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Greatest Football Coaches in Clemson History - Series Introduction

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NCAA Football: Boston College at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

We have a special series coming for you here on STS. I’ve teamed up with a history professor, our own James Welborn, to rank the top 10 Clemson head football coaches of all time. The Tigers have had 25 coaches since the program’s inception back in 1896. With that, the ranking was no easy task, but after much debate we have our top 10.

In this introductory post for the series, we start with our honorable mention:

Charley Pell (1977-1978): Charley Pell occupies a conspicuous-if-dubious place in in Clemson football lore. On the one hand, he guided the Tigers to two of their most memorable and successful seasons, effectively ushering in the “modern age” of Clemson football.

His 1977 squad went 8-3 earned the program’s first bowl bid in eighteen years, and put Clemson back on the map after nearly two decades of national obscurity under the aging Frank Howard and his ineffective successors Hootie Ingram (1970-1972) and Red Parker (1973-1976).

The following season built upon that momentum in a huge way, compiling an 11-1 record that concluded with a 17-15 triumph over Woody Hayes’s vaunted Ohio State Buckeyes in the Gator Bowl. However, that momentous victory also highlights Pell’s fleeting, and in many ways pernicious, presence in the Clemson annals. Just prior to that bowl game, Pell bolted for the head coaching position at Florida, foisting the head coach’s head set onto the 30-year-old head of then-assistant Danny Ford.

Ford presided over what had been until recently the program’s golden age of gridiron glory and wouldn’t have ended up at Clemson, nor taken over a team which such a high talent-level, if not for Charlie Pell. That said, in Charlie Pell’s wake, he left recruiting violations that would put Clemson on NCAA probation following the 1982 season (accusations of a similar nature would later plague Pell’s program at UF as well).

Nevertheless, the litany of Tiger football greats that blossomed under Pell’s brief guidance warrants notice: Steve Fuller, Jerry Butler, Lester Brown, Bubba Brown, Jim Stuckey, Dwight Clarke, Jeff and Joe Bostic. These are Clemson legends, and they became such under Pell’s direction. Their exploits ignited the resurgence of Clemson football on a national stage. And Pell hired Danny Ford from Virginia Tech to boot. So even with all his transgressions, Pell’s impact on the Clemson program was significant, for good and ill.

Be on the lookout for more, as we have 10 more articles in this series as we countdown to the greatest coach in Clemson History.