Former Clemson All-American kicker and punter Chris Gardocki played for a lot of different head coaches during his 16-year NFL career, such as Mike Ditka and Dave Wannstedt with the Chicago Bears from 1991-94, Jim Mora with the Indianapolis Colts in 1998, Butch Davis with the Cleveland Browns from 2001-03 and Bill Cowher with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2004-06.
But it was Gardocki’s first head coach at Clemson in 1988 and 1989, Danny Ford, that perhaps made the biggest impact on his life.
Gardocki, who was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame on Monday, reflected on how Ford helped shape him into the player he was and the person he is today.
“I loved it. One of my best experiences of any,” Gardocki said of playing for Ford. “I played for a bunch of head coaches in the NFL as well, and then two at Clemson with Ken Hatfield. But Danny was great. He was a father figure to me and probably a lot of players. … He’s a guy you can go to a bar, sit down and have a beer with. He’s like that off the field, and on the field, he was just a great mentor for me and I can’t appreciate him more than I do.”
Fast forward to the present, and Gardocki is paying close attention to the Dabo Swinney era of Clemson football.
Since taking over as Clemson’s head coach in 2008, Swinney has amassed a 116-30 (.795) record in 11 seasons (10 full seasons) while leading the Tigers to five ACC Championships, eight consecutive 10-or-more-win seasons from 2011-2018, and two of the last three National Championships.
As gaudy as Swinney’s resume is, Gardocki is even more impressed by the culture that Swinney has created at Clemson and the type of character he helps instill in his players.
“I think what’s more impressive than anything, you see what kind of kids Clemson recruits and Dabo recruits,” Gardocki said. “I knew from the start that he’s special. Obviously everybody knows it now, but back then, those guys stuck with him through the rough times because they saw what he was building and the kind of young men he brings in.
“And I think that’s what I’m more proud of. The wins are great, but seeing these kids come out of Clemson… Because they’re not all going to be lucky enough to play pro football, but what kind of young men they bring into Clemson really makes Clemson what it is – a bunch of great people and great young men, and he’s done a phenomenal job.”