Originally created 03/17/04

Tigers faithful turn out for coach



AIKEN - For Clemson football coach Tommy Bowden, the barbecue dinner Tuesday night at the Aiken/Edgefield County Clemson Club's spring meeting probably tasted a little better.

The handshakes from Tigers supporters were probably a little firmer, and the smile from his boss, Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips, who also was in attendance, was probably a little wider.

The results of Clemson's 9-4 year - which included a 63-17 destruction of rival South Carolina and a 27-13 win against No. 6 Tennessee in the Peach Bowl - were clear. Tigers fans are one happy bunch.

When that's the case, the world is a little brighter.

"This year after the Peach Bowl, I wanted to help set up the tables," Bowden said before speaking to a roomful of Clemson fans at the Aiken Jaycees Exhibit Building. "I tried to get the plane to leave earlier. Last year, they had to drag me out."

The 55-15 disaster against Texas Tech in the 2002 Tangerine Bowl that ended the Tigers season had a little something to do with it. But after Bowden saved his job with a four-game winning streak to end last season, the Clemson faithful were happy to see him Tuesday.

"Last year we had one of the smallest crowds we'd ever had; we had about 375 people," said Rick Boyleston, the treasurer of the Aiken chapter of IPTAY. "This year, we have over 500. That's a big crowd. The mood here is really great, and when you talk to people, they can't wait to hear him speak."

Bowden could hardly wait to oblige his fans.

"I've spoken a little bit to meetings since the bowl game, and I've noticed we've had more interest and more enthusiasm," Bowden said. "There are some exciting players coming back, and the schedule is pretty exciting."

It's also pretty tough.

The Tigers will open the year by playing host to Wake Forest - which beat Clemson 45-17 last season - and Georgia Tech before traveling to games at Texas A&M and Florida State.

"If you win early, that's helpful," Bowden said. "If we don't have success early, I'm not going to strike the season down. But there's no doubt the momentum we have coming off a bowl win will help."

The major question for Bowden will be whether the Tigers can challenge Florida State, Miami and Maryland for the Atlantic Coast Conference title. Bowden isn't quite sure yet.

"We have to accomplish some things on the field, but we have to get things done off the field, like facilities," said Bowden, whose program will get a major boost when a stadium expansion project begins this year. "The West End Zone project will help that. Are we there yet? We're still not there in a couple ways."

Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216 or josh.katzowitz@augustachronicle.com.