Danny Ford never shied away from hard work. When The Post and Courier's Travis Sawchik reached him recently, the former Clemson football coach was underneath his lawnmower making a repair. Ford remains the youngest football coach to win a national title, leading the Tigers to their only national championship as a 34-year-old at the 1982 Orange Bowl. His 11-year run at Clemson, which included a 96-29-4 overall record, is considered a golden era of Clemson football.
Clemson is coming off its first Atlantic Division title with a young head coach. What is the most difficult part of maintaining success?
"The more you win, the more people want to try and beat you. That would be the main thing. You have to be able to handle the challenges presented to you when people think you are the best team in the league."
Dabo Swinney recently talked about some of his learning experiences during his first 21 games. What were some of your early learning experiences?
"It wasn't real hard those first years because we had a lot of players back. It's never hard until you lose, that's when it gets hard -- when you get to losing and trying to turn it back around. The hardest thing in the world, which I don't think either of us has had to do (at Clemson) -- we had to do it at Arkansas -- is convince people they can win when they are getting beat so bad, and build confidence in them. The only way to do that is to win and it just takes time. If you don't have the players you have to get the players."
What made you successful as a coach?
"I think the best thing we did was work. Hard work. We believed in being physical. That was something we were taught growing up. That was something we were taught playing ball. That you could out-work people, that you could out-hit people. I don't believe I ever lost that. … I've had coaches come and say we are working them too hard, we are doing this too much and we need to back off. That just wasn't what we were going to do. We knew we had a system that would work. … If I was coaching today, I wouldn't change."
Clemson sports information director Tim Bourret feels you didn't get credit for your in-game adjustments. What are some elements of coaching, whether it be game management or something else, you felt you didn't get credit for?
"I got plenty of credit, more so than I deserved. I never worried about that. My coaches did all the work and my players did all the playing. All I was really responsible for was getting them to the game on Saturday. The coaches have the game plan. All I wanted to do is make sure we followed their plan and that we had tough enough practice during the week that the ball game was easy."
What would it take for Clemson to win another national title?
"I don't know that Clemson will ever win another national championship. I don't know that we would have won another national championship. They are just so hard to win. We had good players, and good games and good luck, too. … That is a long way off for Clemson at this particular time. What they need to do is -- they did a pretty good job of it last year -- they need to learn how to win at home. They need to learn how to win on the road and win the conference championship. That would put them back to where they would be a top-10 football team every year. It's out of reach until they become a consistent winner and (contend) for a conference championship every year. … (Clemson) doesn't have a resource problem. They have as good of facilities as anyone in the country. They have great support. They have a lot of things people don't have. They just need to recruit very well, develop football players, and learn to win."
What's changed the most about the game?
"I guess just the time limits and limiting practices. I think they have three two-a-days this year and I think we would always have six or seven."
If you were commissioner of college football for a day, what would you change?
"You don't have time and I don't either … I just hope they don't water down the product, the product of teaching the players and spending the time with them you need to develop them and stuff like that. You can't work too hard."
What are your thoughts on the job Swinney has done thus far?
"They've done a nice job. The only thing about a football coach or basketball coach -- what's the last thing you've done? The last thing they've done is win a bowl game so they are on a positive note. They get beat by Presbyterian (Sept. 11), that would be a helluva bad note. That's what you have to guard against -- not having too many bad notes. Just don't lose. It's all about winning."