The inevitable - a head coaching change - came much more abruptly than many thought.
Having lost the support of the fan base, there was no doubt Tommy Bowden wasn’t going to be around for an eleventh season. Even if he had won out, the best case scenario for him would have been taking another job at the end of the year.
So Bowden did what he has done throughout his tenure at Clemson. He showed class by gracefully stepping aside Monday morning, wishing Clemson all the success in the world moving forward.
Whether or not you liked Bowden is not important at this point. Nothing can be undone. It’s still too early to say if he made the best decision for himself. But as the dust begins to settle, it looks like he made the best decision for Clemson University.
Change can sometimes be very tough. It’s human nature for us to resist change and all of the effects that come with it. There doesn’t seem to be very many fans arguing with his decision, but many are divided on what the best decision is regarding the next step.
As a player, I went through a very similar change when we lost our coach just a few weeks before our first game. Having experienced that first hand, I feel safe in saying there is no “right” next step. It is rare that administrators, fans, coaches, and players reach a consensus at a time like this.
Everyone is affected, but none more so than the players. Right now, they are going through a whirlwind of emotions. The fear of the unknown, the loss of a trusted figure, and the subtle changes the rearranged staff is making and will make are likely tugging at some.
At the same time, many of them are excited by the new possibilities. Changes in philosophy may lead to more playing time for some. Others have to like the newfound enthusiasm that has seemingly embraced the program in the last 36 hours.
What is often forgotten amid all of this is just how tough all of that can be for the players. Despite their physical prowess, we often overlook just how young and mentally fragile many of them are. Just because Joe Fan may feel good about Monday’s events doesn’t mean the players share those thoughts.
And the timing of all of this makes it that much harder for them to grasp. Had it come at the end of the season, they would have some time to digest all that is going on and adapt to the changes. But because this occurred during the middle of the season when all they have time for is class and football, there’s the distinct possibility the players won’t sort all of this out for some time.
What they now need more than ever is support.
And by that, I don’t mean they just need people showing up on Saturdays to cheer for them. Supporting the football team is great but that’s not going to get it done.
They need the support of the Clemson program.
It may sound like semantics, but there is a difference between supporting the team and supporting the program. People who support the team live play to play, game to game, and season to season. They are quick to point out all that is good but even quicker to point out all that is wrong.
Those that support the program have more of a long range plan. They understand that with the good times come the bad. They don’t boo bad play calls or performances that don’t measure up to their standards. They don’t call for the backup of some unsuspecting player after nearly every play.
Supporters of the program feel a greater need to be there when things are going bad than when things are going well. They disagree with and question decisions but they do it privately rather than using radio shows and internet message boards as a platform to voice their displeasure.
That’s not to say everyone needs to put on their orange colored glasses and act as if all is right in the world. Bad things are going to take place. Questionable calls and decisions will be made. Players are going to make mistakes.
That’s part of the game. More importantly, that’s part of life.
How we deal with the curveballs life throws us is typically the biggest factor in determining how successful we are. Never could that sentiment be truer than in a situation such as this.
How the Clemson fans deal with all that has happened and all that is to happen for the remainder of the season is going to have a direct effect on this team, specifically the players.
Tommy Bowden didn’t win nearly as many games as anyone would have liked, including himself. More importantly, he didn’t win a championship while at Clemson. No one would like to change that more than Bowden.
What can’t be argued is this program is in much, much better shape today than it was when he took over. And he did it all while handling himself and the program with all the class and dignity in the world.
Continuing to harp on all that Bowden did wrong changes nothing. In fact, all it really does is hamper the program from proceeding in a different and, hopefully for all of those involved, more successful direction.
The players don’t need that constant reminder of what could have or should have been.
For now, Dabo Swinney is the man charged with trying to get this program where everyone wants it to be. No one, including Swinney, knows what’s going to happen over the next seven weeks.
So far, he has handled everything better than could have been expected. He seems to be saying and doing the right things. If his first two days on the job are any indication of what’s to come, everyone should be excited.
I think the best case scenario is for Swinney to be coaching the Tigers this time next year. That likely happens if he can take this opportunity and run with it, meaning Clemson finishes this season on a good note and he displays all of the intangibles of a great coach that many in the administration feel he has.
But just as is the case with the players, this is a very difficult situation for him. He has to regroup the team in the middle of the season, which can be as difficult as herding cats. The patience and support he receives will be a vital aspect in determining his success.
He is going to put more into the next seven weeks than many of us could ever fathom. Not because he wants to be the next head coach and collect a hefty paycheck, but because he is a winner and wants more than anything for those kids – yes, they’re still kids – to succeed.
Coaches and players will ultimately be judged on wins and losses. If Clemson wins Saturday, it doesn’t mean Dabo Swinney is a savior. If they lose, it doesn’t mean he’s just another guy that couldn’t get it done.
Saturday’s outcome isn’t going to be nearly important in the grand scheme of things as how this team and its fan base react to an overdose of reality.