GREENVILLE -- Clemson president James Barker called for an impromptu, closed-door meeting with the board of trustees Wednesday to discuss Terry Don Phillips. After a week of speculation regarding Phillips' future and after Barker's evaluation of the Clemson athletic director had become public and after meeting for 90 minutes in executive session in Greenville, the president presented his findings to the board and announced a verdict around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The decision? Phillips will remain athletic director.
"I'm pleased to say Terry Don Phillips will continue to serve as our director of athletics," Barker said. "The evaluation I did was based off of both qualitative and quantitative assessment. I started from personal integrity to trustworthiness to how competitive we were.
"The bottom line is Terry Don Phillips has done an outstanding job as our director of athletics."
Following a 6-6 football season, some fans and alumni concerned with the direction of the athletic program peppered board members with calls demanding a change in athletic leadership. But board chairman David Wilkins formed a united front with Barker on Wednesday, saying the board "unanimously supports Dr. Barker's assessment and recommendations."
Regarding Phillips' contract, which runs through June of 2013, Barker said there have been "no changes."
The verdict came outside a conference room in the CU-ICAR complex in Greenville, a satellite campus Barkerhopes will help propel Clemson into top-20 status as a university. As part of Barker's ambitious goals for Clemson, he also wants a top-20 status as an athletic department.
Barker added a significant caveat to his positive review on Phillips on Wednesday -- Clemson athletics, especially football, must become more competitive. Top 25 rankings are to be the standard.
"Phillips and I are in full agreement that there are areas that need improvement and that starts with competitiveness," Barker said. "Our top-20 vision for the university includes athletics for a reason. ... We've had 47 teams in the last eight years that have finished in top 25. We want to build on that foundation and compete at a higher level. Neither I, nor the board, are satisfied. Many or our trustees are former student athletes ... what makes Clemson special is our competitive nature."
Overall, Barker said he has been pleased by the results of Phillips' eight years in office.
Barker noted over the last 10 years, $120 million dollars have poured in new athletic facilities and improvements. To the faction of Clemson fans upset with the recent results, Barker said: "Walk through the West Zone and see the impact that would have on a recruit, the kind of commitment that represents and know there are even more phases coming. Walk through the baseball stadium see what's been accomplished there. All those are direct results of (Phillips') work. That's why I feel it is important to support (Phillips)."
Phillips said he "greatly appreciated president Barker's position." Phillips believes the improved facilities are a key building block for Clemson.
"A tremendous amount of time and effort has gone into (building facilities)," Phillips said. "I feel confident putting the (facility) pieces of the puzzle in place today will (lead) to future success ... It's very similar to what we had worked on over at Oklahoma State. Sometimes getting puzzle pieces into place is like turning a battleship."
Barker also noted how Clemson student-athletes have produced higher GPAs and graduation rates under Phillips. Clemson has avoided major rules infractions. Perhaps most important, Barker said the athletic department is "financially healthy."
Before presenting his findings to the board Wednesday, Barker met Phillips on Friday to talk about the results of his evaluation. They met for several hours off campus, a meeting a source close to Phillips called a "victory for Phillips and Clemson." Many speculated the meeting would lead to Phillips' dismissal. Phillips said he did not have to battle to save his job last week.
Barker went into detail of his evaluation Wednesday, saying it was more thorough than a typical personnel evaluation. He wanted to learn about the intricacies of running an athletic department and hear a variety of voices.
"There were five areas I asked (Phillips) to focus on: competitiveness, our facilities, our financial stability as an athletic department, rules compliance and academic success for our student athletes," Barker said. "When I take all five of those together, I've come to the conclusion Clemson has made real strides."
Barker maintained improved competitiveness is the key metric to measure Phillips going forward.
Barker also noted Clemson's spending on football is near the top of all ACC programs ($19 million in 2008-09).
"We have to make sure that as we make decisions about resources that we use them wisely, those are things that can have an impact on competitiveness," Barker said. "We are near the top of conference in our expenditures for football. We want to make sure those resources are channeled in the right direction and that is the job of the athletic director.
"I've asked (Phillips) to again review every program and ensure the resources that are needed for each of those sports are provided."
Barker also voiced support for Clemson coach Dabo Swinney on Wednesday.
"Many people were disappointed with the football season," Barker said. "I want to make it clear I fully support Dabo Swinney as our football coach and I believe that we have elements in place to have a top-25 ranked football program, particularly when you look at returning talent and the recruiting class that is shaping up. ... I think we have in Dabo Swinney a personality that fits Clemson, a passion that fits Clemson, and energy and a drive that fits Clemson. We have to make sure we give him the support he needs to be successful. Might I remind you last year we were competing for a conference championship."
Barker is aware of the fans' disappointment level. He urged Clemson Nation to show a united front.
"When I was inaugurated as the Clemson president in 2000, I talked about a concept called One Clemson, a united Clemson was unstoppable that there was no school as strong as Clemson in America when we unite," Barker said. "It's easy to be united when things are going well but it's even more important to be united when things aren't going well. It's time, in my judgment, for our Tigers and our Tigers supporters to unite behind our team and our coaches."
Check out the Clemson blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks and follow Travis Sawchik on Twitter (@travis_sawchik).
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