For four Clemson staffers, it's a silver anniversary Fiesta Bowl


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Conn at bowl practice earlier this week
Conn at bowl practice earlier this week

SCOTTSDALE, AZ – Clemson coaches Dabo Swinney, Lemanski Hall, Mickey Conn and staff member Thad Turnipseed walked off of the team bus at the team hotel Monday afternoon and realized they’d all seen it before.

While it’s Clemson’s first ever trip to the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, those four played in what was the Sunkist Fiesta Bowl a mere 25 years ago as teammates for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

When Conn and Swinney stepped off the bus at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort, the memories came flooding back as they quickly remembered that it was the same hotel the Crimson Tide stayed at before losing to Louisville 34-7 in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl.

“When I pulled up at the hotel, I said, 'Man, this place looks familiar,' and sure enough it was the same place we stayed at 25 years ago,” Conn told TigerNet at Clemson’s media day. “And, Coach Swinney, when we got off the bus, he said, 'Man this place is familiar and weren't you my roommate?' We stayed together and he was two years ahead of me. I was a true freshman. I was just along for the ride and having a good time. Thad and Ski and Coach, it was good.”

Hall – who was hired as a defensive analyst before the 2015 season said he didn’t remember the hotel, but he did remember some of the specifics of the events leading up the game.

“It's funny, when we got here to the hotel, Mickey said, 'Man, I think this is the hotel we stayed at.' I was like, 'For real?' I had totally forgotten about the hotel, but the more you're around it, it may be the place that we stayed,” Hall told TigerNet. “We talked about the game itself - the week of preparation, playing against Louisville and Browning Nagle and all of that stuff. The experience of being out here in the Fiesta Bowl, we definitely talked about that.”

Conn – the former head coach of Loganville (GA) Grayson was hired before the season as a defensive analyst – and he said he has vivid memories of the trip and the game because it was his first ever bowl trip.

“I remember that it never rains out here and it rained every day that week,” Conn said. “I remember the matchup between Coach (Gene) Stallings and Coach (Howard) Schnellenberger because they both came from under the Coach (Bear) Bryant tree. I vividly remember standing in the hallway and Schnellenberger was smoking a pipe. I remember the smell of the pipe and all of that. I remember how the field was all painted up at Arizona State. We went to this steak place as a team and they cooked the steak right in front of us and we picked it up right off the grill, that was a lot of fun. It has really grown since we were here. Across from the Plaza, where we're staying, there was nothing. It was just desert everywhere.”

As much fun as the bowl trip was, Hall said there were several factors that led to the thrashing the Cardinals handed the Crimson Tide, but he’s sure the Tigers will have the focus the need when the game kicks off.

“When we came out here for the first time, Coach Stallings had just been named the head coach, and we were not focused,” Hall said. “We had a lot of different distractions going on back in Alabama. I don't think Arizona was acknowledging Martin Luther King Day at the time, so there were a lot of different things going on and we weren't focusing on the game itself. Coach Swinney does a great job of bringing our guys together and focusing on the game. We'll be focused.”

As Clemson prepares to take on No. 3 Ohio State Saturday night at 7 p.m. Eastern, Hall said it has been fun to reminisce about the good old days, but he’s looking forward to this year’s game.

“It's good because we remember being out here. It's good to have Mickey around. I was here last year for the National Championship,” Hall said. “Just being here has been great and just going back and talking about the old days and what we did when were out here.”

As a defensive analyst, Hall has his hands full from helping with the preparation all the way through the game with his assistant duties in the box.

“I'm a defensive analyst. It's an off the field position. I work with the linebackers breaking down film and doing all of those things to get our guys ready for the opponent,” Hall said. “I'm definitely looking to be an assistant coach one day. I'm in the box on game day. I help with personnel and help Coach V (Brent Venables) look at the linebackers and I help Coach (Marion) Hobby with the defensive ends. Down and distances, different things that happen throughout the game that the coaches on the sideline might not see and I can see in the box.”

Conn is trying to learn as much as he can as quickly as he can under the tutelage of Venables and the other defensive coaches.

“It's been great. It's been a great experience. Just taking a step back from the role I've been in into the role I'm in now has been challenging because I can't communicate with the players and I can't coach the players,” Conn said. “It's been a great opportunity for me to learn how things are done on this level and the way Coach Swinney does things, the players, the coaches. It's been a great experience. Coach Venables, learning his defense has been a great experience. I feel like I'm learning something new every day. Any time you're growing and learning, it's a great experience.”


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