CLEMSON - Last season's fight for his coaching life may have been Tommy Bowden's most troubling year as a college football coach. But 2004 is proving to be nearly as frustrating in a completely different manner.
After Thursday night's loss to No. 10 Virginia, Clemson sits at 1-4. In order to finish with a winning record, the Tigers must find five wins among these six opponents - Utah State, Duke, N.C. State, Maryland, Miami and South Carolina. While not impossible, the likelihood of such a finish is, at the very least, improbable.
Bowden's Tigers can't run the ball and they can't stop the run. They've been subpar in the passing game and have had troubles controlling opposing quarterbacks.
In short, there are plenty of reasons for Clemson's four-game slide.
It's solutions that are at a premium, and the lack of anything solid has Bowden turning his examinations inward.
"I've never been 1-4, so this is different," Bowden said Friday during a teleconference. "I've got to go to another level. The only place to look to is myself. I'm the guy, it starts with me and it's going to roll downhill to my assistants and players.
"I think we've got good enough people to have more success than we've had. But still it falls back on me. And I've got to figure out why we haven't."
The self-examination has been ongoing for a few weeks now, and has included an in-depth look at everything from scheme to personnel.
When the waters were troubled in 2003, the best plan ultimately proved to be staying the course. Bowden simply reemphasized the need for the entire team to buy into what he and his assistants were teaching, and when they did the results spoke for themselves.
A year later, simply staying the course won't be enough - though no major overhaul is forthcoming.
"What part of the plan do we need to highlight more than what we're doing? I've got to make sure the parts we're highlighting are the ones on the frontburner," said Bowden. "Not so much reinventing anything, just make sure we're working on the right stuff the right way."
And along the way, Bowden will continue to seek advice from others.
"I've never had a losing season, but there aren't many in this profession who haven't had one," he said. "I'll talk to a coach or two who have been in a similar profession. I talk to my father several times a week regardless.
"This is another learning experience as a head coach. The advice given is pretty much the same, but this time the scenario is different."
Clemson's players returned to class Friday but did not practice. They'll be off Saturday and Sunday, as well, before getting back to the normal game week routine on Monday.