Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden was a recent guest on SportsTalk with Dan Scott to discuss the start of the spring practice. SportsTalk can be heard from 9 a.m.-12, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9 in upstate South Carolina.
Listen to the full interview here: Windows Media | Windows Media Part 2
DAN SCOTT: I know a lot of you have been waiting for this. For some of you in this part of the country there are only 3 seasons. Football season, recruiting season, and spring practice. Well, that 3rd season is beginning this week for the Clemson Tigers and the man in charge is joining us, Head Coach Tommy Bowden.
Have you had much of a summer vacation?
COACH BOWDEN: No, we made one trip, A Nike trip, back in the end of February and that'll probably be it until about June. It goes right from recruiting, as far as your preparation for spring ball, then you start your analysis of things you did wrong in the fall, you buy film evaluations, you know with cut ups and things. You want to try and get a pretty good handle on that before you head into spring ball, plus we do some visitation where we'll visit some pro camps, college camps and visit with other collegges coaches to about some things we might could improve on , then make those adjustments in meetings before you go on to spring ball this Saturday.
DAN SCOTT: In talking about the self-evaluations with the cut ups, have you already done that?
COACH BOWDEN: We're in the process of doing it now, we've been doing it. We've been looking at just mostly the last 5 games, you know after the 8 games we were leading the nation in scoring, we were second in rushing, so you've got to find out, then it dropped drastically the last 5 games, the competition was good the last 2 games, the competition was good the last 5, but the competition was good the first 8 with Boston College, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Still pretty good competition. Same thing defensively. I think what we're going to try to hone in on defensively would be first downs allowed. We went from 14 1st downs allowed in the first 8 games to 20 allowed in the last 5. First downs allowed changes field position, keeps your offensive off the field, so those are some of the things we're going to try and look at in the spring. Red Zone productivity in the last 5, who were we getting the ball in the hands to, plays called, break downs, things of that nature.
DAN SCOTT: I don't know if it's this way with most football teams or not, but it seems like over the past 2 or 3 seasons when you've talked about this at this point in the year, Red Zone productivity always seems to come up. Is that a constant factor with programs all over or is it just something that's been that specific to you guys?
COACH BOWDEN: No, I think if you look at any good team, I don't care if it's the NFL or high school, if you look at any good teams, they usually have trouble scoring against good teams, I think Virginia Tech at that particular time was leading the nation, I think they ended up leading the nation in defense, so you can understand that. The lack of productivity. Maryland was a good defensive team, not a great one. NC State was an above average defensive team, Kentucky would have been a below average defensive team. Those are the things you look at where you're really concerned about offensive productivity. Moving total yardage is not that big a problem Dan, we're moving the ball down there, we're just not getting it in, so therefore, who are we directing the ball to in the Red Zone? So, I'd say it's a common problem, you know even though Maryland, I think they won 9 or 10 games, Kentucky obviously was a bowl team, South Carolina was a bowl team, Virginia Tech was a bowl team, NC State was the only one down the stretch that wasn?t' so out of those 5 we lost, only 1 was not a bowl team. So, yeah they were good teams, but we need to be more productive. You don't want to get carried away, because you're 1 point away from going to the conference championship in the last 2 years, so it's not like we weren't doing a lot of things right, we are, but we've got to find what gets us over that 1 point loss the last 2 years. That's where if you could look at the films, you know when it's just 1 point, you can look at every game and find one play that could make up a point, either defensively or offensively. So it's a common problem, but ours, we don't have a 20 point loss that kept us out of a championship or 3 losses or 2, it's 1 game, 1 point loss so you don't want to do too much critical analysis to where you really change a whole bunch to find that 1 point, but again, the last 2 years, there's a fine line that we haven't reached.
DAN SCOTT: Tommy, as you get set to open up this weekend for practice, a lot of focus is going to be on your offense, the quarterback position obviously is going to be 1 focus, that and having to replace a number of your offensive linemen would be another. Can you talk about where you think your offense is right now and what you think you're looking for out of this spring session?
COACH BOWDEN: Well you know, just kind of start with the offensive line. With McDuffie and Barry Richardson coming back, you've got 2 starters. Brandon Pilgrim, Thomas Austin, Christian Copote, Cory Lambert, you've got some experience and a little bit of age at the other guard and tackle position. Center is where we've got to do a really really critical evaluation of our depth, the quality of our depth and the quality of the starter. So that, I think of all the positions up there, that's the key. The offensive line, I feel pretty good about some of the personnel we've got moving in as potential starters, Between Capote, Lambert, Pilgrim and Thomas Austin and then Jamarcus Grant and then these are our young guys, Medlin and Hairston, so center we're really concerned about offensively and of course with the backs some offensive skill, we feel pretty good about that, but then again it really goes back to the quarterback position that really makes the whole thing, so how much are we going to have to depend on the running game to take pressure off the quarterback and how simple are we going to have to be in the passing game to take the pressure off the quarterback as far as single receiver routes, flashing routes, which are more single receiver , as opposed to 5 out and multiple reads, those are the things we have to determine by the end of spring, how much we can do. I think you hit the nail on the head, offensively with offensive line and quarterback, more concerned about quarterback and center that the offensive line as a whole.
DAN SCOTT: Before we talk more about the quarterback position, back to the center for just a minute, would Barry Humphries be kind of the leading candidate going in?
COACH BOWDEN: I think Barry and Bobby would be the 2 but I don't know how close Coach Scott has got those 2 bracketed. A lot of times Dan going into the spring, we base depth somewhat on academic performance so I think both of those guys have been pretty solid academically, but with class, tutors, study hall, things like that, we'll shuffle around the depth to see if we get a little more productivity out of that end. But I would say probably it would be Barry first, Bobby second, then we're probably going to throw Thomas Austin in there a little bit for just our numbers, until we get our freshmen in, our numbers are going to be kind of thin.
DAN SCOTT: Back to your quarterback position, the stories from your meeting with the media last week, quoted Rob Spence I think as saying that the quarterback spot is wide open, Cullen Harper is #1 going in, but you know how the fans are and a lot of the media, you know where the focus has been, it's been on that youngster from Byrnes High School, Willy Korn, and a lot of speculation as to what he may or may not do. First of all, how wide open is the quarterback race, and then talk about what you've seen out of Willy Korn and how he's handled the transition out of high school into what he's done so far at the collegiate level.
COACH BOWDEN: Well, I think you pretty much summed up how wide open it is, you know we do have a pecking order based on the number of reps and age, with Cullen and Tribble, Michael Wade and then Willy, but again, if you look at our recruiting through the last few years, we've got 55 lettermen coming back. We're going to start 2 seniors on offense, 2 seniors on defense, so a lot of our more talented players happen to be younger players, so if that's the case at quarterback, I don't know that it is or not, we'll find out as we go through spring and hopefully the preseason, then we'll have to make that adjustment if one of the younger, well, of course, none of them have any experience, or very little game experience, with Cullen having the most and Tribble having just a little bit, it's not very much, so we'll have to be careful on making an early determination. If we think, maybe by opening date, there's a young guy that might surpass them and play the remaining 6 or 7 games with the potential to pass a guy up, so you know, you just have to go in there Dan and really look. Thank goodness we've got some talented backs that can take the pressure off our quarterback early, you know, playing a team like Florida State early, you're going to eventually, the quarterback's going to have to make plays, whether a young guy like Willie can do it, the one advantage that he's going to have obviously, #1, he's here in the spring and even though it's high school, he's played on nationally televised games, and just the, your maturity level at that age and then the extra pressure of playing that type games, there is some carry over. It's not going to be as large as a Florida State Clemson on Labor Day weekend, but just the mental preparation and the mental stress on you, there's going to be some carry-over, and he's going to have some of that in his computer system. You know that Gaffney game and Byrnes game was a pretty big game, not as big as one we're going to play, but again there is some carry over maturity that he's going to have that a typical freshman coming in wouldn't have, not only mentally, but again physically, he's got some pretty good skills so but again, so do these other guys and the other guys are going to have some knowledge of the offense over him so to see him struggle early would be very common and then probably make progress as the spring goes and August goes. We've got to be aware of that because of the amount of knowledge that these other guys possess of our offense.
DAN SCOTT: Just hypothetically speaking, and obviously, you never know what's going to happen, but let's say by the time the week of the Florida State game rolls around, you've determined that he's outplayed everybody, how comfortable would you be going into that game with a true freshman starting at quarterback?
COACH BOWDEN: Oh, not very comfortable at all. I don't know anybody who'd be comfortable, in a game, it's not only a conference game, but it's in our division. It's nationally televised. It's our first game so it's going to get all of the publicity. It's not like when you have a 5 day build-up if you're in the regular season. They'll be a build-up throughout the course of the summer, plus there'll be a build-up on him anyway. So, I would not feel real comfortable, but we do have the potential, I don?t' know how good we'll be on defense, but we have the potential to be pretty good on defense, plus we have the potential with some running game to take the pressure off of an inexperienced guy. Whoever plays is going to be inexperienced, we're going to have to do that anyway. Again, the younger the guy, a Michael Wade or Willy Korn would have less ability as far as ability to run the offense than a guy like Cullen or Tribble who've been here longer, and can make quicker decisions and have a little bit more retention of what we're doing offensively, but I wouldn't feel comfortable at all, even regardless of who. Now if wer were opening up with ? last year we opened up, was it Florida Atlantic? (I believe so) Okay, well, I'd feel a little more comfortable opening up with them than I would Florida State.
DAN SCOTT: Gotta thank the ACC for that I guess. Let's talk about your defense now, flip it over, the most experienced part of your team coming back is defense. You lose Gaines Adams, the most high profile player there, a couple of others, but you've still got a good number of starters coming back. How do you feel about that side of the ball heading into the spring?
COACH BOWDEN: Well, again, it's so much, we do have the potential to be pretty good over there, but again, how well they gel, Tremaine Billie's got some academic work to do in order to be eligible, surely he can do it, but again it?s a pretty substantial load but he's got big play ability. He's a sprinter in the state of South Carolina. He's a very tough, hard-nosed, enthusiastic player that has the potential to be a good leader. Same with Nick Watkins, but Nick's not been real dependable in other areas, as far as, I'm talking about the academic load. He's eligible and doing things right, but he's not maximizing all of his talent there, so those 2 guys have been here for awhile and are quality players. Ricky Sapp is going to have a whole lot of Gaines Adams potential in him. Chris Clemons and Michael Hamlin, Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor played and started some last year. We've got some talent in the secondary, so we have some potential over there to be a good team, plus, up front Rashaad Jackson, Dorell Scott, Jock McKissic, Phillip Merling, you know, we've got some size up there and some experience and that's an awful key position, defensive line. It's how well the leadership up there develops on that side. Like I said, we're only going to have 2 seniors up there, we're only going to have 2 seniors on both sides of the ball starting I'm pretty sure, so it's not a lot of senior leadership but there are some younger guys that are playing that have been put in a
position, Antonio Clay is coming back. How well he comes back and plugs in I think is going to be awfully important, because when he was at his peak, and he started to drift a little bit at the end of the season, I think because of the burden he had with his sister and the accident kind of took a toll on him towards the end of the season and he lost his productivity. But if he comes back with any of the fire and emotion and enthusiasm he had then that's going to be another weapon, so it does have tremendous potential. There's just so much you got to do now as far as the chemistry and personality of the defense, the gelling, injuries are always a factor, but again, I surely like the potential over there.
DAN SCOTT: Speaking of Antonio Clay, that was going to be one of my next questions, you are confident, I mean it's definite that he will be back in the thick of things come fall right?
COACH BOWDEN: Right now, everything is a full go toward first semester summer school, which would put him here first of June, right around there, I don't know the exact date, so right now, as of today. Again, we want to check with him and his family and the medical people down there to be sure it's the best thing for him. If it is, he'll surely be here.
DAN SCOTT: Tommy, as we close it out, one final question for you and that is, from a personal standpoint, are you feeling any added pressure or more pressure than normal going into this spring preparing for the 2007 season based on the way the season ended, based on a lot of the stories that were written after the season, again, job security coming into question, whether that's accurate or not, it has been out there. Any added pressure on you personally as you go into this spring?
COACH BOWDEN: You know Dan, I been here going on my 9th year, it seems like every other year those things crop up. This is a difficult, it's a good job obviously because the people are very enthusiastic and fanatical about wanting to achieve champion level football but it's very realistic and we have to make sure we keep it realistic, but every odd year that seems to be the rumor and this is an odd year. It's not the first time that's been a major story, this is probably about the 3rd or 4th in my 8 or 9 years here so I don't feel anything additionally, I kind of look at what we've done. Dan if we were 3 or 4 losses away with 20 point losses or a losing record, but I think the things where we failed toward the end of the year, plus, you know, as you talk to your team, which I've got to do here shortly as we get ready to head into spring ball and our staff, you know if the mode of operation, if the tendency of this team, of this program during the last 4 years has been to fold at the end of the year, I'd say that would be a concern. It hasn't been. The tendency has been not to fold at the end of the year. It's been to win 4/5, 5/6 and 6/7. Now to do it one year and throw the towel in and to say like the internet bloggers that the sky has fallen at the end of the program, I think it's shooting the gun a little bit, disappointment yes, a major disappointment. To be as close as we were, for my staff, they were very disappointed with how we finished the season. The players were disappointed and the staff's disappointed, but I think there's too many positive signs like some of the internet bloggers suggest "the sky has fallen, throw it in, everything's for naught, everything's for naught, we've totally blown it" there's a lot of people being in a position to win the championship in the last 2 years by 1 point. You've got to be close to
win it and I think we're surely close and I think our time will eventually come. Whether it will be this year or next year or not, I hope it is because of the things you've mentioned. It only adds stress to the job. Don't get into this profession if you surely can't handle that.
DAN SCOTT: Well, I think you're history here would show that at any time from a realistic standpoint or a perception standpoint your back has been against the wall, that's when the program has seemingly has performed at its best, so maybe we gotta get those people to write those stories on a weekly basis.
COACH BOWDEN: Well, you know, like I said, during my tenure here and probably most coaches that have coached here, every other year you're on the hot seat. It's surely been my career here and it seems to come on odd years so 2007's an odd year, we'll be on the hot seat, 2008 we won't. Hopefully we can break that trend and get some stability here where we feel like we can move in a positive direction. But you know Dan, finishing my 8th year, a conference championship is the goal. Sure, had it been the old conference, we'd have had 2 by now, but it's not the old conference. Things keep changing, the landscapes changing and you've got to rise to that level, which we've risen but we've been 1 point short the last 2 years and we've got to get that corrected so that's what I want. That's what the people want, that's what the administration wants and close can only count so many times and that's where you feel a little frustrated about not being able to get over that final hump.
DAN SCOTT: I know the work to get over that hump begins when you start spring practice this weekend.