EDITOR'S NOTE: Connections abound between Clemson and Alabama, which square off Saturday (8 p.m., WCIV-TV) in Atlanta. Some of the common threads are profiled in the last of a five-part series. Today: Tommy Bowden.
CLEMSON — Bill Curry summoned his nine assistants into a room at the Superdome following Alabama's 33-25 loss to Miami in the 1989 Sugar Bowl.
Curry informed them he'd soon interview with Kentucky because the folks at Alabama were forcing him out. It didn't matter that Curry's team finished 10-2, and finished tied for first in the SEC.
Curry was gone after three years at Alabama. And those three years represented a formative experience for a young receivers coach named Tommy Bowden.
"I've seen heat," Bowden said. "About as much heat as you can get."
Bowden's will and resolve have been put to the test plenty during his nine seasons at Clemson. His stay-the-course message and even-keeled demeanor has aided in his team's recovery from some devastating losses, and now the No. 9 Tigers appear poised for great things as they prepare for Saturday's opener against the No. 24 Crimson Tide in Atlanta.
Bowden, 54, credits his religious faith for keeping him grounded in tough times. But he says his experience coaching in the state of Alabama — he was also an assistant at Auburn for seven seasons — was instrumental in steeling him for pressurized situations as a head coach.
"I was in my mid-30s," Bowden said of his three-year stint with the Tide, "and I'm thinking that it's really preparing me for any type of environment I can go into."
After four seasons at Duke, Bowden interviewed with Curry in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He remembers peering through his hotel-room window the night before his interview.
"You look out, and there's Bear Bryant Drive. There's Bear Bryant Museum," said Bowden, who was born in Birmingham, Ala.
The Crimson Tide has won 12 national titles and 21 SEC titles, and their 55 bowl appearances are an NCAA record.
But all that glory comes with a price, because anything short of excellence isn't tolerated long. Perhaps the low point of Curry's tenure at Alabama was a 22-12 homecoming loss to Mississippi at Bryant-Denny Stadium in 1988, his second year. The Crimson Tide finished 9-3.
Bowden vividly remembers the nasty scene outside the stadium as he met his wife and 6-year-old son and walked to the car.
"There was nothing physical they did," he said of the fans. "Just hearing the things they were saying — we lost on homecoming. You can imagine what they were saying."
A few days later, Bowden said, someone threw a brick through Curry's office window. Bowden said he saw the hole in the window, "but I didn't know there was a brick thrown through it."
Bowden followed Curry to Kentucky and eventually ended up at Clemson after his first two years as a head coach at Tulane. He's said to be under immense pressure with the Tigers, but pressure is relative when you've coached at Alabama.
"They're pretty serious here about winning championships, and they're pretty serious about it down there," Bowden said. "But one national championship here, 12 there. So it's magnified a little bit."
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