Q&A with Terry Don Phillips

Terry Don Phillips is in his eighth year as Clemson's athletic director.


Terry Don Phillips presides over the Clemson athletic department at one of the most challenging times in the program's history.

Not only are the Tigers dealing with declining revenues from the recession, but the neighboring Southeastern Conference is flush with television cash while competition for coaches and facilities continues. The prospect of conference realignment also looms.

In his eighth year as athletic director, Phillips sat down with The Post and Courier's Travis Sawchik following the Atlantic Coast Conference meetings to address a number of topics.

What can you tell us about the ACC's television negotiations and realignment contingency plans?

"We know that (television revenue) is a very significant driver. It's a very significant barometer of how people view your conference. The only thing I can say is I left (the ACC meetings) feeling pretty good. I really can't say anything in regard to television negotiations. That has to come from the commissioner."

Clemson associate AD Katie Hill is predicting a "bleak" 2010-11 fiscal year. Is that what you anticipate?

"We anticipate we very well could be operating with a deficit. ... We are not unlike a lot of schools out there but we are on good solid ground. We've built our reserves over the years ($8.5 million) so that we can handle those types of contingencies."

Talk of conference realignment has been a hot topic, with some speculating Clemson is a potential candidate to join the SEC, should it expand. Has the SEC put out any feelers to Clemson regarding interest in joining the SEC?

"It doesn't do any good to say anything about it. You are dealing with something that is so highly conjectured it wouldn't serve any purpose to say anything."

Do you have a clear road map regarding your future? (Phillips' contact runs through June 30, 2013).

"I don't sit around thinking about it.

"But I visited with the president about (voiding a previous extension through 2017). It would have run out too far and we both agreed on that. My contract is fine. It's one of those things that we'll cross the bridge when we get to it."

What are some accomplishments during your tenure you're most pleased with?

"Well the big thing was trying to start a capital campaign and build a major football facility (the West Zone). That was the first major capital campaign that was ever conducted ... The Atlantic Division championship is a very substantial step that our football program has taken, and men's basketball has had its best run in the history of the program."

What about regrets and disappointments?

"With regrets you can sit around and kick yourself about certain decisions you either didn't make or you did make. You are going to make some bad decisions. No one is hitting 100 percent. ... I hear people say you have to get that proven head coach and everything, that's well and good, but in my career I've never seen a proven head coach that started off as a proven head coach. Under (former Arkansas coach Frank) Broyles he had people hired off his staff like Barry Switzer, Joe Gibbs and Jimmy Johnson. ... If everyone hit 100 percent on personnel issues there wouldn't be any turnover. Personnel is the biggest part of the equation. Facilities are important, but personnel issues are the biggest part of the job. If you make good personnel decisions more often than not you are going to be able to move down the road pretty good."

To match SEC schools in the coaching arms race, ACC programs like Clemson must use a higher percentage of revenue for coaching compensation due to less financial resources. While a lot depends on the new television deal, by facing a deficit next year are you reaching a ceiling regarding what you can pay coaches?

"I think we are fair in our compensation. We are competitive in the market. You can't deplete your resources I know that. We are not going to deplete our resources. There may be something out there we just can't afford to do. Generally, the better your coach is doing, the more revenue you are producing."

You appeared to have adopted a doctrine of: 'Let's identify young, hungry coaches and pay by performance.' So it was a surprise to see the lucrative offer to Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury before hiring Brad Brownell.

"I like that paradigm. ... if you can find one (coach) on the rise. If you can discover a talent that can do a marvelous job and grow your program you achieve both ends: be financially responsible and find a great coach. (On Stansbury) you look at the full spectrum and try to make the call. Quite frankly we talked with several coaches before we made the recommendation about Dabo."

What shape is Clemson in facilities-wise?

"You never get done with facilities. What happens is when you get your facilities in pretty good shape then you begin to fall a little bit behind and start trying to catch up. You can never stop. There is always some project that needs to be done."

What are some of the challenges that face an athletic director?

"Being an athletic director is kind of interesting. If the coach is successful and you make a good personnel decision, that athletic director didn't have anything to do with that. But if that coach isn't successful then it's all laying at the feet of the athletic director. ... The bottom line is it's not just a job. You live and die with wins and losses. It's not just one sport. You go from sport to sport to sport and how they are doing. You might have one sport that is doing great and the next sport is falling off and you can't really enjoy the other. ... Sometimes as an athletic director you are trying to maintain financial responsibility you can't always say 'Yes' to everything. There have to be some constraints. Sometimes it gets out there in the public domain that you said 'No' on some things, well it's 'Oh, you are not supportive, you don't want him to succeed.' I don't know of any athletic director that doesn't want their coach to succeed."