When Steve Fuller came to Clemson in 1975, he came because he saw an uptick in the program. He wanted to be a part of something special.
Fuller, who was a star player at Spartanburg (SC) High School, could have gone anywhere to play college football. He ultimately picked Clemson over Georgia and Tennessee.
Prior to his arrival, the Tigers had their best season in quite sometime when a Bennie Cunningham led team posted a 7-4 record. It was Clemson’s first winning season since 1967, the program’s last ACC Championship under legendary coach Frank Howard, who retired after the 1969 season.
However, things did not go according to plan during Fuller’s first two years at Clemson. The Tigers had their worst season in a long, long time in 1975, going just 2-9 overall, and it did not get much better in 1976 as they went 3-6-2.
However, Red Parker and his staff recruited at a high level and though they were let go following the ’76 season, the pieces were in place for Clemson to begin a run that set the stage for a level of success that continues today.
Since the start of the 1977 season, Clemson has been one of the winningest programs in all of college football, posting 37 winning seasons and just four losing seasons in the last 43 years. During that span, the Tigers have won three national championships, two-time national runners-up, 13 ACC Championships, 39 bowl appearances (including 4 CFP National Championships) and 22 bowl victories.
Starting with Fuller’s senior year in 1978, Clemson had produced 15 teams that have won at least 10 games in a season in the last 43 years. Fourteen other squads won at least eight games and eight of those teams won nine games.
Twenty-six times, Clemson has finished the year ranked in the final polls, including 14 top 10 rankings. Six of the 14 top 10 final rankings have come in the top 5.
The 1978 Tigers went 11-1 and finished sixth nationally in the final polls. They won the first of the 13 ACC Championship and paved the way for the 1981 National Championship season under Danny Ford. Clemson went 96-29-4 in Ford’s 11 seasons as Clemson’s head coach.
“The great thing about it, and this is what you fight for,” Fuller said. “I told Dabo [Swinney] this. You go from good teams and good players to great programs. He has been a big a part of it as anybody. We are as big of a program right now where the program is kind of taking care of itself and is feeding the rest of it.”
Under Swinney, Clemson is 130-31, including a 69-5 record since the start of the 2015 season. The Tigers have produced nine straight 10-win seasons under his direction, been to five straight College Football Playoffs, played for four national championships and won two of them. They have also won six ACC Championships since he became head coach in 2008.
“Hopefully, it becomes something that will last, and you can’t say forever, but certainly that last for many, many years,” Fuller said. “It has been good. It has been fun to be a part of.”
Fuller, who was an All-American at Clemson in 1978 and was a first-round draft pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1979, coaches high school football these days for Hilton Head (SC) High School. He says Clemson has never been as popular with young people as it is today.
“Coaching high school football, I get around some of the small towns and bounce around and see a bunch of young kids and Clemson has never been more important with the young people than it is right now,” he said. “I’m talking about kids going to college that don’t play a sport. They love Clemson and they want to figure out a way to get up there. I think that is a function of all of this.”
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