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Greatest Football Coaches in Clemson History: #3 Frank Howard

A rock of stability, it’s fitting Howard’s Rock, is named in Frank Howard’s honor.

W Carolina v Clemson

(1940-1969): Howard was starting guard on Alabama’s 1930 #1 Rose Bowl team. From there, he came straight to God’s country, where he became a line tutor under Coach Jess Neely. He’d hold that position until 1940 when Neely left for Rice and Howard became the Head Coach.

Coach Howard managed the athletic department and fundraised for scholarships all while leading the football team. In 1948, his ninth year as the Head Coach, the Tigers had a breakout season (they struggled in many of the prior years due to mass student enlistment in WWII). They finished 11-0 with a Southern Conference title and a win over Missouri in the Gator Bowl, their second ever bowl win and second ever undefeated season. In 1950 they defeated Miami in the Orange Bowl to finish 9-0-1. They cracked the top 10 for the first time ever, something they wouldn’t accomplish again until 1978 (under Charley Pell).

All this success helped lead to the Tigers’ becoming a charter member of the ACC in 1953. He’d coach the Tigers in the ACC for 17 seasons and win six ACC titles. Howard’s Tigers had another great run of success from 1956 to 1959. In those four seasons, the Tigers won the conference three times and played in an Orange Bowl (losing to Colorado), a Sugar Bowl (losing to LSU), and a BlueBonnet Bowl (winning over TCU). There were only eight bowls in 1959, so an invitation meant a great deal.

During his tenure, Howard coached a much higher proportion of his games on the road than modern day coaches due to Clemson’s small student body and alumni base, which stemmed from all-male, all-military institutional status, as well as its out-of-the-way location. To grow the program, Howard’s teams typically had to play the “big boys” at their place, or at the very least in a more accessible and accommodating neutral site. Clemson played at GT every year (eventually leading to the $2 bill tradition) and played “Big Thursday” in Columbia each year against the Gamecocks.

Coach Howard is the longest tenured (30 years) and winningest (165 wins) coach in Clemson history. He took Clemson from the Southern Conference to the ACC, created the tradition of rubbing the rock and running down the hill, and had Death Valley built (something Jess Neely advised against). While Walter Riggs is the first coach of the Clemson Tigers, Frank Howard brought the program into the post-WWII era and was a rock of stability for three decades. It’s fitting that Howard’s Rock is named in his honor as is the field the 2016 National Champions take each and every home game.