EDITOR'S NOTE: Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips is ready for the new year after 2010 saw the football team struggle on the field while he survived an evaluation that many thought would result in his departure. Reporter Travis Sawchik talked with him this week about Clemson's football failures, his unwavering belief in head coach Dabo Swinney, the decision to fire offensive coordinator Billy Napier and an upcoming facilities fundraising drive.
P&C: What went wrong this past football season?
Phillips: "We did lose some key players, C.J. (Spiller) and Jacoby (Ford), two players Dabo recruited. I think the game at Auburn put a little dent in us. That's a game we all recognize that's one of those 'shouldas' against a team that might win the national championship. We lost a very good running back (Andre Ellington) that could have helped us down the stretch. We didn't quite have the receivers we have had. ... and we all know the kicking game."
P&C: Was removing Billy Napier completely Swinney's decision?
Phillips: "Dabo approached the subject with me. He gave me his thoughts. He felt like the scheme needed a complete rebuild. That's why he elected to make the change to bring in a very fresh set of eyes, a fresh scheme kids can be excited about. ... To Dabo's credit, this is part of him beginning to put pieces together as a head coach. He had to make some very difficult decisions to get the team to where it needs to be. In order to do that, he had to release a few coaches he thinks a lot of, and that's not easy to do. I'm excited about his thinking, what he wants to put on the field offensively; I think our kids will be excited about it."
P&C: What did you discuss with Swinney in your meeting after the season?
Phillips: "There are some things I don't want to get into, but I agreed that changes needed to be made to give us a better opportunity in today's game with how people play in order to be much more productive. "
P&C: Was part of the problem related to Swinney and Napier blending two different philosophies?
Phillips: "It's hard for me to say. I'm not over there sitting in the meetings. I know off the field they had a very good working relationship. It wouldn't surprise me if there were some differences philosophically; you have that in the best of circumstances. ... In 2008) when Dabo took over at midseason they had reasonable success, they had some good wins. I think they felt comfortable that they just needed to try to improve upon where they were when they meshed together in that interim period. Of course the next year we had some players that were maybe able to gloss over some deficiencies. You think about it, here is a first-year coach, you go 9-5, with the Atlantic championship, set a points record; you go into the offseason feeling pretty good about yourself."
P&C: Some people look at assistant coach Chris Rumph leaving and question the stability in the football program. What do you say to that?
Phillips: "I have all the confidence in the world in Dabo. I have my detractors, obviously. But I've gone through the gamut in my career as player, coach, administrator where I've been around successful coaches ... I strongly believe in the intangibles he brings. I believe he is a great fit for Clemson and I believe he is going to be successful here or somewhere else. I don't have a crystal ball, I don't know exactly how things are going to shake out, but I think he is going to be a successful coach."
P&C: You are announcing a major fundraising effort for facilities next week that includes completion of the West Zone and an indoor practice facility. Could you talk a little about this project?
Phillips: "One of the interesting dynamics I've seen here is you hear we are not committed. Regarding commitment, just drive down the road. You don't put the time and effort into building the West Zone if you are not committed. Here is the thing people truly do not understand. In 2002 (when Phillips arrived), we had gotten behind in facilities. We were way out of date. I believe very strongly you have to put your kids in a championship environment so that they can touch and feel the history of Clemson University, they enjoy being in the facility. And environment is very important for your kids on campus and extremely important in recruiting. You should never stop building -- that's when you drift behind. What you have to do is always have quality facilities on campus for your kids and to recruit to. The purpose of (the announcement) is to say this is what has occurred over the last eight to 10 years and this is what is going to occur in the future."
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