By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Keith Jennings played for legendary high school football coach John McKissick in high school – the nation’s all-time winning-est coach. He later played in the NFL for Hall of Fame Coach Mike Ditka and two-time Super Bowl Champion Jimmy Johnson.
And as good as all three of those men were as football coaches, none of them in Jennings’ opinion compare to his college coach – Danny Ford.
“He is probably the most awesome coach I have ever had,” the former Clemson wide receiver said Friday. “Think about this for a second. I played for John McKissick in high school, Danny Ford, Jimmy Johnson and Mike Ditka.
“Coach Ford is well respected. It is just long over do for him to be on (Memorial) Stadium.”
Ford will be on it soon enough. The Clemson University Ring of Honor Society announced Friday Ford, along with longtime great baseball coach Bill Wilhelm will be inducted into the Ring or Honor this coming football season.
“I played in the NFL for a number of years and everywhere I went, and I went all over the place, people always asked me, ‘How is Coach Ford?’ It’s awesome that he is finally going to have his name up there where it belongs.”
Jennings played for Ford from 1985-’88. During his four-year career, he was a part of three Atlantic Coast Conference Championships, three bowl wins and 34 wins overall.
“We were prepared for anything and anybody because of the way we practiced,” Jennings said. “I’m telling you, he had legendary practices.”
Jennings recalled that Ford always used Michael Dean Perry, who went onto be an All-Pro defensive tackle in the NFL, to disrupted plays early in practice were the offense could not get a snap off.
“Michael was that good so he would send him in early knowing it would motivate us to practice harder,” Jennings said. “That means if we practice hard and play hard, we can get up the field on anyone.”
Jennings remembers one certain practice where they were about halfway done and Ford blew the whistle and brought the team together and told them he was not satisfied with what he was seeing.
“He did not like how practices was going so he made us go eat dinner and then come back and do it all over again,” said the former receiver, who played in the NFL for eight years. “That’s how hardcore he was. He was hardcore.
“These days, if Dabo (Swinney) tried to pull that he will go to jail or get sued.”
Like a lot of guys who played for Ford, Jennings says his former college coach was more than just a coach.
“Coach Ford is a little bit of everything to everybody,” he said. “That’s one thing I got from him. Coach Ford was everything to everybody. He is everything to me. He is a friend. Lord knows he is a father and he is a coach.
“He just knows how to do it. He knows what buttons to push and he knows who to push. It is just awesome to see that he finally gets his name up there on that stadium.”
Ford took over as Clemson’s head coach weeks before the 1978 Gator Bowl against Ohio State and guided the Tigers to a 17-15 win over Woody Hayes’s Buckeyes. Ford also defeated Hall of Fame coaches Joe Paterno (Penn State), Barry Switzer (Oklahoma), Tom Osborne (Nebraska) and Don Nehlen (West Virginia) in bowl games.
The highlight of his career took place in 1981 when he led Clemson to a perfect 12-0 record and to the National Championship. It was the only perfect season in the nation that year. Three of the wins were over top 10 teams Georgia (No. 4), North Carolina (No. 8) and Nebraska (No. 4).
After that season he was named National Coach of the Year by United Press International, the Football Writers Association and the American Football Coaches Association.
The Tigers followed with records of 9-1-1 in 1982 and 1983, giving the Tigers a 30-2-2 record over a three-year period, the best record in college football. In each of his last four seasons (1986-‘89) the Tigers lost only two games and won 10 games in each of his last three years.
“I am very appreciative of this honor,” said Ford in a release sent out by the university. “I feel a coach is less deserving of something like this than a player. They are the ones who did all the blocking and tackling, the coaches just try to direct them and draw up the plays.
“My first thoughts on hearing this are to all the players, assistant coaches, the fans, the support staff people, the trainers and managers, the SID staff and Jim Phillips (voice of the Tigers Ford’s entire career), who helped make us successful on the field. If they look up in the stadium and see my name and it gives them pride for what we accomplished, I am for it.”
Ford helped Clemson accomplish three consecutive ACC titles from 1986-’88, while winning four straight bowl games to close out his Clemson career.
“He is a coach who really solidified what I think Clemson football is all about,” Jennings said. “He was hardnosed and tough, but he was fair. He is what football is all about.”
The Tigers had an 87-25-4 record in the decade of the 1980s under Ford, and the .767 winning percentage was fifth best in college football for that decade. Ford finished his Clemson career with a 96-29-4 mark.
“Clemson is a special place to me and always will be,” Ford said.
And now, with his name in the Ring of Honor, he will forever be linked to it.