Commentary: Ford, Phillips No-brainers for Clemson Ring of Honor

by - Correspondent -
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Danny Ford and Tommy Bowden at spring practice in 2002.
Danny Ford and Tommy Bowden at spring practice in 2002.

Special to TigerNet from the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger

Last week, the news came down from the Clemson University Athletics Department that nominations for the Ring of Honor in Death Valley were being accepted.

The ring, surrounding the facade just below the upper deck, recognizes Tiger greats from the past: quarterback Steve Fuller, wide receiver Jerry Butler, safety Terry Kinard, linebacker Jeff Davis, running back Fred Cone, Banks McFadden ­the best all-around athlete in Tiger history­ and Frank Howard, the Legend who served as assistant coach from the 1930s and as head coach from 1940-69.

All of the ring recipients named so far have been worthy of such recognition. Each has contributed to the gridiron success enjoyed by the Tigers through the years and deserve a special place that fans and foes alike can recognize when seated inside the stadium.

But when it comes to those who deserve inclusion among these all-time Clemson greats, the latest Ring of Honor nominees should come as no-brainers. Without any offense toward the numerous candidates whose names will be submitted, there are only two who stand out first and foremost ‹ Former head football coach Danny Ford and the late broadcaster Jim Phillips.

Ford first came to Clemson after the 1976 season when Charley Pell was named to replace the fired Red Parker. When Pell abruptly left Clemson prior to the Tigers Gator Bowl contest against Ohio State in 1978, the school turned to the University of Alabama alum to fill the shoes of another Alabama alum, coaching at the school once led by a legendary Bama alum ‹ Howard, not Bear Bryant.

During a career marked by controversy, it was only appropriate that Ford's first game as head coach came against Ohio State and its coach, the late Woody Hayes. The Tigers saw an eight-point lead slip to two in the fourth quarter and the Buckeyes were again on the move when linebacker Charlie Bauman intercepted quarterback Art Schlitcher's pass and rambled down the sidelines.

After being forced out of bounds on the Buckeyes side of the field, Hayes greeted Bauman with a punch to the throat, a sight only witnessed once on ABC Television. Unfortunately for Hayes, it was witnessed by enough individuals, especially the higher-ups at the Columbus, Ohio university, resulting in his dismissal the following morning ‹ ending his illustrious coaching career on a sour note.

Although enduring a 6-5 season in 1980, highlighted by an upset victory over South Carolina and Heisman Trophy winning running back George Rogers at Death Valley, the Tigers pulled off one of college football's all-time stunners the following season. In 1981, Clemson went from unranked to National Champions with a 12-0 record ‹ including top 10 wins over defending National Champion Georgia, North Carolina and Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

Despite three probation-filled seasons from 1982 to 1984, Clemson football under Ford made bowl appearances the following five seasons. During that time, the Tigers defeated such powers as Penn State, Oklahoma and West Virginia, as well as Georgia twice in the regular season and Florida State in Tallahassee.

Ford also lead the Tigers to ACC football championships and four 10-win seasons. With the program on the verge of achieving elite status, Ford was dismissed in 1990. Although there have been some successful seasons since, the program has never reached the level they did on a consistent basis during the 1980s.

While the status enjoyed by Ford since his departure from Clemson has reached "legendary" status, that feeling has not been shared by members of the Board of Trustees and other high-ranking university officials. His induction into the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame several years ago was way overdue and so is his enshrinement into the Ring of Honor.

The name "Danny Ford," accompanied by an orange block C Clemson cap, deserves a place in the Ring of Honor. But the bitterness many Clemson officials still hold against him will most likely keep the man who achieved a 96-29-4 mark in 11 seasons, and the school's only national championship in football, from earning a well deserved place of recognition among the players he coached and the man he long admired.

In my opinion, we need to show appreciation to those who have made an impact while they are living. It is my fear that Clemson won't fully appreciate what Ford meant to the school until he is gone and that would be a cloud darker than anything Clemson fans witnessed during the three probation seasons in the 1980s.

Phillips deserves inclusion due to his 36-year run as "The Voice of the Tigers," serving as play-by-play commentator for football and basketball and, in his later years, women's basketball and baseball.

A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Phillips answered a publication ad and was interviewed for the Clemson job by Coach Howard (who also served as athletics director). Phillips got the job by submitting a high school football tape and he would remain on the job before his sudden passing in Sept., 2003 at age 69.

During the nearly four decades Phillips served as "The Voice of the Tigers," it was his voice that described many of the greatest moments in Clemson sports history.

For example, there was "The Catch" when wide receiver Jerry Butler hauled in quarterback Steve Fuller's touchdown pass against USC in 1977; the Tigers come-from behind victory at Maryland the following season which clinched the first ACC championship in more than 10 years; the win over USC in 1980; the toppling of undefeated Georgia in 1981, and wins over the Dawgs in 1986 and

87 on last second field goals just to name a few.

On the hardwood, Phillips described the action during the Tigers first ever postseason appearance in the NIT in 1975; their first NCAA appearance, culminating in an Elite Eight appearance, the highest round ever advanced to in school history ‹ against eventual runner-up UCLA in 1980; the first ever win against North Carolina in North Carolina (Charlotte, rather than Chapel Hill) and a Sweet 16 appearance in 1996; and the NIT Finals versus California, which the Tigers lost in 1999.

What made Phillips so special was his refusal to candy coat every situation.

T I G E R   P O L L

Who should be added to the Ring of Honor?

Danny Ford Only

Jim Phillips Only

Both Ford and Phillips


Current /
Submit your own Poll

Just as he would praise excellent performances, by individual Tiger players as well as the team, he was also unafraid to voice criticism if warranted.

But no one ever had a doubt that Phillips was an excellent ambassador to Clemson University, admired and respected by Tiger fans and foes alike.

Phillips was also unique because he was one of the few broadcasters remaining who took on football, men's and women's basketball and baseball.

He also served as the play-by-play voice of the former Greenville Braves when the team was organized in 1984, spending seven years in that capacity.

Hopefully, both Ford and Phillips, ­ whose name should be accompanied by a microphone ­ will receive their much deserved place in the Ring of Honor.

Whether it was Ford, leading the Tigers to some of their most outstanding victories in school history or Phillips, who was behind the mike describing those victories to legions of fans, both gave their all for the school.

It is now high time the school showed its appreciation by providing the two a place of honor in the Ring of Honor. Any exclusion of either, or both, makes the Ring of Honor less honorable in the hearts and minds of many Tiger fans ‹ myself included.

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