CLEMSON — Terry Don Phillips’ accomplishments at Clemson are many.
As the school’s athletic director for the past decade, he oversaw major improvements in facilities, including the West Zone project. He hired successful coaches in men’s basketball (Oliver Purnell and Brad Brownell) and football (Dabo Swinney). And he operated an athletic program without the financial distress and major NCAA penalties plaguing other programs.
Clemson president James Barker dubbed it the “Phillips decade” on Thursday during a news conference held to announce that Phillips is retiring.
“The Phillips decade, and I think it deserves to be called that, is marked by integrity, dedication and wise business insights, and as a result, we are a stronger university,” Barker said.
When the Phillips era officially ends is unclear. His contract runs through June 30, 2013, but it seems unlikely he will stay that long. Barker said a search will begin immediately for the next athletic director and that the position could be filled this fall.
“It’s solely up to the president’s timetable,” Phillips said. “I’m here until they finish their work. I’ll assist in every way that I can.
“I had made the statement (last month) that I was in the final year of the contract and I wasn’t seeking an extension. In order to be fair to president Barker and the program, I felt it was the right time to make that decision.”
Barker, who hired Phillips, said he’s already assembled a four-person search committee to find Phillips’ replacement.
“We haven’t had a meeting yet, but I called everyone (on the committee) and I asked, ‘Are you ready to go,’ and they said ‘yes,’ ” Barker said. “I said, ‘start the process of using your network to identify candidates.’ ”
When asked why he decided to retire now, Phillips paused and became emotional before answering.
“I’m very blessed to have a wonderful wife,” Phillips said. “It’s important that we have more time together.”
It was not an easy decision for Phillips. There could come a point this fall where he will not be directly involved with college football for the first time in six decades. He played at Arkansas (1966-69), coached at Virginia Tech and was around the game as an administrator at Liberty, Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas and Oklahoma State before coming to Clemson.
“Back in Texas, in grade school, I can remember starting (playing) when I was in fifth grade and I can remember being a part of a football season every year since then through college, coaching and then getting into administration,” Phillips said. “It’s not an easy thing to lay down because this is your life.”
Phillips talked about his legacy Thursday.
“I hope they see we tried to operate this program correctly from a position of integrity and the type of coaches we attempted to attract,” Phillips said. “Certainly, facilities have been a big part of the play to get to the consistent competitive level we want across all our sports. We have made significant in-roads, and I am confident we have coaches in place.”
A large part of Phillips’ legacy is also tied to Swinney, who Phillips took a chance on promoting to head coach from receivers coach in 2008.
“He had the guts to hire me,” Swinney said. “One of the most special moments for me that I’ll never forget is being able to hand him that (ACC) championship trophy.”
Of course, Phillips also had regrets, though he declined to specify them. His detractors would point to the decision to extend Tommy Bowden’s contract in 2008.
“I’ve always tried to make (decisions) in best interest of the university,” Phillips said. “Sometimes you look back and say, ‘I’m not so sure.’”