COMMENTARY: Bowden Relaxed, Ready After Golf Outing

by - Correspondent -
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Days like Tuesday are always fun.

The lighthearted, meet-and-greet fests that are events such as Tommy Bowden's annual media golf outing give the Clemson head football coach, his staff and the state media a chance to reconnect after a long summer away from one another.

After all, the relationship forged between the coach and the ink-stained wretches (as one of my colleagues refers to the press, regardless of line of work) is so good that both parties can't wait for this day to come every year.


Okay. So maybe that's stretching it a bit.

But the day is always fun, for everyone involved. Even the folks charged with hosting the outing - the elegant Reserve at Lake Keowee - didn't seem to mind the early-morning preparations required to pull off the outing.

At least that's the way it appeared from the perch we had Tuesday, setting up our broadcast location on the "verandah" outside the Reserve's Clubhouse, killing three hours of a radio sports talk show with laughs and interviews - the kind of show you love doing once in a while, just as a change of pace.

For me, the verandah view was all I saw of the golf course. Truth be told I'm not much of a golfer.

Oh, I love to play. But the combination of poor skills and just enough current physical ailments to justify begging off allowed me to, well, beg off. Not, of course, until after securing the free Chik-Fil-A box lunch.

I mean, really. I am still, after all, part sportswriter. And we have our own creed - If it's for free, It's for me. The chicken sandwich never had a chance.

But I digress.

Before lunch there was the matter of the show, and our Tuesday guest list included linebackers coach David Blackwell, offensive coordinator Mike O'Cain, Clemson basketball coach Oliver Purnell, and the man after whom Tuesday's outing was named - head football coach Tommy Bowden.

Bowden, relaxed and as jovial as you'd expect from a man with a $4 million buyout, spoke on number of issues - from how Clemson's win over Florida State last fall led to his not having to buy dinner this year at the annual Bowden family vacation outing ("I ordered entrees to go this year," he joked), to the evolution of his philosophy in the area of discipline.

But it was the subject of last season's emotional rollercoaster - the low of losing to Wake Forest, which some thought to be the beginning of the end of his tenure, to the high of closing with four straight dominant wins and finishing ranked No. 22 in the country - which brought out his characteristic sense of humor.

"All that talk about being on the hot seat, I'll tell you what it was like," he said. "You know those cars where on cold days you can push a button and it warms up your seat? Last year when I got in the car the seat was already hot and the button was broken.

"This year when I got in the car, I got to turn it on myself."

He can laugh now, all questions about his job security answered. No doubt such status works wonders on the recruiting trail and, he admitted, made the IPTAY speaking circuit a touch easier this offseason.

But despite the security, despite the preseason rankings and wild fan expectations, Bowden knows the road ahead still has a few curves.

"There's a level we want to reach with this program," he said. "Are we there yet? No. But the end of last year was a good start.

"Now there are some things we need to do to help us continue heading in that direction, and I think the athletic director and administration are getting us there...There will finally be some dirt moved on one of our projects after this season is over."

Bowden's chore, in the meantime, is to keep the ship headed in the right direction. Whether that direction includes 9-10 wins this season, as some fans and media have predicted, no one knows.

The only thing certain in the whole deal is that the captain of the Clemson ship is assured of another 3-5 years to meet those expectations.

Nobody was saying that a year ago. Not until a couple of weeks after the Peach Bowl, anyway.

And that, my friends, is progress.

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