clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Internal Workings: How did we get to our present leaders?

We chatted briefly on the internal workings of the university pyramid in an article designed to outline the system and everyone's role within the system.  Now it is time to begin to peel the onion and assess good 'ol Clemson and the state of affairs we are in to date.  We will try to delve into the past and trace this evolving progression up to the present leaders and understand what we are doing and how everyone affects the results we see Saturdays in the fall (we stick to football because it is the most popular topic and the topic we know best).

Let me once again preface the STS background.  Both Dr. B and myself are Clemson alumni.  We both have benefited from our respective areas of study, as CU is strong in both.  We both are also CU fans and can remember the really good CU teams of yesteryear.  More importantly, we have seen triumphs and bloopers on an athletic platform and got sick of misinformation, hence the blog.

We both believe that academic and athletic success can run parallel if managed properly.  Hence, no athletic article is designed to bash academic success and vice versa.  The views here are my own so I would like to preface this material before getting into the nitty gritty and the topic before us. 

Still interested?  A click on the jump will provide insight into the history and progression of this program and the powers that be in Tigertown.

This whole story began over 40-50 years ago.  Times were simpler then.  Coaches were simply happy to have jobs and university leaders were happy to have students.  Sure there were the rigors of the academic/athletic world, but this world was much less regulated.  Coaches were allowed to coach and administrators to manage with much less oversight from the general public.

The big issue then was the ACC and how league regulations severely restricted entrance rules and the players that could be accepted due to such rules.  Such limits caused Coach Howard to quip that the Tigers had to play other ACC teams to essentially have a chance at success and eventually (allegedly) caused South Carolina to leave the conference (other theories involving the Gamecock's inability to win the ACC tourney with strong teams and consequently missing the NCAA tourney are also rumored to have caused the move). 

Athletic teams who proved to be self-sufficient were appreciated and encouraged because of the general notoriety they provided.  Back in those days student-athletes were just that...students who happened to have a football scholarship.  They went to school and participated in military drill during the week then played football on Saturdays.

Over the years, sports became bigger and bigger for the universities.  With the advent of television and mainstream popularity of football/basketball, sports became a big money venture.  As with life in generall,y more money equates more interest out of the higher ups.  This usually brings more regulation and oversight.

Up until the latter days of the Howard years, the coaches--in Clemson's (football) case there was only one for 30 years--were pretty much left alone to build their program (other than conference affiliation and the regulations that went with these ties).  If a coach wanted a player, he got in the car and recruited hard.  If the team needed better facilities or other amenities, the coaches barnstormed the fan base on huge fund-raising drives and they generally dictated the direction of such facilities and amenities.  If you want further proof just read some of Coach Howard's stories about sodding Memorial Stadium and rewarding his fellow workers with ice-cream afterwards or how Howard was in charge of promotions, ticket sales, coaching football/baseball/track, and allegedly even took tickets before games.

This all changed when Howard stepped down as coach and eventually as AD at Clemson.  We had several poor years until Charley Pell came in and immediately turned things around.  We all know about Pell's successor and the juggernaut of a program that ensued.  By then, the money and the power associated with big time athletics was way too much for the powers that be to ignore.

The administration (and BOT, in particular) took the transgressions of the late '70's and some mid-'80's turmoil as an excuse to clamp down on the football program.  These items as well as increasing regulation, oversight, and a few mishaps contributed to "Dollar" Bill McLellan leaving in '85 and The Man making his exit in January of '90. 

From '77 to the mid-'80's, Clemson was able to vastly improve its facilities and overall football program behind good coaching and support from the administration.  We all know that all Danny did was win and all McLellan did was enable Coach Ford to do his thing.  While there were some unfortunate things that happened there were also great triumphs for Clemson over this period.  Oh yeah, the school made bucket loads of cash off of this success also.

The administration eventually took advantage of the early '80's probation and the steriod scandal that blew up in '85 to change the whole landscape of the athletic department.  The whole AD was in for a rude awakening with the great late '80's power grab led by Max Lennon and supported by the BOT.  The power struggle between the school president and BOT versus the most popular man at the school--Danny Ford--came to a head in late 1989 then blew up in '90.  While I will say there are conflicting reports of Bobby Robinson's involvement in the firing resignation of Coach Ford, there is no doubt that the admin was showing off its power and putting the athletic program in its place.  There is no doubt that the football program still has not recovered from the beat down imposed on it and the rest of the AD.

The '70's and '80's saw a great building phase in terms of facilities and support.  We added two upper decks and tons of luxury suites and made Death Valley into one of the nicest facilities (especially in terms of on-campus stadiums) in the nation.  All of this changed with the consolidation of athletic and academic power at Clemson.

Instead of building an athletic dorm, we got Vickery Hall.  The lost decade (AKA the 1990's) produced McFadden building in 1995.  This building, designed to house football operations, was soon deemed inadequate and the football offices have since been relocated to the WestZone.  Otherwise, there were little upgrades to facilities in the '90's.  We should note that Lennon's tenure at Clemson came to an abrupt halt when the faculty could no longer accept the massive increase in the administrative staff and cost increase at the expense of the school and overall faculty.

Phil Prince followed Lennon and really was the transition man.  He oversaw several programs to completion and set the table for Deno Curtis and his administration.  Curtis tried to show the state legislature vast improvement and cost cutting in an effort to get more support from these folks.  In the end, his presidency was noted for inaction and relative stagnation.  Curtis was eventually replaced with the University's current President, Jim Barker.

Bobby Robinson was a relative fixture at Clemson, following McLellan as CU's AD.  Robinson was at Clemson for over 30 years including 17 years of service as athletic director.  Under Robinson, the athletic program continued to produce relatively impressive results in his early years. Danny was rolling along and Bill Wilhelm was dominant, and even Cliff Ellis had a good year or two.  After the fallout of the McLellan years and the showdown with Coach Ford though, the title of Athletic Director at Clemson University held a shell of the power it once had. 

As stated earlier, the extent of the blame that should be placed on Robinson during Ford's firing can be debated but we still feel that this incident should be a black eye for BR because of his relative inaction and support shown for his football coach at a time of crisis.  Inactive is a word that accurately portrays the Robinson era, as few upgrades were made during under his watch.  The inaction regarding the football program caused Clemson's premier facilities to deteriorate during the decade of the '90's, putting our program behind most of the dominant players of the era.

From a football perspective, the only thing worse than Robinson's inaction was his actions.  Clemson hired two complete football flops under BR's watch--Ken Hatfield and Tommy West.  Hatfield proceeded to shut down the football machine that appeared to be on the verge of a national championship heading into the '90 season. We admit that Hatfield's quick hiring may be more due to Mad Max than Robinson, but he didnt exactly resign his job when Ken was brought aboard.  West was more of a fan favorite but could not put it all together at a major college.  These years were particularly painful from a fan's perspective because of the fall from grace followed by irrelevance within our own conference and on the national scene.  These hirings coupled with the disaster known as the Shyatt era have to raise questions about this era and his decisions.

To Robinson's credit, he did make a few great moves.  These are obvious:  elevating Jack Leggett to head coach and hiring Rick Barnes.  Leggett was able to continue the success enjoyed under the legend Bill Wilhelm as the Tigers head coach, leading the boys to five CWS appearances in his 16 years as manager.  Barnes' accomplishments are incredible.  In four seasons at Clemson, the former Providence and current Texas head coach led the Tigers to three NCAA appearances and a spot in the 1997 Sweet 16.  Barnes inherited a traditionally up and down program from Cliff Ellis and really made the most of it.

Before we move into the final aspect of this story (that will play out in a future installment), what should you take from our discussion today?  First, college athletics have generated much more money and power for those who control the programs over the years.  Next, the Clemson administration and BOT were able to attain an incredible amount of power and authority over the athletic department and its operations during the mid- to late '80's.  This control significantly stifled the AD's role and ultimately contributed to declining on-campus facilities.  The facilities that were developed were those that were deemed acceptable by the admin, not necessarily by the coaches themselves.

Now we can look to the items that we all really care about at Clemson...what has gone on over the past 10 years, where are we now, and where are we going?  Until then, let us know if there are other pressing issues that you saw leading up to the present.  If you have any comments outside the realm of football, those ideas would be appreciated also.