Clemson Legend officially inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday
When Danny Ford was the head coach at Clemson, he remembers how fans from Ohio State and Nebraska were not exactly sure where Clemson was located.
“The people in Ohio didn’t know if Clemson was in Georgia, Tennessee, or North or South Carolina. They had a hard time placing it,” he said on Tuesday.
But by the time they were done playing Ford’s Tigers, they knew exactly where Clemson was. Before Dabo Swinney brought Clemson’s football program to unprecedented heights the last seven years, it was Danny Ford’s Clemson teams of the 1980s that dominated the Southeast and the ACC.
Under Ford, the Tigers won five ACC Championships in his 11 years in Tigertown. They won six bowl games, beat rival South Carolina seven times, won 96 games overall and of course won the 1981 National Championship.
From 1981-’83, Clemson was 30-2-2, the best in the country.
Ford’s teams knocked off college football powers such as Ohio State, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Penn State and Oklahoma, while winning 87 games in the 1980s, fifth most in the country. He also beat Florida State, before the Seminoles joined the ACC, and Georgia, which was Clemson’s second biggest rival at the time.
“We weren’t very well-known,” Ford said. “And Coach [Frank] Howard had been there for many, many years. And we were an agriculture school. And we developed a great family atmosphere there. It was really all we had, just us and our people in northwest part of South Carolina.”
However, the Tigers could play football and Ford was one of the best coaches of his time, which is why he was officially inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday in New York. Other members of the 2017 Hall of Fame Class include, Bob Crable (Notre Dame), Marshall Faulk (San Diego State), Kirk Gibson (Michigan State), Matt Leinart (Southern California), Peyton Manning (Tennessee), Bob McKay (Texas), Dat Nguyen (Texas A&M), Adrian Peterson (Georgia Southern), Mike Ruth (Boston College), Brian Urlacher (New Mexico) and coaches Larry Kehres (Mount Union, Ohio) and Steve Spurrier (Duke, Florida, South Carolina).
Ford was third winning-est active coach on a percentage basis at the end of the 1989 season, his last at Clemson. From 1987-’89, the Tigers registered three straight 10-win seasons. In 1987 and 1988, they finished both seasons ranked inside the top 10 in the Final Associated Press Polls, while winning three straight ACC Championships from 1986-’88, the last time Clemson did that until this past Saturday night.
Ford finished his Clemson career with a 96-29-4 record and remains one of only three coaches in ACC history with a 75-percent win percentage or better in his coaching career. He finished his career with a 76-percent win percentage and five ACC Championships, second only to Howard’s six.
Obviously, Ford’s greatest team was his 1981 Tigers, who beat Nebraska in the 1982 Orange Bowl Classic to claim the program’s first national championship. Clemson finished the year 12-0 following its 22-15 win over the Cornhuskers.
Ford, who was just 33 years old at the time, is still the youngest coach to ever win a national championship. He was just in his third full-season at Clemson at the time.
“I didn’t learn that fast in two years, I assure you that,” he said jokingly. “I think what caused that to happen is that we had some good young men that were like a lot of these guys who were hungry and not highly recruited and overachieved and some really good players mixed in. And they got a little bit better every week.
“We started with Wofford because Villanova had dropped football, and we had to pick up an interstate school. And Wofford was ahead of us at (after the first quarter). We weren’t setting the woods on fire like we were going somewhere. And then we just got a little bit better each week, and our players overcame our coaches. I believe they did.”
These days Ford watches proudly as Clemson continues its rise up the college football rankings. Things are different now. College football is even bigger than it was back then and now it has the College Football Playoff.
Clemson, who just wrapped up its third straight ACC Championship, will play in the CFP for a third straight season and will have an opportunity to defend its 2016 National Championship when it plays Alabama in the 2018 Sugar Bowl as one of the two national semifinal games on New Year’s Day.
“Today (Clemson has) grown, and I like to think that our players from back in that era and the people who played for Coach Howard and Coach [Jess] Neely, and all the other coaches, Coach [Ken] Hatfield all the way through Coach [Tommy] Bowden. They all helped to get to where Clemson is today,” Ford said. “And today I think they can pretty much — and I think they’ve proven — that they can compete and play with anybody in the country. And that’s coming a long way from where we came from, and that’s what we’re most proud of.”