CLEMSON — Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips walked somberly away from Clemson's 12-7 loss at Wake Forest on Oct. 9, chatting in hushed tones with senior associate athletic director Bill D'Andrea.
Hey, guys. What if someone had told you back then you would be walking into a Gator Bowl news conference less than two months later?
"Would not have believed it," Phillips said Wednesday as Clemson began heavily leveraging a Gator Bowl coup to attract recruits, new assistant coaches and cash.
D'Andrea shook his head and grinned.
"I would have advised you to go over to that medical institute that's right near Wake Forest," he said. "And check in."
But Tommy Bowden was forced out as head coach and Dabo Swinney's Tigers did enough to go 4-2 down the stretch. Swinney officially became head coach Monday and by Wednesday was accepting the unexpected Gator Bowl bid and, more importantly, spinning the Jan. 1 nationally televised date with Nebraska.
"It's a great presence for us," Swinney said after Gator Bowl executives officially invited the Tigers. "It's an opportunity for people to read about Clemson, see Clemson, hear about Clemson, come out and watch practice. Things like that."
Phillips knows how much old- fashioned, over-the-air TV exposure on New Year's Day means to a football program always in the thick of recruiting and fundraising campaigns. The Jacksonville area for three decades has been rich recruiting territory for Clemson.
"It's tremendous," he said, "and particularly in light of what happened in our season. I could not have imagined this opportunity. It's a great jump off for Dabo after being named head coach without the 'interim' attached."
The Gator Bowl, picking third among bowls with Atlantic Coast Conference ties, took 7-5 Clemson over 8-4 Florida State and others. Swinney, along with recruiting players, also is in competition with other schools for top assistant coaches.
"It shows that we have momentum and that we have good players here," Swinney said. "That's how we were able to create the momentum. Clemson doesn't really have a hard time attracting good coaches. This is a great place. We have good coaches here already but there are a lot of people who would love to be here as well."
Swinney declined comment on reports he has hired Charlie Harbison as defensive backs coach but his denial was not very strong.
"There is a hiring process and when we get through that process I'll have an announcement," Swinney said.
Harbison is a former Clemson assistant coach who worked this season at Mississippi State. Swinney on Monday fired defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, arguably Clemson's most marketable assistant coach, and hired ex-Tigers tight end Danny Pearman. Pearman worked with special teams and tight ends at Maryland this season.
Swinney has met with each of his current assistant coaches.
"I told everybody we've got a job to do and we'll address things after the season," he said. "I'd like to keep everybody but I can't guarantee anybody anything. That's kind of where we are."
Billy Napier is sure to stay on as recruiting coordinator and perhaps offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach. Brad Scott and his son, Jeff Scott, also likely will be retained, though their duties for 2009 depend on other hires.
Swinney said backup quarterback Willy Korn, as expected, had shoulder surgery Sunday. Korn is a "strong possibility" for Gator Bowl availability, Swinney said.
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