In 1999, Clemson hired the Tulane Green Wave head coach, Tommy Bowden. He was coming off an undefeated season with the Green Wave and would bring the head coach Clemson needed to Death Valley.
To say Bowden’s time in Clemson was a roller coaster would be an understatement. From 1999-2005, Bowden went 52-32, with a 3-3 bowl record. He also had two of his biggest coaching highlights during this time. The Tigers took down the number 3 ranked FSU Seminoles in Death Valley in 2003 and were also able to beat the rival Gamecocks four straight seasons from 02′-05′. After finishing the 2005 season with a 19-10 victory over the Colorado Buffaloes, and a top 25 ranking, Bowden was able to rope in his first top 25 recruiting class. The Clemson fan base began to see the future taking shape.
Bowden showed he was turning this Clemson team into an ACC contender. Top 25 recruiting classes continued to come in, but results weren’t translating on the field. For the next two seasons Clemson did not live upto expectations. With a 17-9 record over that span, and two bowl losses, Bowden was no longer cutting it.
Expectations were once again high for the Tigers heading into the 2008 season. A season opening 34-10 loss to Alabama and conference losses to Maryland and Wake Forest in the first six games were not going to be enough for Bowden to stick around. Clemson decided to cut ties with Tommy Bowden mid-season.
With tons of criticism overshadowing the move, Clemson appointed current wide receivers coach, Dabo Swinney, the interim head coach. After finishing the season strong, players seemed to be behind Coach Swinney. Clemson was searching for a new head coach and realized he was right under their nose. He was the key to Clemson’s continued success on the recruiting trail and the choice of Clemson athletic director, Terry Don Phillips, to lead the program to the promised land.
After finishing the 2008 season with a loss in the Gator Bowl to Nebraska, Dabo knew this was his chance to make a name for himself. He managed to pull together a 19th ranked recruiting class. Included in this class, was a player that would change the shape of the program for good.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd was the 4th rated QB prospect that year. Early in his recruitment it looked like he was to become a Mountaineer in West Virginia. Tajh wasn’t fully convinced and decided to take more visits. Falling in love with Tennessee and coach Phillip Fulmer, he was bound to be a Volunteer. Fulmer was fired, Kiffin was hired. Boyd’s recruitment was flipped upside down. He and his family went back to the drawing board. He had Ohio State and Oregon still calling, but also had a first year head coach in the mix. He was a relentless recruiter and, more importantly, had Tajh and his family feeling comfortable. This coach was Clemson first year head coach, Dabo Swinney.
Boyd had his chance in 2011 and everything was falling into place. QB, Kyle Parker, failed to live upto lofty expectations the previous year and decided to follow his baseball potential to the Colorado Rockies. Coach Swinney decided to hire offensive coordinator Chad Morris from Toledo. Morris knew that Boyd would be a phenomenal fit for his uptempo offense.
Clemson started off that 2011 season going 8-0 and were ranked number 5 in the country. They then collapsed and lost 3 of their last four to finish 9-3. The Tigers still earned a berth in the ACC championship and beat Virginia Tech 38-10. The trio of Dabo, Chad, and Tajh brought this Tigers team to the BCS Orange Bowl. In an embarrassingly awful showing for the defense, Clemson lost 70-33.
Clemson knew changes needed to be made. Swinney went out and hired Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables. After another great year for Clemson, it was capped off with a program turning victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-a bowl.
Six games into 2013 and this Clemson team looks poised to make a move in the right direction. The offense has weapons all over the field and the defense has only surrendered more than 14 points once this year. Tajh Boyd is looking to piece together a Heisman campaign and a win against another top five team will certainly solidify his name in the conversation.
Tajh Boyd has become a household name in the college football community and he is rewriting record books at Clemson and in the ACC. The road to a Clemson championship and Heisman trophy can very possibly lead through Death Valley, South Carolina. It is all on the shoulders of that once lost collegiate recruit. His number will certainly be retired in the Clemson ring of honor one day and this college football fanatic can only hope he can be immortalized in NCAA history striking the pose that we all know and love.