Over the years, Clemson has had many All-American players and great head coaches. Those people have shaped one of the best programs in the history of college football.
This year, college football will turn 150 years old. Clemson has been playing the game for 123 of those years and here are 14 people below that helped make the game mean so much at Clemson.
Jerry Butler joined Clemson Ring of Honor in 1999. The two-time All-ACC player was a First-Team AP All-American in 1978 when he and Fuller led Clemson to a No. 6 national ranking and 11-1 record. He had at least one reception in 36 consecutive games, a record he still holds with DeAndre Hopkins. In 1979, Butler was the No. 5 overall draft pick of the NFL by the Buffalo Bills, where he played at a Pro Bowl level for seven seasons.
Fred Cone, who was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 1997, was the first player in Clemson history to rush for at least 2,000 yards in a career. Cone, who Frank Howard called the greatest player he ever coached, played for the Tigers from 1948-50. He is fifth on the Clemson career list for rushing touchdowns with 30. Cone was a starter on two undefeated Clemson teams (1948,50), one of only two players in school history to accomplish that feat.
Jeff Davis, captain of the 1981 national title team, joined the Ring of Honor in 1995. He was a first-team All-American in 1981 when he led the team in tackles (175). Davis was also named MVP of the ACC and defensive MVP of the Orange Bowl win over Nebraska, the game that clinched the National Championship for the Tigers. He was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December 2007.
Danny Ford coached Clemson to the 1981 national title at the age of 33, still the youngest coach to win one. Ford won five ACC titles and six bowl games in his 11 years as the head coach of the Tigers. He had a 21-7- 1 record against coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame, including wins over Joe Paterno, Barry Switzer, Woody Hayes, Vince Dooley and Tom Osborne. He finished his Clemson career with a record of 96-29-4 and his 76.0 winning percentage is still third best in ACC history. Ford was inducted into the Clemson Ring of Honor at the season-opening Georgia game of 2013 and will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December 2017. Ford is a member of the Clemson Ring of Honor.
Steve Fuller was a charter member of the Ring of Honor in 1994. He is one of three football players in Clemson history to be chosen an All-American on the field and in the classroom in the same year. Fuller was a two-time, first-team academic All-American and a Third-Team AP All-American in 1978. He is still the only Tiger to be named ACC Player-of-the-Year twice and was an NCAA Top Five Award winner in 1979, the only Tiger athlete to win the award.
John Heisman was one of the most famous football coaches in the nation. He coached at Clemson from 1900-03. He turned Clemson from virtually an unknown college to a southern powerhouse at the turn of the century. Heisman guided Clemson to conference titles in 1900 and 1902, and he led the Tigers to their first “bowl game” in 1903, when Clemson and Cumberland met on November 26 for the “Championship of the South.” Overall, Heisman took Clemson to a 19-3-2 record in his four seasons. His 83.3 winning percentage is still the best in Clemson history. Heisman is responsible for Clemson’s first undefeated team. The 1900 team, his first, went 6-0.
Frank Howard, who is known as the Legend at Clemson, was a charter member of the Clemson Ring of Honor in 1994. As head coach from 1940-69, he led Clemson to eight league championships, six bowl games and six top-25 seasons. Howard, who totaled 165 victories, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989 and is still the fifth-winningest coach in ACC history. Howard’s 1948 team went 11-0 and his 1950 team went 9-0-1. When he retired in 1969, Howard was the fifth winningest coach in the nation with 165 victories, quite an accomplishment considering only 38 percent of his games were played at home. He had 96 wins as an ACC coach, now third in conference history, and he captured six ACC titles.
Terry Kinard, who played for the Tigers from 1979-82, was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2001, the same year he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. The safety from Sumter, S.C. was named national defensive player-of-the-year by CBS Sports during his senior season in 1982. Kinard was named to the All Decade of the 1980’s College Football team by USA Today and to the All-Century team of College Football by Sports Illustrated in 2000.
Banks McFadden was one of three charter members of the Clemson Ring of Honor in 1994. He was named the nation’s most versatile athlete in 1939 when he was an All-American in football and basketball in the same calendar year, the only Tiger to accomplish that feat. He led the Tigers to their first bowl bid, a 6-3 victory over Boston College in the 1940 Cotton Bowl, and to the Southern Conference basketball title. He was the No. 4 overall pick of the 1940 NFL draft, tied for the highest in school history.
Jess Neely led Clemson to its first bowl game in 1939, the 1940 Cotton Bowl. Clemson, unknown at the time, became a household name after defeating heavily favored Boston College 6-3 in the Cotton Bowl. It was the Tigers’ first victory over a top-20 ranked team in school history. Clemson had a 43-35-7 record during Neely’s tenure. Neely came to Clemson in 1931 and his recruitment of Banks McFadden took Clemson to another level. In 1938, Neely coached Clemson to a second-place finish in the Southern Conference with a 7-1-1 record. His 1939 team went 9-1 and finished No. 12 in the Final Associated Press Poll, the first time that happened in Clemson history.
Walter Riggs could easily be called the father of Clemson Football. He coached the football program at Clemson, not only because he had football experience, but he was also one of only two people on the Clemson campus to have ever seen a football game when the sport started in 1896. (The other person was Frank Thompkins who played in the backfield on Clemson’s first team in 1896). Under Riggs, Clemson won its debut game, a 14-6 victory over Furman on Oct. 31, 1896. Riggs later became president of Clemson on March 7, 1911 and in 1915, a new football stadium with other athletic facilities was named in his honor as Riggs Field. It is currently the home of the Tiger soccer team. In two years of coaching (1896 and 1899), Riggs guided the Tigers to a career record of 6-3.
C.J. Spiller is still considered the greatest overall player in Clemson history. His 7,588 all-purpose yards is the most in ACC history and is second best in the NCAA. He rushed for 3,547 yards in his Clemson career, while also receiving 1,420 more yards. He also had 569 punt return yards and 2,052 kick return yards. Spiller’s 8 touchdown returns on punts and kickoffs is still an NCAA record, while his 4 kickoff returns for touchdowns in one season (2009) is still a single season best in the ACC and the NCAA. His 7-career kickoff returns for touchdown is still an NCAA record for a career. Spiller was a unanimous First-Team All-American in 2009. He was also the ACC Player of the Year that season as well. He rushed for 1,212 yards and had 2,680 all-purpose yards and scored 21 touchdowns. He finished No. 6 in the Heisman Trophy race, tying Fuller for the best finish in school history at the time. Spiller scored a Clemson record 51 touchdowns in his career. His No. 28 was retired.
Dabo Swinney is without a doubt the greatest football coach Clemson has ever had. In his 10-plus years so far, he has posted a 116-30 record. His 116 wins are already second most in school history. He was won 2 national championships (2016 and 2018) and played for another. His teams have played in 13 bowl games, while posting a 9-4 record. His nine bowl wins are already the most in school history. His teams have also won 5 ACC Championships and played for another. In all, six of his teams have finished ranked in the top 10, including four in the top 5. Nine of his 10 teams have finished the season ranked inside the top 25. Four of his teams made the College Football Playoff and two others played in BCS Bowls. Swinney led Clemson to undefeated regular season in 2015 and 2018, while his 2018 squad became the first team in college football to go 15-0 since 1897.
Deshaun Watson became the greatest quarterback Clemson had ever seen. He was the ACC Player of the Year in 2015 and finished as a finalist to the Heisman Trophy in 2015 and ’16. He holds several game, season and career records at Clemson. He threw for a record 580 yards against Pittsburgh in 2016. His 588 total yards that afternoon is also a Clemson record. He is the first 2-time All-American quarterback in Clemson history as he took the Tigers to the national championship game in 2015 and 2016, including winning it all in 2016. He was 32-3 as a starting quarterback in his Clemson career, while throwing for 10,163 yards. He also threw 90 touchdowns and ran for another 26. His 4,593 yards in 2016 broke his own passing record of 4,104 yards in 2015. His 41 touchdown passes in 2016 is a Clemson and ACC record, as is his 50 total touchdowns that season. Watson completed 67.4 percent of his passes in his Clemson career, which is the current career record.
—Clemson Athletic Communications Contributed to this story