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Ranking the Coaches
I figured I got in so much trouble for ranking players that it was time to rank something else. How about Clemson football coaches? That ought to be controversial enough so here goes:
Clemson Football Head Coaches (Numbers 8-5):
8. Walter M. Riggs
The Auburn graduate coached the first Clemson football team. He only coached two seasons at Clemson 1896 and again in 1899. His teams went 6-3 over those two seasons. Another little known fact about Riggs as a coach is he and W.M. Williams (Clemson’s second coach) never coaches a game at home as the Tigers played only on the road and neutral sites.
Riggs has been called “The Father of Clemson Football.” Interestingly enough he was one of only two people on the Clemson campus to ever see a football game before the sport came to Clemson in 1886.
In 1899, the football association was almost broke financially. The organization could not afford to pay for a coach so two years after his first season Riggs agreed to coach the 1899 squad for free.
Riggs is better known for becoming the president of the university on March 7, 1911.
7. Charley Pell
Like Riggs, Pell only coached two seasons at Clemson 1977-78. If Riggs was the “Father of Clemson Football,” then Pell might be the “Father of Clemson’s Reemergence in Football.” Pell went 18-4-1 in his two years and led the Tigers to two Gator Bowl bids. The Tigers were 10-1-1 in the ACC during Pell’s tenure.
He taught the Tigers how to win again and led them to their first bowl season in 18 years. Pell was a very organized man who was also highly motivated. The Alabama native helped the Tigers to an impressive 9-1-1 mark on the road.
Pell had his teams believe they could win. They almost upset 10th-ranked Maryland in his first game. In his second game the Tigers went to Athens, GA and upset the 17th-ranked Bulldogs in Athens for the first time since 1914. Later that season Clemson fell 21-17 to eventual national champion Notre Dame. The following week Clemson entered Williams-Brice Stadium and Steve Fuller hit Jerry Butler for a 20-yard touchdown pass to defeat the Gamecocks 31-27.
Pell’s final campaign saw Clemson go 11-1 and win the ACC. The Tigers lone defeat came in Athens 12-0 to Georgia. Clemson won the last nine games under Pell including a 28-24 thriller in College Park versus 11th-ranked Maryland for the ACC title.
6. Jess Neely
Neely is in the College Football Hall of Fame after winning 207 games as a college head coach (the most of anyone who ever coached at Clemson). His Clemson record was 43-35-7 from 1931-39.
Neely led the Tigers to their first bowl game ever. In his final season, 1939, Neely’s squad went 9-1 and finished 12th in the country. That was also Clemson’s first team that finished the season ranked in the AP poll.
The Tigers’ only loss on the season was a 7-6 loss at Tulane, who ended the year ranked fifth. Clemson’s first bowl game became its first bowl win as the Tigers upset 11th-ranked Boston College 6-3 in the 1940 Cotton Bowl.
Legendary Frank Leahy coached the Eagles that season.
Neely had two other accomplishments that proved memorable. He recruited Banks McFadden from Great Falls, SC to Clemson. McFadden went on to become perhaps the finest athlete in school history.
Neely was the head coach during the depression but helped start IPTAY in 1934. The lifeblood of Clemson athletics started with 160 members thanks to hard work by Neely, Captain Jervey, Rupert Fike and several others.
The Vanderbilt graduate left Clemson to go to Rice and remained there for the next 26 seasons. Neely is 12th in college football history with 207 wins.
5. Josh Cody
This may be the biggest surprise in my rankings of Clemson head football coaches. However, let me make a big case for the coach they called “Big Man.”
Cody coached the Tigers from 1927-30. His teams went 29-11-1. His .730 winning percentage is fourth in school history. Cody’s Tigers were 13-0-1 at home.
Cody went 4-0 versus South Carolina and outscored the Gamecocks 93-21 during his tenure. The Tigers went 24-8 in his last three seasons.
The Clemson students loved “Big Man” so much that on May 6, 1929 the student body presented him with a brand new Buick in front of Tillman Hall. Alumni, students and faculty paid for the automobile.
Cody’s tenure was short but very successful in Tigertown.
Tomorrow we will look at the top four Clemson coaches in its history.
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