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Clemson Head Football Coaches Rankings (1-4)
4. Tommy Bowden
Tommy Bowden Bowden’s resume and records are incomplete as he obviously is still in the process of building his legacy. Through his first seven seasons, Bowden has 52 wins which is third in school history.
Bowden has had three teams finish the season ranked which is tied for third in school history. Bowden’s teams have defeated 10 ranked teams which trails Frank Howard’s 11 and Danny Ford’s 20. Bowden has won three bowl games which ties Howard for second and trails only ford who had six. His teams have been bowl eligible in all seven years at Clemson.
Some of Clemson’s biggest wins have come in Bowden’s first seven seasons. He has wins over top ten Georgia Tech 47-44 in overtime in Atlanta in 2001, third-ranked FSU 26-10 in Clemson in 2003, sixth-ranked Tennessee 27-14 in the Peach Bowl on January 2, 2004 and tenth-ranked Miami 24-17 in overtime in the Orange Bowl in 2004.
His teams have set over 150 records on both sides on the ball. Attendance has improved under Bowden, and Death Valley has once again become one of the nation’s toughest venues.
Bowden also has success off of the field with his players graduating at a record pace and team GPAs setting records. With all of the major problems that happen all over the sports world, Bowden’s tenure has been marked by a fairly clean off of the field record.
The current Tiger head coach has a 6-1 record against his arch-rival South Carolina and their legendary coaches Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier.
3. John Heisman
Heisman’s .833 winning percentage is tops in Clemson history. He coached the Tigers from 1900-1903 and compiled a 19-3-2 record. Heisman never lost more than one game each year at Clemson but went undefeated in his first campaign. The 1900 team went 6-0 and allowed only two touchdowns all season. That was the only Clemson team to go unbeaten and untied until the
1948 Clemson squad.
Heisman opened the 1901 season by beating Guilford 122-0. The game was shortened because of the score.
The 1902 team won the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association title when it beat Tennessee 11-0.
In 1903 his team beat Georgia Tech 73-0 when they rushed 55 times for 615 yards and held the Yellow Jackets to 28 yards on 35 carries. That game was also shortened in the second half. Later that year Clemson played Cumberland in its “First Bowl Game.” Cumberland was considered the top team from the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Clemson was considered the best team from South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia. The two teams signed a contract to play after the season and battled to an 11-11 tie.
Heisman was innovative and one of the great coaches of the early game.
2. Frank Howard
You could fill up Al Gore’s entire internet with Frank Howard stories and
records. We will try to condense his 30-year tenure at Clemson in just a
few short paragraphs.
No one has won more football games (165) than any other coach in Clemson
history. In fact you could combine the number two coach (Ford-96) and
number three coach (Bowden-52 and still be 17 short of Howard’s mark. He
coached nineteen more years than any Clemson coach in school history.
Howard coached 166 more games than anyone in school history.
Howard is in the College Football Hall of Fame, the Clemson Athletic Hall of
Fame, the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame and any other Hall of Fame he
would have been eligible for.
His best team was perhaps the 1948 bunch that went 11-0 and finished the
season ranked 11th in the nation. In 1950 his team went 9-0-1 and won the
Orange Bowl. That team finished ranked 10th in the country.
When he retired he was the nation’s fifth winningest coach. He had 96
conference wins. His teams won six ACC titles and went to six bowl games.
A total of 63 of Howard’s players were drafted in the NFL. Six of his teams
finished ranked in the top 20.
1. Danny Ford
The 1981 National Title would have been enough to put Ford number one on
this list, but he did so much more.
Ford was 30 when he was named the head coach of the Tigers and his first
game was against legendary coach Woody Hayes in the Gator Bowl. Clemson’s
17-15 win over OSU sent Ford into a fantastic ride as the head man for the
In 1979, Ford beat Notre Dame in South Bend and Georgia before heading to
the Peach Bowl.
It was the orange pants and a huge upset over South Carolina that highlighted
the 1980 season.
The national championship team beat three top ten teams, and Ford was named
The next two Ford-coached teams went 9-1-1 and finished in the top 11. His
1986-89 run included four straight bowl wins and four teams that finished
ranked in the top 20.
When he ended his Clemson career Ford was ranked third among active coaches
in terms of winning percentage. He won five ACC championships and six bowl
games. He coached 71 All-ACC players, 26 All-Americans and 42 players that
were drafted into the NFL.
Ford had a knack for winning the big game as he defeated 18 teams that were
ranked in the top 20, more than any other coach in ACC history.
The Alabama native also changed the way recruiting worked in South Carolina.
His staff outworked other staffs, and Ford worked very well with the high
school coaches. He made them feel equal, and his relationships were a key to
In summary, some would not have put Cody ahead of Neely. Some may have put
Bowden, Heisman and Howard in a different order. Please e-mail me and let
me know your thought on my ranking of the eight best Clemson football
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