By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
With the news Friday that legendary Clemson baseball coach Bill Wilhelm will be inducted into the Clemson Ring of Honor this fall, posthumously, it will mean the old guard at Clemson will have come full circle.
Wilhelm will join two other Clemson greats from his era in the Ring of Honor – Frank Howard and Bob Bradley.
“There is no doubt he belongs there,” said Clemson Associate Director of Major Gifts, Bob Mahony. “As far as the old generation goes, they are all there now. This is where they all belong. They helped shape the Clemson that we all know today.
“They laid the ground work that really moved these programs into the national spotlight. I think that is extremely important and that’s why any accolade Coach Wilhelm gets, in my eyes, is not soon enough and can’t be enough, if that makes sense.”
Howard, who was the charter member in the Ring of Honor in 1994, put Clemson on the map nationally as he led the Tigers to six conference championships and six bowl games during his 30 years as head coach from 1940-’69. He also used his witty personality and his southern charm to make Clemson one of the well-respected football programs in the country.
A guy responsible for a lot of that good press was Bradley, who served Clemson’s sports information office as director and emeritus for 45 years from 1955 until his death in 2000. Bradley, who also served as the official scorer for baseball for many years under Wilhelm, was considered one of the best sports information directors in the country as he wrote several books on Clemson, Frank Howard and Death Valley and was inducted into the College Sports Information Directors Hall of Fame, the Clemson Hall of Fame, the Gator Bowl Hall of Fame and the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame.
Now, comes Wilhelm, who for years fought such honors while he was alive, sighting he did not deserve to be honored until all of his players were because he never hit a ball, caught one or threw a pitch.
“He would usually come in and slam the door to my office had he heard if another player or myself was trying to get him into the hall of fame or something,” said Mahony, who played on Wilhelm’s 1976 College World Series team. “In no uncertain terms, he would tell me this can’t happen. ‘I already told you I didn’t want this to happen.’
“Even as the program improved and the facilities got better and better, he felt like he was a man of his word and when he once said he did not want these special recognitions to come his way, he never backed off. I felt like at some time he would drop his guard, but he never did.”
With his family’s blessing, Wilhelm now joins Howard and Bradley where he deservedly belongs. Wilhelm is to Clemson baseball what Howard was to football. He shaped the program from what was once much of nothing into one of the best programs of all-time before he retired in 1993.
When Wilhelm retired he was the fifth winning-est active coach in college baseball in terms of total wins. He coached Clemson for 36 years (1958-93) and finished his career with a record of 1161-536-10, a .683 winning percentage.
Twenty years after his retirement, he is still the winning-est coach in ACC baseball history. He also still holds the conference mark for ACC Championships with 11 and for regular season titles with 19, a record that may never be broken.
Wilhelm coached Clemson to the ACC regular season or tournament championship 10 consecutive years from 1973-82.
One of the most impressive facts about Wilhelm is that he had some of his most successful teams at the end of his tenure. Each of his last seven teams were chosen for the NCAA Tournament and five of them ranked in the top 15, including his 1991 team that won an ACC record 60 games. He averaged 50 wins a year over his last seven seasons.
“When I first became the head football coach he was someone I looked to for guidance,” said former Clemson head coach Danny Ford, who will be inducted into the Ring of Honor with Wilhelm. “Everyone had so much respect for him. He certainly helped me when I took this job at age 30.
“And I could see that respect for him wherever I went. What a great man who had such a positive influence on so many young men over 36 years.”
Wilhelm coached players flourished under his guidance as he had 97 players drafted, a figure that would have been higher had there been a draft in his first eight years as head coach (MLB draft began in 1965). Eighty-eight times his players were named first-team All-ACC and he coached 20 All-Americans.
Since his death in 2010, Wilhelm has been named to the Clemson Hall of Fame, the state of South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame and the National College Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Coach basically started Clemson baseball and made it what it is today,” Mahony said.
And that’s why all of Wilhelm’s players are happy to see his legacy live on with his induction into the Ring of Honor.
“He is one of the legends here, and unfortunately there are a lot of people that don’t know about him these days,” Mahony said. “You have to know the history of Clemson athletics to even know about some of these coaches now, which is sad.
“That’s why I think it so important that these kinds of honors happen. When you have students that work in the athletic administration and they don’t know who Coach Wilhelm was or don’t know who Danny Ford was then there needs to be a place for all these people to be remembered because we are not going to be around forever.
“People are going to be reading these plaques and saying, ‘Who is this guy?’ That’s the way life is. Life moves forward, but there has to be something left to remember how important these people were to the foundation of Clemson Athletics.”