Commentary: Storms Can't Sway Bowden's Leadership

by - Correspondent -
Bowden returns 14 starters and the most lettermen in school history this season.

Pressure has a unique way of revealing the true measure of a person.

How an individual reacts when the heat is on goes a long way towards exposing that person's true character. In fact, it has been said that pressure doesn't build character, it reveals it.

If indeed that is true, then Tommy Bowden's character should no longer be in question.

After maybe the single most difficult week of his personal life, Bowden is still able to maintain an outer persona revealing nothing but a man in total control of his circumstance. It's that kind of leadership which enabled the Clemson football team to play through the heat surrounding Bowden's job security in 2003, and gives one the idea that 2004 might yet turn into something special - despite the impending doom forecast after the stunning loss to Georgia Tech last Saturday.

How does he do it?

A heavy dose of his Christian faith is what he talks about most. He mentions learning how to conduct himself by watching other coaches, such as his own father or Penn State head coach Joe Paterno.

Bowden developed a great deal of patience as an assistant coach, waiting 25 years before getting his first head coaching opportunity. Now that he's the man in charge at Clemson, his personal philosophy enables him to keep going under even the most dire circumstances, moving forward one day at a time.

"The two most insignificant days to me," he said earlier this week, "are yesterday and tomorrow."


Control what you can today. What has already happened, and what will happen in the future are out of your control. The only tangible thing you can grasp is current circumstance.

And it's that attitude, one must believe, which allows Bowden to navigate himself and his team through tough waters.

As a point of reference, I recall what one Clemson assistant told me last year during the height of controversy surrounding Bowden's job security. It was the week after the Tigers' win over Florida State, which came just seven days after the humiliating loss at Wake Forest. I asked the coach how they were able to pull off such a turnaround.

"It was all coach (Bowden)," said the assistant. "He started by telling the players that there was still time to turn around the season, and if they would all just totally buy into the system - once and for all - then good things would happen. And then he went about his business just like every week. He never brought up the fact that he might be fired, never let it make its way inside the office or on the practice field.

"It's that kind of leadership that helped us win those final four games."

We watched the same sort of thing play out again last week, though under much different circumstances.

The loss of his former brother-in-law and 15-year old nephew in an automobile accident ripped at Bowden's soul. You could see it in his eyes as the week progressed. He spoke publicly about the deaths only when necessary and, you could tell, slept only when his body was too tired to do otherwise.

Yet again, just as the previous crisis, the personal tragedy never affected the team's preparation. Say what you want about the collapse, but Clemson led 24-14 with just over two minutes left last Saturday and was playing well up to that point. The team was focused. The team was prepared.

Then, when it looked as if Bowden's harrowing week might end on a high note, came another dagger to the heart. A monumental collapse. An indescribable loss. Another kick to the gut.

Yet in the moments following the loss, Bowden allowed himself only a few seconds of personal time. Sideline reporter Chad Carson, charged with interviewing Bowden following the games for the Clemson radio network, approached the coach with the final stat sheet and asked if Bowden were ready for the interview.

Instead of answering, Bowden stood there with his head down. What he was thinking, only he knows.

But when Carson asked again, Bowden suddenly popped back to life and said "Yeah Chad, let's do it," carrying on in the manner expected of a true leader.

Say what you will about his teams, his coaching style, his personality. But no longer can you question Tommy Bowden's leadership.

Those inside the locker room already knew Bowden was a leader. Now maybe everyone else does, too.

Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger and TigerNet. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.

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