Auburn and Clemson share more than just the Tigers nickname.
Both schools have a main administration building on campus that is virtually the same architecture. Clemson’s Tillman Hall was modeled after Auburn’s Langdon Hall. In fact, noted Atlanta Constitution columnist and humorist Lewis Grizzard used to refer to Clemson as “Auburn with a Lake.”
The similarities don’t stop there. The first three coaches in Clemson football history were Auburn graduates.
Walter Riggs, Clemson’s first head coach and later University President, was Clemson’s head coach in 1896 and 1899. He was an 1893 Auburn graduate. William Williams, Clemson’s head coach in 1897, was an 1896 Auburn graduate, while John Penton, Clemson’s head coach in 1898, had graduated from Auburn in the spring of 1898.
Legendary coach John Heisman was not an Auburn graduate, but he came to Clemson from Auburn. Heisman coached at Auburn from 1895-1899 and came to Clemson and coached the Tigers from 1900-’03.
Heisman was 12-4-2 at Auburn before coming to Clemson. He was 19-3-2 as head coach of the Tigers for those four years. He also coached for each school within the first two games of this series. He defeated Clemson for Auburn in 1899 by a 34-0 score, and then he defeated Auburn as Clemson’s head coach by a 16-0 score in 1902.
Even in this day and age, there are some similarities between the two schools. In 2010, then Auburn head coach Gene Chizik hired Gus Malzahn to be his new offensive coordinator. His power-spread offense, guided by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton, led those Tigers to a national championship.
In 2011, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney went out and got a relatively new coach to the college ranks in Chad Morris from Tulsa and brought him to Clemson to run his version of Malzahn’s offense, which he learned from Malzahn when the two were high school coaches back in Arkansas and Texas.
Even after Morris left to be the head coach at SMU in 2015, Clemson still runs his offense as Deshaun Watson became the first two-time Heisman Trophy Finalist in ACC history, while winning the Tigers a national championship last season.
“We’ve got some similarities,” Swinney said.
One of those similarities is at the core of how both offenses work. They both want to run the football, which might surprise some people given the number Watson put up the last few years when he was wearing an orange jersey.
“We both want to run the football at the core,” Swinney said. “That’s clear in their presentation and what they do, and it’s what we want to do. We want to run the ball.
“We’ve probably thrown the ball a little more over the years than they have, but at the end of the day, we both want to attack the perimeter, we want to attack downfield and we want to have a physical run game from a spread-type set.”
The two even think alike when it comes to defense. Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was Swinney’s DC from 2009-’11, and Malzahn brought him to the Plains in 2016, where he helped those Tigers finish the year ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense.
“Defensively, we’re both very aggressive,” Swinney said. “We apply pressure and believe in building the team from the inside-out with guys in the trenches. We recruit a lot of the same players. We’ve definitely got a lot of respect for them because they’re a great program.”
And the list goes on and on.
Other Auburn-Clemson similarities:
- Bill Oliver was a defensive coordinator at both schools. He served on Clemson’s staff under Danny Ford from 1986-89. He then served as Auburn’s defensive coordinator against Clemson in the 1998 Chick-fil-A Bowl.
- Cliff Ellis was the head basketball coach at Clemson from 1984-94. He announced his retirement in January of 1994 during his final season at Clemson, then was hired as head coach at Auburn for the 1994-95 season. He led both programs to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. He is now the head coach at Coastal Carolina.
- Both schools had a Bowden serve as head coach of their program. Terry Bowden served as head coach at Auburn from 1993-98 and Tommy Bowden coached Clemson from 1999-08. Tommy also served as an assistant coach at Auburn from 1991-96. Terry coached against Clemson for Auburn in the 1997 season Chick-fil-a Bowl and Tommy Bowden coached for Clemson against Auburn in the 2007 season Chick-fil-A Bowl.
- The last coach to lead Auburn to the National Championship was Gene Chizik in 2010. Chizik also coached at Clemson as a graduate assistant in 1988 and 1989. The Tigers finished both seasons with a 10-2 record, and the 1988 team won the ACC Championship.
- Auburn has two assistant coaches who coached at Clemson. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was Clemson defensive coordinator from 2009 to 2011. He was Clemson’s defensive coordinator against Auburn in 2010 and 2011. He was the defensive coordinator for the Tigers when Clemson won the ACC title in 2011, its first ACC title in 20 years. Herb Hand is an assistant with Auburn now and was a graduate assistant at Clemson in 1999 and 2000.
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