The coach who nearly brought the NCAA’s “death penalty” to Clemson will finally be enshrined in Death Valley, though that’s probably not how the inscription will read underneath Danny Ford’s bust when he’s inducted into the Ring of Honor.
It’s been 32 years since Ford coached Clemson to its only national football title and 24 since he resigned after a second rash of NCAA infractions in his 11-year reign, but that’s been long enough penance for Tigers fans who never lost that loving feeling for Ford.
Ford and legendary Tigers baseball coach Bill Wilhelm will become the ninth and 10th individuals enshrined in Clemson’s Ring of Honor prior to the Aug. 31 season opener against Georgia.
“I am very appreciative of this honor,” Ford said in a release. “I feel a coach is less deserving of something like this than a player. They are the ones who did all the blocking and tackling. The coaches just try to direct them and draw up the plays.”
In no way am I suggesting that Ford doesn’t deserve to be honored in such a way. As far as I’m concerned, Pete Rose should be a baseball Hall of Famer. This was Clemson’s decision to make and judging from Tigers fans’ on-going infatuation with Ford, it will be a popular choice.
Ford remains no less beloved today than when he was leading the Tigers to five Atlantic Coast Conference titles, six bowl victories and that 1981 national championship during his dominant reign from 1978-89. During a 20-year drought of non-championship seasons, Tiger fans would often pine for the glory days of Danny Ford.
“I will say this, I have a lot of good friends around here,” Ford told Greenville News writer Bart Wright recently, “and everywhere I go, people are nice to me, they seem to like me and that makes me feel good, I’m very happy about that.”
No doubt, Ford was always a popular character. My most vivid memory of him came in the summer before his final season in 1989. The ACC media contingent in those days was still small enough to fit on a single bus and travel from school to school for a preseason football tour. The final stop was Clemson.
Ford would preside over a beer-and-barbecue bash at the media motor lodge. We’d gather around the swimming pool and go through the schedule game-by-game to determine our preseason conference standings. Whatever media consensus there was on N.C. State vs. North Carolina, Ford would either nod or shake his head. We’d then change our picks to whatever he thought (and he was usually right).
That influence came to an abrupt end immediately after that season when the NCAA cited Ford and his coaching staff for 14 violations in Jan. 1990, some of which took place while the Tigers were already serving probation delivered shortly after that 1981 national championship season. Ford and his predecessor Charley Pell had brought that punishment on, but clearly no lessons were learned.
Ford’s arrogance – his team’s motto worn proudly on T-shirts in the early 80s was “On probation and still kickin’ ---” – cost him his job to help keep the Tigers program from suffering the same “death penalty” fate that had been handed down at Southern Methodist three years before. Clemson only got another round of probation instead.
But it’s that perfect 12-0 season in 1981 that continues to resonate at Clemson. Ford was recognized along with every player, assistant, trainer and manager from that season with a Ring of Honor induction in 2006. Championship team players Jeff Davis and Terry Kinard are also enshrined individually.
Now Ford’s name will hang in Memorial Stadium along with Frank Howard over the heads of every Tigers football coach trying to live up to those legends and deliver another national title.
IN OTHER TIGER NEWS: Whenever Tiger Woods downplays an injury, you know it’s serious.
Woods was short and dismissive when asked about a clearly visible elbow injury during last week’s U.S. Open at Merion. He said he was “fine” after shaking his left arm several times during his first 11 holes.
Now Woods is shutting it down until the British Open after being diagnosed with an elbow strain.
“I have been advised to take a few weeks off, rest and undergo treatment,” he said. “I’ll be ready to go for the British Open, and I’m looking forward to playing at Muirfield.”
Not for nothing, this marks the sixth consecutive season that some kind of injury has kept him from either playing a tournament or finishing one.
So factor that into any catching Jack Nicklaus equations. Twice in the previous five years he’s had to skip the British Open because of injuries.
The last time Woods went to Muirfield in 2002, he had won both the Masters and U.S. Open and was chasing a single-season Grand Slam before horrendous weather sent him to a third-round 81. This time he’ll return holding a major victory drought that covers five full years.