CLEMSON, S.C. - Terry Don Phillips was by no means an expert on the campus, but he had been to Clemson before.
As a Virginia Tech assistant in the mid-1970s, Phillips visited to scout an upcoming opponent on the Hokies' schedule.
Phillips remembers walking around that fall day, marveling at Clemson's athletics facilities.
The school was one of the first in the country to add an upper deck and luxury suites to its stadium. Additionally, at the time, the Jervey Athletic Center had ahead-of-its-time weight and locker rooms.
"Clemson really held some trump cards with its facilities," Phillips said. "It was clearly ahead of other schools."
By the time Phillips returned in 2002, as the school's 10th athletics director, that notion was long gone.
Some think complacency set in as a result of a decade of winning in the 1980s. While other universities were getting aggressive with their facility upgrading, Clemson was sitting on its hands.
"I'm not sure we really paid attention to it," said Bill D'Andrea, an assistant coach during the 1980s who now oversees IPTAY (I Pay Twenty a Year), the school's fund-raising group.
"We were selling season tickets, we were getting good crowds, we were continuing our success despite no reinvestment in some of our facilities here."
Clemson hadn't become the athletics graveyard of the Atlantic Coast Conference, but it wasn't far from it, either.
"It was obvious we'd gotten behind," Phillips said. "Even before I got here I looked around and said, 'This is not going to get it.' "
Dirt pile after dirt pile, brick by brick, it seems, Clemson is getting it.
The pending $56 million addition to the west end zone of Memorial Stadium - known as the WestZone Club - is the centerpiece of the effort.
"I think it will eradicate, for the most part, the perceptions we have about where we stand," Phillips said.
Construction of the first phase of the WestZone Club, which includes more than 2,000 club seats and new locker rooms, is scheduled to start just after the Nov. 20 South Carolina game.
The first phase, which accounts for $29 million of the project, is expected to be finished by the beginning of the 2005 season.
School officials are hopeful that the second phase - which includes a museum and football operations offices - will ensue soon after the first's completion.
The timetable is most dependent on how quickly the school can raise the bulk of the necessary $27 million.
Phillips thinks the structure will be done by the start of the 2006 season.
The WestZone project is about image as much as it is anything.
The current bank of bleachers just outside his office is an "eyesore," D'Andrea said.
"It's kind of a key domino," he said. "I think it's necessary. It's not a decision really. We're compelled to do it."
Compelled, really, by what other institutions in the conference were and are doing.
Recently completed football-only facilities at North Carolina State and Maryland are among the best in the country.
Even lowly football programs Wake Forest and Duke have pumped millions of dollars into their facilities for the sport in the past couple of years.
"To be competitive you've got to keep up with the Joneses," said Robert Ricketts, Clemson's associate athletic director for facilities.
"You can't afford to have a disparity of great magnitude between one school or another."
That disparity can make building a program - specifically recruiting - a chore.
"For the program to reach its full potential, there's some facilities issues we've got to address," football coach Tommy Bowden said. "They haven't been addressed. So are we in better shape? No, not really. Nothing's been done yet."
Bowden later said the mere whiff of change - even if it's symbolized by the appearance of heavy machinery - makes it easier to impress recruits.
"It'll be the first time since I've been here that I can recruit by using bulldozers moving dirt," Bowden said.
Before the bulldozers begin to bear down on Death Valley, the athletic department decided something had to be done in the interim.
It's dug into its pockets several times the past year to upgrade some of the existing facilities.
"You can't wait four or five years to do something, or everyone will have lapped you several times," Ricketts said.
More than $500,000 was spent to remodel the locker room with large murals, mahogany lockers and a lounge that features seven plasma TVs (two that come XBox-ready) and four computer workstations.
Among the upgrades were a new rubber floor, equipment and a couple of banks of plasma, flat-screen TVs. Work should be complete on the 15,000-square foot room in the next couple of weeks.
More than 50 yards of synthetic turf (about $10,000 per 10 yards) was also put down inside Clemson's indoor track facility, in case the weather outdoors gets too inclement.
Several large murals and an extensive trophy case were installed nearly a year ago for a little more than $125,000.
"We believe," Phillips said, "that by cleaning up, dressing up and restructuring some areas that it's going to begin to create the environment that we need to have and put our kids in, and certainly help us in the recruiting process."
Reach Travis Haney at (706) 823-3219 or email@example.com
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