Red Parker and Charley Pell

I'm sure most of the readers here are subscribers to TI and have read the interviews with former coaches Hootie Ingram and Red Parker, and currently Danny Ford. We found out that Hootie Ingram wasn't fired, but instead chose to leave Clemson because he didnt feel like he could do everything we needed to have done, and he asked Parker to take his place. Parker turned down Paul Dietzel's request to replace him at USC to take the CU job. A good bit of interesting stuff came out of Red Parker's interview that has only been talked about on TI. He revealed that Joe Montana was down to Clemson and Notre Dame at the 11th hour of his recruitment. A lot of it has to do with how Parker got fired and Charley Pell got the job.

Ard. How was (Athletic Director Bill) McLellan to work with?

Parker. "Wonderful ... until the end. He was cooperative and wanted you to succeed, that is until the presence of another individual (Charley Pell) changed everything from his standpoint later on."

"Dollar" Bill was the best AD Clemson has had in our lifetime.

On the 1975 disaster of a season:

Ard. We're in the spring of 1975 now, where you had six starters back on offense and seven back on defense. Where did you think your team was going into the summer?

Parker. "I thought we had a chance to be really, really good. But's what happened to us that year, and I've always admired my coaches for this. Our defense was completely destroyed by injuries. You've never seen anything like it. We had three adequate backups up front on defense, but we lost all three starting defensive linemen. We lost three of our top four defensive backs. We played South Carolina with a third-team defensive end at nose guard. We didn't have a whole lot of offensive injuries.

"The first game, Mike O'Cain, who had taken over the starting job, goes down with an ankle injury. He's out and we're headed to Alabama. We go down there with a freshman, Steve Fuller, and Steve was a great, great prospect. He and Jerry Butler, you put them and Joe and Jeff Bostic and Dwight Clark up there and you've got good prospects, but they were freshmen. They weren't quite ready. Fuller is down at Alabama with his ankle injury in the first quarter. He was our backup QB. We end up with another freshman starting about five games in a row while Mike and Steve are coming back. And neither one of them ever got back to full speed. Willie Jordan, as a freshman, he goes in at QB and sets a new all-time passing record against Georgia Tech in Atlanta. That's how good he was.

"I'm just saying ... I've never seen anything like that season. But I admired my coaches so much when we were destroyed by injuries on defense, because they never complained. What we had to put out there was not even a shell of what we had hoped to go with."


Ard. But now in the spring of 1976, what would go on to be your last in Clemson, there wasn't a specific message you were getting privately from McLellan? Were there any additional objectives for you or the program outlined by him at this stage?

Parker. "There wasn't a message like that at the start of 1976, no. But once I got into the season, about two months before my last day, I began to hear that he (McLellan) and one of my coaches (Pell) were playing handball everyday. And I didn't like the feeling of that."


Ard. Coach, we've been building to this point, so it is now time to talk about it. You make a key off-season staff change before the 1976 season. You bring in an assistant coach from Virginia Tech to run your defense - Charley Pell. Before you hired him, what had been your relationship with him?

Parker. "I hardly knew him. When I called coach Bear Bryant, who was always there for me, and asked him about some candidates, we discussed some names. I asked him to give me his take on a few guys. We got down to Rex Norris at Oklahoma. He said he thought Rex would be a good hire. I called Rex and he said he'd be interested. I tentatively offered him the job, but the next day he called and had talked to Barry Switzer. He said Switzer had told him he'd get the defensive coordinator job when their current one left, so he stayed.

"When that happened, I went to the second man coach Bryant had talked about and that was Pell. Coach Bryant told me, 'He's a pretty good coach, and he's a fair recruiter, but I do want you to know that he's slicker than [expletive].' Well, I had sense enough to know what he meant. So, I thought I'd call Jimmy Sharpe up at Virginia Tech. I asked Jimmy about permission to talk to Pell for my defensive coordinator spot. Well, let me just say that he didn't have any problems at all with me hiring Pell.

"So ... who's the fool there? Who's the fool for doing the hiring? You have that in front of you, so who's the fool? I'm the fool. But, here's where my own arrogance got in the way. I thought I had McLellan and the president backing me. I thought that I had the majority of the people behind me.

"They wanted me to make some staff changes and I needed to. I thought I could handle this. And it was just my arrogance."

Ard. When you get him on campus, you visit with him, you talk with him and get heavy into the interview process, what were some things about Pell that initially struck you?

Parker. "I think he had a good defensive mind. I thought he was somewhat arrogant in some of his beliefs in that if it wasn't the way he believed, it was wrong. And you don't coach that way. That was the biggest issue I had. He believed in the same things defensively, pursuit and tackling, zone concepts, the same things that I did. I wasn't worried about the hire at that particular time."

76 was another big disaster, but we had a good level of talent on that team, but little depth. Clemson finished 3-6-2 and people were going apeshit over it.


Ard. You got into this earlier, so now we can talk about it. At what point this season did you and McLellan talk about his evaluation of you and the program?

Parker. "He talked to me one time and said, 'Kind of think about the staff changes you're going to have.' I said, 'OK.' Then on Monday or Tuesday before the Maryland game, the president called me into his office. He didn't say anything whatsoever about any kind of changes. And I knew I wanted to make a few changes, but I wasn't going to fire them. I was going to let them get jobs first and then backfill. I wasn't going to throw anybody under the bus to save my own butt. And I feel that way now.

"I will never forget the words Dr. Edwards said to me that day. He said, 'I cannot begin to tell you how much I admire what it has taken for you to play all these freshmen and sophomores.' And he had tears running down his face. It was real. This man loved Clemson. He said, 'I don't know how you do it.' I told him I didn't have any choice. I told him I did what I felt we had to do.

"He then advised me that there were two guys on the Board of Trustees that were after me. And I knew who they were. And I knew who they were friends with (on my staff). He said, 'But I'll tell you this much, I've got your back. Don't you worry about it.' But I don't know that I was reassured."

Ard. These two members of the Board of Trustees - who I know you will not name - why do you think they were after you?

Parker. "I don't think it. I know it."

Ard. Why were there two members of the Board of Trustees who were against you?

Parker. "Well, they were close buddies with a certain person (Pell)."

First of all, do you think Barker would cry over Clemson football? Hell no. I'd kill for another RC Edwards.

Ard. When did you know that you were out? Tell me how that happened.

Parker. (Pausing) "Cris, this exposes the whole thing, but I will tell you. This is the whole deal, as God as my witness.

"Bill McLellan called me into his office about 9:30 a.m. on December 1. He said, 'Red, if you are not going to say what staff changes you're going to make, I believe they're going to fire you.' I said, 'Bill, I haven't made changes yet, but I'm going to make some changes soon. I'm just not going to fire them.' He said he was going to talk to someone and would let me know how the outcome was."

Ard. Who was he going to talk to at this point? Edwards?

Parker. "I assume the president. But I don't know.

"But here is the killer. About 11:30 that morning, he (McLellan) and one of my coaches (Pell) get in a car together and drive to Laurens, SC and they meet with the school's athletics committee. At that meeting - and I am not going to be vague anymore about this - they go ahead and appoint Charley Pell as the new head football coach. This was around 12:30-1:00 p.m.

"Now, nobody has come back to me yet and has said a word to me whatsoever. I had gone to the basketball game and had heard a buzz that I had been fired. It was all over the coliseum. I thought, 'Well dog, if I've been fired, I might better get on up out of here.'

"Before the end of the basketball game, I'm back home and Dan Foster, a friend of mine and a respected member of the media, is at my door and comes in and we start talking. He's asking me for a quote about it. I said, 'Dan, I don't really feel like I need to be quoted until I know I've been fired.' And he said, 'Fired? Hell, they've done got a new coach.' I said, 'WHAT?' He told me that McLellan had said he had talked to all these coaches throughout the night and had gotten recommendations on Charley Pell and they decided at 7 p.m. to hire him. Well ... that was a put-up, because I later found out that this had been done already by lunch time earlier that day.

"About that time, Admiral McDevitt from the university had come to my home. I assume they sent him to tell me that I had been fired. But he was afraid to speak up because there's a member of the news media sitting right there in my house. So he didn't really say anything."

Ard. So when did you get word from McLellan that you had been fired?

Parker. "I never did. To this day, I've never been told by him or anyone at Clemson I was fired. Dan Foster of the Greenville News is the one who told me. I learned about it from the news media."

And later

Ard. This seems so different from the McLellan you described to me earlier, the athletics director who hired you. Why?

Parker. "Well, it was obvious that he had been turned. It was obvious."


Looking back on the '76 season, there wasn't a part of you that felt things were slipping away, something that might have prompted you to move forward and begin discussing a fifth year with McLellan before November?

Parker. "No. I didn't. And I might have been at fault for not doing that. And there was no question that the whole thing came about because certain people knew I wouldn't fire some people on my staff. The whole thing had been planned (behind my back) because they knew I wasn't going to fire some people to save my tail."

Ard. This is a hypothetical, but is it safe to say that had you been given a fifth year, you would not have retained coach Pell?

Parker. "Well, I would have had to get the money to buy out his contract, because one thing he insisted on - which I found out later on - was a two-year contract. I found out way later. Jimmy Sharpe told me."

Ard. The next decade, the run that Danny Ford had, what did you think about that?

Parker. "I was proud for Danny because I liked Danny. I always liked him a lot. Danny and I talked a lot at various times, even when he was at Arkansas. And I still talk with Danny."


Ard. Ford took some criticism abroad for the program getting slapped with probation in the fall of 1982. Some of the NCAA's findings occurred during his watch, however many violations were committed under Pell's watch. As you observed the program from afar in 1982, I get the impression that you weren't overly surprised when you learned of the amount of unlawful action that had occurred from 1977-1978 under Pell.

Parker. "Overly isn't the word. The least bit (surprised) would be the words."

Ard. Did you ever talk with McLellan again?

Parker. "No."

Ard. How about Dr. Edwards? Did you talk with him again after you left Clemson?

Parker. "I'll say this; Dr. Edwards was so good to me. I haven't talked to him since that day I was last in his office. And I heard - and he didn't tell me this - that the same two guys (on the Board of Trustees) that were after me told him that if he didn't back off, they were going to go after him."

Ard. How do you think they were turned against you? How does an assistant football coach take members of the Board of Trustees and turn them against his own head coach? Help me understand how you think this was facilitated. Were there meetings? Dinners? Were they in some way bought? How did this materialize between the two and Pell?

Parker. "Well, you meet them on the top floor of the Clemson House on a Saturday night after a football game and you drink until nobody can get out the door. When you're through, you have things going the way you want them to go. My daughter lived there at the Clemson House and on four different occasions that year she asked me, 'Why is a certain coach up here on the top floor of the Clemson House with so-and-so?'"

That was some shocking stuff to me, to hear of a ruthless BOT member who actually gave a damn about football and was willing to take down the best President we'd had just to get the team back on top. We hadn't won in almost a decade at this point.

Now i will say that Parker seemed like a good man in the entire interview, and he genuinely believes he'd have turned it around -- but most coaches are optimists. The fact is that he didn't win the games, the people around at the time thought he sucked, and if he had not been pushed out (however shitty it was to do him the way they did), we'd never have had Ford on the staff or later had Danny as the head coach because Pell is the one who hired DF away from Virginia Tech the year he got the job. Parker should've been pushed out then, and would be now. Irrespective of the injury problems he had to deal with, you still have to win the games.

These opinions are not necessarily those of the Proprietors of Shakin' The Southland.

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