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Greatest Football Coaches in Clemson History: #10 Walter Riggs

The founding father!

W Carolina v Clemson

(1896, 1899): Walter Merritt Riggs, from Orangeburg, SC, graduated in 1892 from what would become Auburn University before accepting an engineering professorship at Clemson in 1896. His experience as a footballer at Auburn naturally led him to lead the formation of the first football team at Clemson, which he did during his first year on campus.

Coach Riggs is therefore credited with laying the foundation of Clemson football. He is recognized for the adoption of Clemson’s team nickname and mascot (Tigers) and its colors (orange and purple, though the date of appearance for that particular combination is debated historically, with some memories citing red and blue as the first team’s colors, others remembering orange and a faded-almost-purple-blue as the color of the fledgling team’s ragged first uniforms. These last ones were allegedly practice uniforms brought by Riggs to Clemson from Auburn).

Riggs presided over his creation for just two non-consecutive seasons, the inaugural in 1896 and another in 1899 due to a coaching void. During those two seasons his teams compiled a 6-3 record (2-1 in 1896, 4-2 in 1899). As the “Founding Father of Clemson Football,” Riggs holds the distinction of leading the program to its first win (in its first game, a 14-0 triumph over Furman in Greenville, SC). He went 1-1 against South Carolina, losing 6-12 in the first-ever rivalry matchup, but winning in dominant fashion 34-0 in 1899.

Riggs would later serve as College president from 1911-1924, and a new football field constructed in the fifth year of his presidency would be named in his honor—the now renowned “Historic Riggs Field—as would Riggs Hall in 1928, the longstanding home of Clemson’s engineering department.