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Greatest Football Coaches in Clemson History: #5 Jess Neely

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Coach Jess Neely was one of the early coaches who left a very large and very positive mark on Clemson University.

NCAA Football: Florida Atlantic at Rice Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

(1931-1939): Neely was an Vanderbilt graduate, but like so many other Tiger coaches, came to Clemson by way of Alabama. He was an assistant coach with the Crimson Tide before getting hired to become the head coach at Clemson. When he came, he brought then assistant Frank Howard with him.

Neely’s time at Clemson didn’t start so well. He replaced Josh Cody, who left to go to his alma mater (also Vanderbilt). The Tigers finished 8-2 in their final season under Coach Cody, but went just 1-6-2 in Neely’s first year. In fact, in Neely’s first three years at Clemson, the Tigers were a poor 7-17-5.

In 1934, Rupert Fike founded IPTAY with the support of many including Coach Neely and Assistant Coach Howard. That year, Jess Neely turned in his first winning season. The Tigers went 16-12 over the next three season’s before Neely’s two marquee seasons at Clemson. With Banks McFadden on the roster, Clemson went 7-1-1 in 1938. In 1939 his Tigers set a new program record by winning nine games, going 9-1. The 1939 season is particularly special because it ended with a trip to the Tigers’ first ever bowl game, the Cotton Bowl Classic. The Tigers won that bowl game over a Boston College team coached by eventual college football Hall-of-Famer Frank Leahy, a clash that is celebrated annually when Clemson and Boston College play and the O’Rourke-McFadden trophy is given to the game’s MVP.

In a move that was a sign of the times, he left Clemson for the head coaching position at Rice University following the Cotton Bowl. He’d win two more Cotton Bowls and an Orange Bowl at Rice. Jess Neely is in the college football Hall of Fame as a coach.