“It was a major confidence boost for us,” said the Tigers’ leading scorer, forward Dane Richards.
Last Sunday’s win over Notre Dame wasn’t the first time the Tigers had to play without their head coach. Clemson was also without Adair against Wake Forest – the time when he first flew to Northern Ireland to be by his father’s side. The Tigers tied the No. 15 Deacons that day 0-0.
“We try to put all that behind us during the game and let the results take care of itself out on the field,” said Richards. “After the game, our thoughts are back with him.”
And that’s where the Tigers thoughts still are and they would love nothing more than to win another match for their coach and get him to a place he has never been – The Final Four.
“It was tough for me to comeback because my thoughts are still with my dad,” Adair said. “He lived a great life. I’m doing as he would want me to and that is to go out and win a national championship for Clemson.”