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Greatest Football Coaches in Clemson History: #4 John Heisman

One of the most famous coaches in football history spent some time at Clemson.

NCAA Football: Heisman Trophy Presentation Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

(1900-1903): Walter Riggs led an effort to raise enough money to bring John Heisman to Clemson in 1900 (from Auburn). The effort paid off as Coach Heisman made an immediate impact. His first team, the 1900 Clemson Tigers went 6-0 (3-0) and won the SIAA Championship (a conference they shared with Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, UGA, GT, and Texas among others). They were the first Clemson team to ever go undefeated.

In 1902, the Tigers finished 6-1 and won the SIAA again. Their lone loss that season came in Columbia. A fight broke out during the game and the Palmetto Bowl rivalry was suspended until 1909. In 1903, they’d again win the SIAA with a 4-1-1 record. They beat Georgia Tech 72-0 that season, but the Yellow Jackets would hire him away at the conclusion of the year.

John Heisman coached at eight different schools, but stuck with Georgia Tech the longest (16 years). He won his National Championship there in 1917 and enjoyed a 33-game win streak. The Heisman Memorial Trophy is awarded annually in his honor.

He was an innovator of the game, inventing the “hike” call from the QB and pushing for the move from two halves to four quarters. The Heisman Trophy website credits him for shaping the game far beyond just that though:

“What he considered his greatest contribution, the forward pass, was legalized in 1906, after three years of writing and pestering Walter Camp and the rules committee. Much of the official rule book of the day adopted Heisman’s suggestions word for word.”

While his best year and longest tenure was at Georgia Tech, his four years at Clemson gave the Tigers their first undefeated season and lent the fledgling program legitimacy.