SUNSET — As Tommy Bowden dusted off the golf clubs for his yearly outing with the media, he didn't have to worry about being peppered with questions pertaining to job insecurity.
His position at Clemson is quite secure, thank you. Last December's contract extension and raise — and don't forget that $4 million buyout — assured the 10th-year coach will be around for a while longer.
But though Bowden's seat has cooled, expectations have not. And he said his detractors are completely justified in their criticism until he finally delivers a championship to a fan base that is starved for one.
"The only thing we're lacking is, we haven't won a championship. And that's the most important thing," Bowden said Tuesday at The Reserve on Lake Keowee. "You get in this profession to win it all. And that's the disappointing thing to me is, we haven't achieved as much as our fans and our players and I want."
It's been 16 long seasons since Clemson claimed its last ACC crown. Four different teams have won it in the past seven years — Florida State (three times), Virginia Tech (twice), Wake Forest and Maryland — and the Tigers have yet to advance to the conference title game in its three-year existence.
Two years ago, Clemson watched Wake Forest win the Atlantic Division title and defeat Georgia Tech to win the conference. Last season, Boston College went to Death Valley and swiped the division crown from the Tigers' grasp.
"We've had several opportunities to win a championship and we haven't done it," said Bowden, who turned 54 last week. "That's my fault."
This year, all that is expected to change. Clemson has a dazzling array of skill players returning on offense, complementing a defense that's strong up front and in the secondary.
The Tigers are a popular Top 10 pick in the preseason magazines, and next week they'll likely be tabbed as the ACC favorite when the league's coaches and media convene at the ACC Kickoff in Greensboro, Ga.
This is all heady stuff for a group that, despite nine wins last year, ultimately fell just short of its own expectations for the third straight year. The Boston College experience hurt, as did a Chick-fil-A Bowl defeat to Auburn and painful losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in back-to-back weeks.
In a way, Clemson is being rewarded more on potential than production — kind of like Bowden's contract extension, which Clemson's administration granted after he flirted seriously with Arkansas for its head coaching job.
Bowden said he needs to address the heightened expectations with his players and make sure they respond to it in an acceptable and productive way.
"My players are going to read it and believe it, and they haven't won a game," he said.
Bowden's team opens the season Aug. 30 against Alabama in the Georgia Dome, and it's no surprise that he's trying to temper expectations as the Tigers prepare for the start of official preseason practice on Aug.1
An offensive line that loses four starters, including two-time All-ACC pick Barry Richardson at left tackle, has him sounding more than a little concerned.
"I would definitely say it'd be premature," Bowden said of the Top 10 distinction.
But as for criticism, the coach said it won't be premature until the Tigers finally cash in. "It's deserved until you do it."
In other news from Bowden's golf outing:
--Bowden said tailback Rendrick Taylor will take a redshirt year in 2008 as Clemson's staff prepares for life without James Davis and C.J. Spiller next season.
Davis is a senior, and Spiller is considered a strong possibility to bolt for the NFL after his junior year. Incoming freshmen Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington (Berkeley) are expected to play this season, but Bowden said he needs a veteran presence in the backfield in 2009.
Taylor played receiver for three injury-plagued seasons before dabbling at linebacker in the spring and then moving to tailback.
"The transition from outside to inside, it's a whole new ballgame," Bowden said of the move from receiver to the backfield. "Next year I'll have an older back and two young pups and our signees."
--Bowden said linebacker Antonio Clay is done with football at Clemson and is attempting to transfer. Clay, who has one year of eligibility remaining, spent the spring semester at home in Georgia while dealing with emotional issues stemming from the August 2006 death of his sister.
--Bowden said it's possible Jeremy Campbell will remain at middle linebacker after seeing some time there in the spring. Campbell is listed as a backup at strong-side linebacker.