Former Clemson and Arkansas head coach Danny Ford was named as part of the 2017 College Football Hall of Fame Class in January, and he will be officially inducted during the 60th NFF Annual Awards Dinner Dec. 5 at the New York Hilton Midtown. He will be honored Saturday with an NFF Hall of Fame On-Campus Salute, presented by Fidelity Investments, when Clemson hosts Georgia Tech at 8 p.m. ET on ABC or ESPN2.
By Matt Fortuna, college football reporter for The All-American.
Ford: Up Close
- Record: 122-59-5 (66.9%).
- Named national Coach of the Year after leading the Tigers to perfect 12-0 season and the national title in 1981.
- Won five ACC championships and twice named conference Coach of the Year.
- Boasts four of the top five winningest seasons in Tiger history.
- Guided Arkansas to its first SEC West title ever in 1995. ‘
On the morning of Jan. 9, the National Football Foundation announced its 2017 College Football Hall of Fame class, which included former Clemson coach Danny Ford. Later that night, the Tigers dethroned Alabama, Ford’s alma mater, to capture their second national title, in one of the greatest championship tilts of all-time.
“Here it is, Clemson has a chance to go and play for everything again, and this happened to come this particular year,” Ford said. “It was an exciting time for me and all of our coaches and players.”
Ford is no longer the only Clemson coach to win a national title. He is, however, just the fourth former Tigers coach in the Hall, joining John Heisman, Jess Neely and Frank Howard.
All this, and the old coach darn near quit the game altogether before his sophomore year of high school. The son of a plant, steel mill and cotton mill worker, Ford had second thoughts about extending his career at Gadsden (Ala.) High School beyond his freshman year. A few teammates had quit the team, encouraging Ford to do the same. When he shared his diminishing love of the game with his father, his old man — who never stepped on a gridiron in his life — made a simple request: Let me watch practice and see if you can play.
“I didn’t want to disobey him, so I went to practice, and I had a good day, thank God, and it was never brought up at the supper table,” Ford said. “I knew I wasn’t going to quit, and I made it over the pressure of my teammates wanting to quit. If it hadn’t been for that particular day I don’t know if I’d ever been a football coach.
“My first thanksgiving is to my father. I don’t think he cared whether I played or not, he just didn’t want me to quit. And I learned a great lesson that particular day.”
Ford went on to play offensive tackle at Alabama under Bear Bryant, who subsequently gave him his start on the sidelines as an O-line coach. Ford made assistant stops at Virginia Tech and Clemson before assuming the head coaching duties, first with the Tigers and then later at Arkansas, where he led the Razorbacks to an SEC West title.
Ford got a taste of the spotlight early, as the then-30-year-old’s first head coaching game came in the 1978 Gator Bowl against Ohio State, Woody Hayes’ final game. Three years later, Ford became the youngest head coach to win a national title — a distinction he still holds (33 years, 7 months, 30 days).
“Coach Bryant always said: ‘If you can live without football, don’t go into coaching, because it’s not going to be that beneficial, it’s not going to be that good for everybody,’” Ford said. “I don’t know if I ever accomplished what he taught us, but he could get more out of an individual than you thought you could give.”
Despite winning 122 games and five ACC titles, Ford speaks to the profession as a whole when he says the first memories that come to mind are the tough losses — something his fellow Hall classmates bring to mind.
“It’s kind of funny that (Steve) Spurrier and I are going to go in (to the Hall) in the same year,” Ford said. “He beat us in ’89 and we were ranked (No. 7) in the country. And we had intercepted two balls and we fumbled it back to them.
“I think that was his turning point in his coaching career, to beat a team like Clemson.”