Bowden: An Offseason Discussion

CLEMSON - Now entering his 10th season as head coach of the Clemson Tigers, Tommy Bowden has learned a little bit about expectations at a major FBS program.

And at no time will expectations be bigger than what he and his team will face this fall.

In fact, most major pre-season publications are expected to list the Tigers as their preseason favorite to win the Atlantic Coast Conference in coming weeks.

With nearly all of the skill players returning on offense, including first team All-ACC running back James Davis, first team wide receiver Aaron Kelly, and second-team quarterback Cullen Harper, not to mention most of his top players on a defense that finished the 2007 season ranked in the top 10, why wouldn't they?

The Tigers have more talent returning than any team in the conference and have literally been a play or two away from reaching the ACC Championship Game in each of the last three years.

Not surprisingly, Clemson's 10th year head man takes it all in stride.

"I've been coaching long enough to know that those (predictions) are really not that important because injuries you don't know about or getting an unlucky break or team moral," said Bowden in an exclusive interview with earlier this week. "You just don't know how your team is going to handle certain situations. How are they going to react to a loss? Those are things you don't know.

"I don't look at it any differently that what I have over my last 31 years (of coaching). We're really not going to prepare any differently. But we are going to talk to them a little differently because they're going to read things that are different about this team than they've read in the past because of the expectations. So, I'm going to have to address those things with the team, but I don't see a difference."

While Bowden and the Tigers do return an incredible amount of talent in 2008, there are issues, and one of the biggest perceived problem areas of the team is the play of the offensive line. Clemson is essentially replacing three of five starters from last year's team, including two first-team All-ACC performers in Chris McDuffie and Barry Richardson.

At times during spring practice, several positions on the line appeared to be overwelmed by Clemson's defensive front - especially the tackles.

And while Bowden had often admitted this year's group is talented, possibly as talented as he's ever had with the Tigers, he is also quick to point they are young ... very young.

The question on everybody's mind entering the 2008 season is how long will it take for that unit to jell and mature?

"That's the million dollar question," Bowden said. "I think what you have to look at is the complexity of the teams. Number one, Alabama is going to be a pretty good test right off the bat. Just say we don't do well, two of the next three are I-AA opponents and we could physically dominant and have a false impression to think we've made a significant jump. We have to know if we skyrocketed because of the competition or did we really get better. I don't know if we're going to be able to tell until the middle of the year. With this schedule, I think it's going to be hard to tell until the middle of the season."

Still, true to form, Bowden likes the potential of this group, even calling one his young starters potentially one of the best he's had at Clemson, despite the fact he only has one career start.

"I really do like this group, but they're so young. Even Chris Hairston, who could be the best tackle we've ever had, but he's started just one game," he said. "Then the left tackle has no starts and then the two starting guards could have no starts. That's possibly four positions with one start."

Two other questions surrounding the team before the start of preseason camp concern two linebackers with starting potential in Cortney Vincent and Antonio Clay- will either be with the team in 2008? As of now, odds are that at least one of them won't be, with the very real possibility that neither will wear shoulder pads and a helmet for the Tigers this season.

Vincent, a redshirt senior, was charged with DUI at the end of the regular season and his awaiting his court date scheduled in June. However, in the meantime, he was suspended from the team due to violation of team and school rules.

The latter could be his ultimate undoing.

Bowden believes he will have an answer on Vincent's suspension pretty soon.

"I'm meeting with my people that I need to make a decision on Cortney Vincent," he said. "I'm meeting with them because I want to make sure when I've done that final meeting that I've got all the information I need to make a good decision. …

"It could be a week or it could be at the end of summer. I just don't know yet. But we meet as a team on May 19th and I'm wanting to have one made by then or close to it."

Bowden made it clear that his upcoming decision will have nothing to do with the DUI charge. However, the outcome of his charges could alter what ultimately happens to Vincent.

If Vincent is allowed to rejoin the team, he could very well be kicked off for good if he is found guilty of DUI. Of course, the charges may not alter his status if he has already been dismissed from the team by Bowden.

As far as the senior Clay is concerned, there really is no guessing as to what will happen with him.

Clay has relapsed into another state of depression and has withdrawn from school, just as he did last spring. Bowden is in the dark about Clay's future as anyone.

"I think where it's at right now is the medical people are making an evaluation for what exactly is going to be best for him," Bowden said. "Is it best for him to get away from his best support system and medical help down there (at his home in Georgia) where he's tried twice and really hasn't had the success that you'd hope he'd have? It's really in the medical people's hands more so than the NCAA's hands, I think.

"There's really no timeframe because those people really don't adhere to NCAA timeframes. They're more interested in him and I think that's why it's kind of been a slow process. … There is the possibility he could redshirt, then the NCAA might get involved because he's been out of school and him being in his fourth year, he's got to be at 80 percent (of his work toward his major completed)."

SUMMER SCHEDULE: Even though practice is on hiatus until August, Bowden is just as busy as ever.

Every day he is having tons of meetings or off to speaking engagements either within the state or across the country.

"I've about got all the IPTAY meetings knocked out," he said. "I started out with 20 of them and I've done about 15. I'm headed down the homestretch. I've got Orangeburg (Thursday night) and I know I've got Atlanta and Myrtle Beach.

"Then I've got to go to Dallas and speak and Atlanta again to speak. Everyday there's something."

BAD RAP: All the bad publicity from the Ray Ray McElrathbey debacle has finally died down and Bowden thinks a lot of the hits he and Clemson took from the national press were unfair.

"The biggest thing is I think we have a track record here on discipline," Bowden said. "If you do your homework and research over the 10 years I've been here, you can look at the track record. We've had a lot of guys come back for their fifth year – Gaines Adams, Ty Hill and Michael Hamiln.

"But if there was a pattern of not being fair, then I think my track record would represent something else. You're concerned about public perception. You'd probably be crazy and disingenuous if you said you weren't. But I'm not concerned enough where I'd lose any sleep."

Bowden said he wasn't sure where Ray Ray plans to transfer to, or even if in fact he is transferring. Top Stories