Tommy Bowden Fired - Who'll Replace Him?
Posted Oct 13, 2008

Tommy Bowden was ousted as the Clemson head coach following several disappointments and a rough loss to Wake Forest. It's a plum job opening and all the big names will be thrown around. Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp? Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson? Bill Cowher?! Richard Cirminiello looks at the Bowden era and the possible new head man.

Clemson Fires Tommy Bowden

Who are the top candidates to replace him?

By Richard Cirminiello 

Five years ago, Tommy Bowden was on the chopping block before rallying Clemson to a four-game winning streak down the stretch that saved his job. Two years later, it was a similar deal, turning wins over Florida State, South Carolina, and a bowl opponent into a reprieve in Death Valley. Possibly sensing that another strong finish would complicate the situation, the administration pulled the plug on Bowden Monday before he had a chance to get off the mat one more time.

While Bowden certainly had some high points, on and off the field, since arriving in 1999, a decade is a very long time to get over the hump. Too long, in fact.

Over that span, Maryland and Wake Forest have played in the Orange Bowl, yet Clemson’s next BCS invite will be its first. Under Bowden, the Tigers had earned a reputation as underachievers, lacking consistency despite having as much talent as anyone in the ACC, including Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Miami. This season became a microcosm for the coach, taking a No. 9 preseason ranking and a roster loaded with future NFL players and parlaying it into a dreary 3-3 start. Things were not going to get better, which became painfully obvious to anyone that followed the program or talked with its players.

A change at the top in Clemson was overdue and probably a couple of years too late. Heck, if the school let him go earlier rather than extending his contract, it might not be in the middle of the ACC pack or about to pay a seven-digit buyout. Now that it’s done, where do we go from here?

Does Willy Korn still replace Cullen Harper at quarterback? How will the Tigers perform under Dabo Swinney, an ace recruiter and one of the best-liked coaches on the staff? There are two things you can bank on: First, Bowden will coach again if he wants to. Don’t forget that Arkansas made a handsome offer just last December. And second, athletic director Terry Don Phillips will have no problems finding a top-tier head coach. Clemson has the facilities, history, and recruiting base to be the dominant factor in the ACC, which is exactly why Bowden is out of work today. 

The Top Candidates To Replace Bowden

1. Will Muschamp, defensive coordinator, Texas
His defense got ripped up by Oklahoma, but he’s still given credit for his Longhorns getting pressure on Sam Bradford and closing things up in the second half (for the most part). A rent-a-coach for the Longhorns, Muschamp has an SEC background, a proven track record, and will be the hot name for every coaching vacancy until he’s hired away.

2.  Lane Kiffin, former Oakland Raider head coach
Considered one of the brightest young minds in football, even with Al Davis trying to tear him down, Kiffin has all the makings of an elite college head coach. The son of NFL legendary defensive coordinator, Monte, Lane combines the defensive toughness with a mindset for the offense.

3.  Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt head coach
Born in Columbia, South Carolina, Johnson gets the state’s football scene. Not only was he a good corner for Clemson in the early 1970s, but he showed this year that he can beat South Carolina. Don’t’ discount what a big deal that is to Clemson fans. His stock will never be higher, but he has to fight the age issue. He’s 59.

4. Brent Venables, Oklahoma defensive coordinator
It’s hit or miss when it comes to the success of Oklahoma assistants as head coaches, but the OU defensive coordinator is a primetime recruiter who has put together several of the nation’s top defenses. Being the defensive coordinator for Bob Stoops is sort of like being Dave Grohl’s drummer; if you’re good, you’ve earned the seal of approval. However, he doesn’t have any head coaching experience or any ties to the ACC.

5. Jim McElwain, Alabama offensive coordinator
The hot coordinator on the hot team, McElwain came over from Fresno State and has helped take a mediocre (by SEC standards) offense and made it shine. While he’s great at getting a passing game to go, he’s better at producing tough, physical attacks.

6. Jim Grobe, Wake Forest head coach
The 56-year-old has built an ACC power at Wake Forest. If you can’t beat him, buy him. A true ACC man, who played at Virginia, he’s widely known for being among the nation’s most respected and effective head coaches.

7. Al Golden, Temple head coach
The former Penn State tight end is only 39 and might need one more stepping-stone job before he can get a plum gig like Clemson, but he’s on everyone’s radar. If you can recruit at Temple, you can recruit anywhere. After starting out under George Welsh, Groh was a major factor building Virginia into a decent success under Al Groh. He’d make the Clemson defense instantly better.

8. Bill Cowher, CBS studio analyst
This is the dream pick if Clemson wants to open up the checkbook. Cowher has been open about considering the coaching life again, but he’s more likely going to break the bank for some NFL team, possibly Cleveland or Kansas City if and when those jobs open up. However, the NC State grad hasn’t ruled out the college game, and if Clemson is ready to go Saban and get into the highest-paid college coach range, this isn’t as far-fetched a possibility as it might appear.