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Clemson Fires Tommy West

November 19, 1998

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) _ Clemson coach Tommy West believes in being prepared. He has no idea how to prepare for being fired.

``It really kind of caught me off guard,″ said West, fired Wednesday in his fifth season with the Tigers. ``I had said if the decision’s been made, I’d like to know. I was just caught off guard.″

West’s team is 2-8, the worst Clemson season since 1975. Athletics director Bobby Robinson said West did everything asked of him, except win more games.

West, who’ll stay through Clemson’s season-ending rivalry with South Carolina on Saturday, is pleased he led a first-class, top-of-the-line program, and understands the decision to let him go.

``I’m kind of a bottom-line guy, and we didn’t win enough this year,″ he said. ``I’m disappointed. I would have liked to have had a chance to coach this team. I think they’ve grown up and improved as the year’s gone along.″

West will get the $325,000 contract buyout negotiated this summer. The school said the money will come from athletics funds, not from general or booster monies.

Offensive tackle Holland Postell said he didn’t agree with the move. ``When you hire someone, you let them finish it. I don’t make these decisions. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. That’s just mine.″

West’s grasp started slipping soon after the Tigers’ worst-ever loss at Death Valley, 37-0 to Virginia Tech on Sept. 12.

``In hindsight, I don’t know that I was ready for this job when I got it,″ he said. ``Then five years later, you’re a lot better head coach than when you arrive.″

West told his players of his dismissal Wednesday afternoon before practice. ``They were in shock,″ he said. ``But I told them this game was more important than anything else and they had a good practice. They handled it in a very professional way.″

After West met with reporters, he walked over to his wife, Lindsay, and got hugs from her and his 10-year-old son, Turner. A group of 15 to 20 people applauded him as he walked off.

Mike Donkle, a Clemson graduate eating at Garrett’s Grille & Grog in Columbia, said he was curious about the timing. ``I don’t know if he will have his heart in Saturday’s game. If I was a player, I’d be really ticked off,″ he said.

South Carolina’s Brad Scott, whose coaching future is also in question with a 1-9 season, has gone shoulder-to-shoulder with West in recruiting players.

``You hate to see things like this happen in coaching,″ Scott said.

Among names mentioned as West’s successor are Tulane’s Tommy Bowden, Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer, its offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle and former Clemson coach Danny Ford, who brought the Tigers their only national championship in 1981.

Robinson said he had not contacted any athletics directors for permission to talk with potential candidates and would only say he would go after the ``best coach in America for Clemson.″

This summer, West was given a contract extension through 2001 and a $5,000 base salary increase. But the terms made it easier for the school to buy out the contract if things did not work out.

Robinson said the assistants’ contracts would be honored, but it would be up to the new coach whether they would stay.

Coming into this season, West was 28-20 at Clemson and took the team to three straight bowl games. But as the losses mounted, so did fans’ calls for West’s departure.

West, who is 34-35 overall, came to Clemson in November 1993 after a year at Tennessee-Chattanooga.

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