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Clemson coach Danny Ford discusses winning the 1981 national title and more.

Danny Ford led the Tigers to their first national title in 1981 with their win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

Editor’s note: The following continues with our series of interviews we recently enjoyed with the Legends of the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame. The 62nd Annual Induction Ceremony and Banquet that will feature the Class of 2024 as well as the “Walk of Fame” with past honorees is set for May 20 at the Columbia Convention Center.

DANNY FORD

Danny Ford served as head coach at Clemson from 1978 to 1989. He was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame in 1982.

 

Ford is best remembered for leading the Tigers to a 12-0 record and the 1981 national championship at the age of 33. He posted a 96-29-4 record over 12 seasons with the Tigers, including five ACC titles. 

 

His teams won six of the eight bowl games in which they played, and from 1981-83, his combined record of 30-2-2 was best among all college coaches.  While at Clemson, the Gadsden, Ala., native coached 71 first-team All-ACC stars and 26 All-Americans.

 

Ford finished his coaching career with a 129-59-5 record that included a five-year stint as head coach at Arkansas.

 

SCAHOF: What does it mean to be a member of the SCAHOF?

FORD: Since I coached at Clemson and worked in the state of South Carolina and live here now it’s quite an honor to be recognized. We had some good players and they’re really the ones that deserve to be recognized. It was always easier to coach players that could play and one’s that couldn’t play (laugh). 

 

SCAHOF: You were an assistant coached at Alabama and Virginia Tech before joining head coach Charley Pell at Clemson in 1977. Why did you join coach Pell?

FORD: First of all, I never could figure out why I left Alabama to go to Virginia Tech other than I was the youngest guy on the staff down there and I thought coach (Bear) Bryant was getting to retire. When coach Pell was at Jacksonville State as the head coach, I would tell him who we (Alabama) were recruiting and who we weren’t recruiting. They were a smaller school so I was trying to save them some recruiting money so we had a good relationship. He eventually came to Clemson and I really and truly wanted to get back to more of the south. I really didn’t know much about Clemson at all. We played them three times at Alabama, twice at Clemson so I knew a little bit about them but no much. So, I came to Clemson with coach Pell.

 

SCAHOF: It’s 1978, coach Pell leaves for Florida at the end of the regular season and you’re named his successor on Dec. 5. You lead the Tigers to an historic win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl in what turns out to be coach Woody Hayes’ final game after he punched Charlie Bauman. What do you remember about that game and when did you realize coach Hayes threw a punch?

FORD: That team that played coach Hayes’ team was 10-1and had a lot of good players. Steve Fuller, Jerry Butler, Dwight Clark and the Bostic boys. We just had a lot of pro football players on that team that coach Parker had recruited.

I got the job and really, I was just the offensive line coach during that game. Thank God I didn’t have to make too many decisions. When that happened (coach Hayes punching Charlie Bauman on the OSU sideline) we never found out about it until after the game. 

My wife and I found a place open late at night and got a meatball sub and walked back to the hotel. When we got back and all the press people wanted to know what I thought about it and I didn’t even know it had happened. 

 

SCAHOF: In 1981, you lead Clemson to its first national title and a 12-0 record. When did you know that team was special?

FORD: Early we weren’t very good. We were supposed to open the season playing Villanova but they dropped football. We picked up Wofford and they played the heck out of us for a half. The next game we played Tulane and it was like 3-2 at one time, 5-3 at another, it was just awful. We barely won that one. Then, we beat Georgia on five turnovers (it was actually nine UGA turnovers) and we started turning it around.

We had a game at North Carolina late in the year that was special and we won that game. We got better every game.

 

SCAHOF: Talk about the challenges of taking on Nebraska and battling the heat in Miami.

FORD: We went to Florida a week early and used to that heat. We’d always go a week early to help with the heat.  The thing about Nebraska is you grow up as a young guy watching Oklahoma and Nebraska playing the championship every Thanksgiving. I knew a lot the history of Nebraska, what they did and how they were a great team.

 

SCAHOF: How often do you see your former players? 

FORD: Quite often. I saw Ken Jennings just the other day. He’s an NFL scout now and I saw him and Clyde Wrenn, one of my ex-coaches. I talk to several of them, go fishing with some of them. In October I’m going with a couple of them to go fishing over in Louisiana. If you don’t have any ex-players calling you, you did a bad job because relationships are what it’s all about. 

 

SCAHOF: Why didn’t you coach again after Arkansas?

FORD: Well, I never really pursued it nor did I really have any opportunities that were enticing to me. I was comfortable coming back to the farm and enjoying it. 

 

SCAHOF: How would you handle the college football environment of today?

FORD: Not sure I would have any control over it. I certainly don’t agree with a lot that is going on with the changes particularly the NIL and the Transfer Portal. As far as conference expansion, that appears to be up to the Presidents and Athletic Directors and driven by TV money. I guess I would just have to adjust to the new way of college football. I would like to see kids commit and stay where they signed but apparently that is not happening. 

 

SCAHOF: Are you still farming Hemp?

FORD: Yes, we have several acres of Hemp. My son Lee has pretty much taken that over but we process it into CBD oil and sell it, as well as, other industries that use it different ways. I enjoy being out on the farm cutting hay and seeing animals being born and just working the land.

This interview was conducted by Tony Ciuffo, a member of the SCAHOF’s board of directors. A native Charlestonian and a career media relations professional, Tony recently retired to Clemson. He can be reached at tc.scahof@gmail.com.