Clemson plays in their fourth out of the last five college football championship games Monday night. It is worth remembering the man who put the Tigers on the map and helped start the ACC in 1953.
It was not Dabo Swinney, although he certainly will be enshrined as Clemson’s greatest coach not too far in the future. It was not Danny Ford who won Clemson’s first national title in 1981, although he was a great coach as well.
It was legendary head football coach and athletic director Frank Howard. Howard was known as the “Little Giant” on the Alabama Crimson Tide’s “Herd of Red Elephants” on the 1931 Rose Bowl team coached by Wallace Wade that trampled Washington State 24-0 before Wade left for Duke.
Upon graduation, Howard went to Clemson as their line coach before being named head coach in 1940 where he served until he retired in 1971 with a record of 165–118–12.
He was also quite the character. They sure don’t make them like Frank Howard anymore.
In 1963, for the 25th reunion of the 1938 Duke Rose Bowl team, the Iron Duke alumni players were escorted out of the tunnel to the field in front of the Duke and Clemson teams. I was a 7-year–old kid amongst these gigantic football players holding on to my dad’s big paw for dear life when the sun was suddenly eclipsed by a gargantuan bald man who looked down at me and said: “So is this the son you named after me, Dan? Har-har-har!”
He sounded like he was from the Hall of the Mountain Kings. I burst into tears I was so terrified.
Frank Howard Hill. That’s right, I was partly named for Coach Howard of Clemson and partly for a cousin of my dad who was a butcher in Asheville. When asked why Dad named me partially for Coach Howard, he would laugh and say: “Well, maybe Frank (meaning Coach Howard) will leave my son some money since I doubt Uncle Frank will have any!”
I never did get a check from the Howard estate.
Coach Frank Howard was a close friend of my dad because both were linemen for Coach Wade, Howard at Alabama and Dad at Duke. Both were bald; both were huge in stature and personality, and both were storytellers who could entertain listeners way into the night over whiskey and other libations.
Coach Howard was well-known for his uproarious quotes. When asked about the experience of many returning lettermen he had coming back from a 1-9 team the previous year, he said: “Yup. And it is all bad.”
When asked about sportsmanship and fair play in football, he said: “I don’t want the best team to win. I want my team to win!”
Later, as athletic director, a group of students asked him for money to make crew a varsity sport. Coach Howard, who weighed close to 300 pounds later in life, much like my father, leaned back in his chair and let these words slide slowly out of his mouth: “Klemptzin…will never sponsa … a sport … where men sit on their fannies … and go backwards!
When the Southern Conference banned football teams from participating in postseason bowls in 1951, ostensibly for academic reasons, Clemson and Maryland defied the ban and played in bowl games, thus earning suspensions for the 1952 season. ADs from seven Southern Conference schools — Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, South Carolina and Wake Forest — met in Greensboro in 1953 to form the new Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), which allowed postseason bowl participation.
Frank Howard and the other ADs certainly wanted to maintain a high academic standard for member schools. But they also wanted to make sure they could go to a bowl game in warm weather to party around New Year’s Day after a great season.
You can thank Clemson’s Frank Howard for that as well as Clemson football. And for all the Jefferson “Sail With the Pilot”/ESPN games you have enjoyed ever since.