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Current Issues With Dr. Phillips

Current Issues With Dr. Phillips

Nov. 30, 2004

My first duty and overriding responsibility is for the oversight of our program that acts in concert with the values and expectations of Clemson University. And, I take this responsibility very seriously.

In order to do that, this program has to foster an environment where core values are expected. Good sportsmanship must be part and parcel of our core values.

Earlier this year, President Jim Barker issued a letter to the Clemson family encouraging all of us to display “the best of Clemson hospitality”. That includes good sportsmanship and conducting ourselves with class and dignity. There’s no way to exercise good sportsmanship with class and dignity by fighting. That’s why we say there’s no place in athletics for fighting.

Fortunately, we have good, quality people as coaches. We also have good young people in this department. Even the ones who made a decision to involve themselves in the fight are good people. They made some very bad decisions. In the heat of the moment, they exercised poor judgment — and in some isolated situations, extremely poor judgment.

For the most part, most of our kids were not trying to be a part of the fight; they were trying to get their teammates out of harm’s way. Some were even trying to be peacemakers.

Yet, anytime there are Clemson players involved in a fight, we have to react. We have to react in a very significant way because that is the image that people will have of Clemson University in athletics. Something of the nature we experienced simply can not be acceptable.

Had this been a minor skirmish, we would have been looking at other alternatives, because then you would not have people questioning the values and credibility of this university and athletic department. This circumstance became more than a football issue. It impacted the perception of the character, dignity and integrity of our university. And in today’s society, perception often becomes reality.

With the understanding that we want to create an environment with our young people of promoting good sportsmanship as well as acting with character and dignity, we have to react with what our core values are. The same core values that Coach Bowden is about — character and integrity.

On balance, that becomes an overriding factor. It requires that we go beyond the minimum standard in our reaction to this episode. Because of the heightened scrutiny on Clemson University, the issue was taken to another level, and the minimum standard was not enough.

We understand that this will not be the last fight there will ever be. We also understand that we will not take such drastic measures on every occasion. However, we will do what is required to fit the circumstance that occurs.

On Saturday night after the game, I was not thinking that we would consider withdrawing from bowl consideration. On Sunday morning, I had a conversation with my stepson, Madison, as he is seeing the images being replayed on the news. He takes the position, “Yes, they should go out there and fight.”

I think to myself, “My own twelve-year-old stepson is saying that. What happened at the game is a disservice to him because he is thinking now that is how we need to conduct ourselves.” I found myself frustrated with him when he would not listen to me saying, “I’m telling you what we did was wrong. What they did was wrong. It was all wrong.”

So, whether we like it or not, we live in fish bowl. People look at us to see how we act. We have a responsibility to people who take their charge from us. This athletic program has a responsibility, as does the university.

The bottom line of the decision I recommended and supported is that it is not a fair decision to the clear majority of our team. It is not a fair decision to our coaches.

I feel horrible about the decision. Nevertheless, I believe very strongly it was the right decision because of the circumstances surrounding this fight and what was happening to the credibility and integrity of this university, and the impact it had on others.

We need to say that what happened on the field at the end of the game is not right. Young people need to know it is not right. My stepson needs to know it is not right.

At the same time, I can not say enough good things about what our coaching staff did in an extremely difficult year. They held the team together. The seniors held the team together. The wheels easily could have fallen off.

They did something no other team in the Atlantic Coast Conference has ever accomplished — becoming bowl qualified after a 1-4 start. When a team’s high expectations are not realized early, teams generally will tail off at the end of the season. Ours did not. They kept battling and they regained their dignity and their pride. It’s a shame that this had to happen to our team, coaching staff, athletic department, the Clemson family, and most importantly, to our university.

Terry Don Phillips

Past ColumnsNovember 17, 2004November 10, 2004November 3, 2004October 26, 2004October 21, 2004October 11, 2004October 4, 2004