The 1990 football season was the start of a new era at Clemson.
Danny Ford, who led the Clemson football program to national prominence in the 1980s, resigned under pressure on January 17 and four days later was replaced by Arkansas head coach Ken Hatfield. It was just the third time in 50 years Clemson went outside the program and brought in an outsider to run the program.
Ford’s resignation was controversial to say the least. The four days that followed are still considered the most taxing in the history of the Clemson Athletic Department. The players threatened a boycott. There was a march to President Max Lennon house on Fort Hill by the students, fans and the football team, demanding that Ford be reinstated.
When Hatfield was officially announced as Clemson’s new head coach on January 21, there were more than 200 fans in attendance at the stadium protesting Hatfield’s hire. Former Clemson coach Frank Howard tried to calm the crowd down, telling them he was upset to that Coach Ford was gone, but there was nothing he or anyone else could do about it. He loved Coach Ford, but he loved Clemson more and he was going to pull forever the head coach was at Clemson University.
Howard called for Hatfield to come and speak to the crowd as well because he wanted him to meet the Clemson fans that loved Clemson every bit as much as he did. Hatfield handled the situation like a pro.
With his wife, Sandy, holding his hand, Hatfield walked into the middle of the crowd.
“I am glad you are here,” he said to the crowd that had gathered outside the President’s Box at Memorial Stadium. “That shows people at Clemson really care. It shows interest, enthusiasm and your concern for this purpose. I am not going to ask you or force you to accept me right away. I have to prove myself.”
Hatfield eventually did prove himself, but he got off to a bumpy start. In Week 2 of the season, he became the first head coach in Clemson history to lose to Virginia. The Tigers ran into an ambush that afternoon in Charlottesville, Va., as the 14th-ranked Cavaliers stunned No. 9 Clemson, 20-7.
The loss did not sit too well with the Ford supporters, but Hatfield kept pushing forward and so did his Tigers.
Clemson rallied the next week to beat Maryland at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Md., and then hammered App State and Duke the following two weeks to improve to 4-1 on the season.
The Tigers were riding a three-game winning streak and were 16th in the country when an old nemesis came to town on October 6, 1990. Clemson had not played Georgia in three years, when David Treadwell booted a 21-yard field goal with two seconds to play for a 21-20 victory at Death Valley in 1987.
Everyone was fired up for the renewal of what was arguably the best rivalry in college football in the 1980s. During an 11-season stretch from 1977-’87, Clemson and Georgia battled to a 5-5-1 draw. All but two of the games were decided by a touchdown or less.
And though Clemson was still Clemson, Georgia was struggling with second-year head coach Ray Goff and was not the same old Georgia, though they were 3-1 heading into the game that afternoon in Clemson. Regardless, it was Georgia and the Clemson players who were on the team from the state of Georgia wanted to beat the Bulldogs very badly.
So, they did.
Georgia did not penetrate the Clemson 25-yard line all afternoon. The Bulldogs lone score came on a drive that went for minus-six yards following a Clemson turnover, which led to a field goal. Georgia was just 1-for-13 on third down and had just 81 total yards.
On offense, Georgia native Stacy Long had six knockdown blocks to pave the way for a Clemson running game that racked 341 yards. Kicker Chris Gardocki, who grew up in Stone Mountain, Ga., kicked a record-tying four field goals and averaged 42 yards a punt.
The Clemson offense controlled the football for 35 minutes as the Tigers rolled to a 34-3 victory. The 31-point margin of victory was Clemson’s largest in the rivalry since 1905.
Georgia went on to finish 1990 season 4-7, one of the worst seasons for the program in decades.
—photo courtesy Clemson Athletic Communications
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