CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) -Clemson star tailback C.J. Spiller laughs at the question: How often did people tell you not to join the Tigers because coach Tommy Bowden would get fired?
``Oh yeah, I heard that a lot,'' said Spiller, a junior.
Well, only days away from Bowden's 10th season, the coach some Clemson fans love to grouse at, isn't going anywhere. He's walked the sidelines at Death Valley longer than anyone but modern program patriarch Frank Howard and national championship icon Danny Ford. He's got a deal that ties him to the school through 2014, the backing of his bosses and some of the slickest talent in college football.
The one thing Bowden doesn't own is a championship, and that, perhaps, is what has kept his coaching seat hot no matter how many blue-chippers he attracts.
``This is a tough profession to stay for 10 years,'' Bowden says.
He would certainly know. He watched his father, Florida State coach Bobby, hung in effigy by impatient West Virginia fans in the 1970s. He saw his brother Terry get chewed up by some Auburn supporters two decades later. He's seen another brother, Jeff, leave as the Seminoles offensive coordinator when wins didn't come as quickly as people wanted.
``Underline and put in the parentheses, a lot,'' when it comes to quick-trigger coaching casualties these days, Tommy Bowden says.
And this might be his most pressure-packed season of them all.
The Tigers are preseason favorites to win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Quarterback Cullen Harper, and runners James Davis and Spiller finished 1-2-3 for the league's preseason player of the year. They stand ninth in the national rankings, their highest starting spot since 1991, also the year of the school's last ACC crown.
The Tigers open Saturday night against No. 24 Alabama in the Georgia Dome. While Clemson might get the analysts' edge on several positions, almost every breakdown would give the coaching check mark to the Crimson Tide's Nick Saban.
``The objective in this profession is to win, win championships and win national championships and I've done neither,'' Tommy Bowden said. ``You'll face the question of, 'He's a nice guy who comes in second.' You'll always face that until you change the facts.''
Saban, who won a national crown at LSU, admires Bowden and doesn't put much stock in past successes or failures.
``This game is what it is right now, and they've done a really good job in recruiting,'' Saban said. ``I know they haven't won a title yet but they've knocked on the door a couple of times.''
ESPN analyst Lee Corso likes how Bowden's built his team, and the athletic department's support.
``The guys a competitor. He did an outstanding job at Tulane and now he's done a nice job at Clemson,'' Corso said. ``If (Bowden's) senior leadership plays up to their potential, he could win it all over in the ACC.''
Clemson fans have waited on that since Bowden came to Clemson in 1998 after leading Tulane to an undefeated season.
The Tigers were 8-0 and No. 5 in the country in 2000. However, they lost three of their final four games and started a stretch of mediocrity (20-18) that lasted until the middle of the 2003 season.
Bowden seemed as good as gone that year when Clemson fell 45-17 at Wake Forest, the former ACC doormat Tiger fans had reveled in pounding each season.
But Bowden's patience bore fruit. A week later, he topped No. 3 Florida State for his first Bowden Bowl victory over father Bobby, who said pointedly in postgame comments if Clemson didn't want his son as coach, there'd be plenty of schools who would.
Clemson finished with four straight wins and Tommy gained a long-term contract.
Bowden's position looked shaky two years ago after the Tigers started 7-1, reaching No. 10 in the country, and then lost four of their final five to miss out on the ACC title game.
There was another second-place finish last fall, again reviving talk if Bowden was the right coach to take the Tigers to the top.
Clemson leaders thought he was, awarding Bowden a new contract that locks him in through 2014. It would cost Clemson $4 million should it wish to part ways after this year.
Still, talking with reporters earlier this month, Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips was asked what the school would do if Bowden didn't win.
``Tommy Bowden is our football coach,'' Phillips answered, ``and we're going to go on down the highway.''
ESPN analyst Todd Blackledge says Clemson's leaders share Bowden's vision and that's kept them from knee-jerk changes.
``It's not something you see all the time these days in college football,'' he said. ``The pressure to win makes that difficult.''
Bowden's just as frustrated as Tiger fans are with Clemson's stumbles and close calls. He compared his goals to any profession that gives out a top award.
``You'd all like to have that award, and if you said you didn't, you'd probably be lying,'' Bowden says. ``Well, I wouldn't be any different. In this profession, you eventually want to be the champion, you're disappointed when you're not and you keep working hard until you get it.''

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