CLEMSON — Monday afternoon, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and LSU coach Les Miles met media members in Atlanta to discuss the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which will take place two weeks from tonight inside the Georgia Dome.
The most appropriate person to introduce them? It should have been Terry Don Phillips.
After all, without Phillips, who knows where the two coaches of Tiger teams would be?
Clemson’s former athletic director gave both coaches their biggest career breaks, and it’s fair to say his eye for talent has paid dividends.
This season, both teams have established themselves in the nation’s top echelon. Both Clemson and LSU are ranked in the top 14, and they bring a combined 20-4 record into Atlanta.
Both times, Phillips made somewhat surprising choices, but he has been proved correct.
As Oklahoma State’s athletic director in 2001, Phillips was trying to replace Bob Simmons, who had been fired following three consecutive losing seasons.
He knew Miles, who had served as Simmons’ offensive coordinator from 1995-97. He was currently employed in relative obscurity as the Dallas Cowboys’ tight ends coach, but that didn’t matter to Phillips.
Miles was his man, and following a 4-7 debut season, Oklahoma State went 24-14 over the next three seasons. His four-season tenure included a pair of upsets of top-5 Oklahoma teams.
When Nick Saban bolted LSU for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins following the 2004 season, LSU came calling and snatched up Miles.
He has been an unqualified success in Baton Rouge. With a win over Clemson, LSU would reach the 11-win level for the sixth time in his eight seasons. LSU has won three SEC West titles, two SEC titles and the 2007 BCS national title game, losing to Alabama in last January’s BCS title game.
In 12 seasons as a head coach, Miles is 113-41, a 73 percent win rate.
Seven years later, Phillips made an equally surprising choice. Following Tommy Bowden’s resignation under pressure, he made wide receivers coach Swinney – who had never been a coordinator – Clemson’s interim head coach.
Swinney took the reins and led the Tigers to a bowl game, capping the season with a win over South Carolina and earning the full-time job.
In four-plus seasons, he is 39-21 with a pair of 10-win seasons (the first time that’s happened since 1989-90), pieces of three ACC Atlantic Division titles and the program’s first ACC title since 1991.
He is riding a four-game losing streak to South Carolina, but Clemson is clearly in better shape than the day Phillips walked into a Monday morning staff meeting and declared Swinney would be his interim coach.
Phillips stepped down recently following 10 years as Clemson’s athletic director, succeeded by former Georgia Tech AD Dan Radakovich. He is spending his days serving as a special assistant to Clemson president James Barker and helping ease Radakovich’s transition.
On New Year’s Eve, he’ll likely sit back and watch with a sense of pride, knowing his actions have made a difference for a pair of programs.
If so, it is well-earned.