CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips shook hands with happy supporters Tuesday after accepting a bid to a Peach Bowl.
One longtime booster congratulated him on the Tigers' season. But more importantly, he wanted to know, what about coach Tommy Bowden's contract?
"We've got to get that man signed," he told Phillips as he pounded a fist into his other hand.
For the third day since talks began between Bowden, Phillips and other Clemson administrators, no agreement was reached on a contract extension that would guarantee the coach's return.
And with Bowden off to Florida for the Thanksgiving holiday, who knows when it will get done.
"I wish it would've been worked out before I left, but it hasn't," Bowden said. He would not elaborate.
Bowden has four years left on a contract that pays him at least $1.1 million a year. Reports have the two sides discussing a raise and an additional three years that would bind him through 2010.
A contract buyout for Bowden seemed the likeliest scenario a month ago. The Tigers were dumped by Wake Forest 45-17 and stood 5-4 with Florida State, Duke and South Carolina left to play.
But Bowden, his coaches and the players did their best work all season for a remarkable turnaround. The Tigers defeated the then-third-ranked Seminoles to give their coach his first win in five Bowden Bowls with his Florida State coach father, Bobby; they easily stopped a resurgent Duke, 40-7; and then they hung more points than any Clemson team in history on archrival South Carolina, 63-17.
Bowden rode the shoulders of players to midfield last Saturday night after the game. Clemson fans who remained at Williams-Brice Stadium chanted, "Tommy Bowden, Tommy Bowden."
The surge was a big reason the Peach Bowl selected the Tigers at 8-4 over North Carolina State at 7-5.
"I've never seen a team react to a coaching staff the way this team reacted to Tommy and his coaching staff toward the end of the year," bowl president Gary Stokan said.
Bowden and Phillips, sitting on either side of Stokan, were both given 2004 Peach Bowl decals.
Stokan looked out at a room full of supporters, TV cameras and media and said, "They thought we were here to sign a contract."
Phillips said talks were progressing and he felt good about negotiations. Clemson officials and attorneys were in contact with Bowden's representatives in Florida and were not talking face to face. Phillips said that sometimes takes additional time.
"You never know when you get all your T's crossed and your i's dotted," Phillips said. "We're going to work as quickly as we possibly can."
Phillips was asked whether the sticking points were over money or support, which seemed lukewarm to Bowden at times the past year.
"He has our total support," said Phillips, hired in June 2002. Beyond that, "I don't want to get into discussions of contracts and what we're talking about," Phillips said. "The issue is we want coach Bowden here for the long term and we're working toward that."
Receiver Tony Elliott was happy to hear of discussions. He said the players want Bowden back for 2004 and well into the future. "I think the program is headed in the right direction," he said. "From what I've heard, I'm hoping it's going to get done. I'm praying it's going to get done."
Phillips said it was possible to have an agreement before Bowden returned to campus Sunday.
While that sounds positive, more than a few Clemson fans might have unsettled stomachs as they try and choke down turkey dinners this week.
Bowden praised the team's backers.
"I believe we have the best fans of anywhere we've ever been," said Bowden, whose worked at high-profile schools like Florida State, Auburn and Alabama. "These fans are just as good as any I've ever been around."
The big question remains out there: How long will they get to cheer for Clemson coach Bowden?