SI Vault
Curry Kirkpatrick
October 23, 1989
You still might not be able to find it, but football and ol' Frank Howard have put Clemson on the map
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October 23, 1989


You still might not be able to find it, but football and ol' Frank Howard have put Clemson on the map

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It took ol' Frank another nine years to get Clemson back to a bowl, the 1949 Gator, where the Tigers beat Missouri 24-23. "Humiliated 'em," he says. By '59, when Clemson played No. 1 LSU in the Sugar Bowl and held the soon-to-be national champions to a standstill before losing 7-0, he was a storied figure. Eventually, ol' Frank would lead the Tigers to every major bowl except the Rose and the Cotton. At different times ol' Frank was also Clemson's track coach, baseball coach, ticket manager and athletic director. In that last capacity he once turned down a student group's request to have crew instituted as a varsity sport. "We ain't gonna have no sport at Clemson where you sit on your butt and go backwards to win," he said.

Over his 30 years as head football coach, ol' Frank led the Tigers to 165 victories. The Bashful Baron of Barlow Bend, as ol' Frank was christened by Anthon Foy, a Greenville sports-writer, liked to say he left his little hamlet of Barlow Bend, Ala.—"three wagon greasin's" from Mobile—"walkin' barefoot on a barbed-wire fence with a wildcat under each arm." When he retired from football after the 1969 season, he went out the same way.

"My daddy resigned due to illness; the alumni got sick of him," says Jimmy Howard, 47, a Clemson halfback/fullback of the early 1960s who, after earning his master's degree in horticulture, spent almost 25 years as South Carolina's official bee inspector. Jimmy now runs a bar in downtown Clemson, the Sloan Street Tap Room, which makes the Esso look like La Cote Basque, and he spends his workdays as a tree, uh, surgeon. "Naw," says Jimmy, "make that a tree mortician."

Ol' Frank and his wife Anna's other offspring, Alice (Mrs. Bobby) McClure of Gastonia, N.C., confirms that the family humor has survived not only a generation but a divorce. "After Jimmy and his wife Angie split, she remarried but kept the Howard name," says Alice. "No wonder. Now she's Angie Howard-Johnson, and on her Christmas card she wrote that she's the only Howard-Johnson in Atlanta without an orange roof and 37 flavors."

Today, the elder Howard is a monarch among plebeians, a coach emeritus, an eminence grease—especially when he eats the french fries and apple cobbler his doctor strictly forbids. He maintains an office in the Clemson athletic complex, at which he arrives daily to answer reams of mail before anybody else gets to work. Moreover, ol' Frank drives all over the South giving speeches. But he's always back on football-Saturday mornings to sit, Buddha-like, behind his desk and receive subjects who range from octogenarian women in orange coveralls to former fourth-string tackles in orange boots and vests to babies in orange diapers.

Since he dispenses almost as much wisdom as he does tobacco slime (luckily, he keeps a bottle of Scope in the same desk drawer where he stashes his Red Man chaw), he was forced long ago to acknowledge his own academic background—even in the face of his consistently fractured bumpkin English.

Howard was the valedictorian of his high school class. He went to Alabama on an academic scholarship. He majored in business administration and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. "However," he says, spitting out another wad, "since coming to this institution I've changed."

Who's calling what an institution? And change? Spiritually, in its heart of pigskin hearts and to the depths of its gridiron soul, Clemson has never really changed. You want a cow college? Name any of your traditional Boola Boola A & M States, any udderly bovine beauty of a Moo U, and it still won't be as farmy as Clim-zin. Why, Clemson happens to be a land-grant school, just like its hated enemy institution down yonder in Columbia, the University of South Carolina. Why, ol' Frank hisself grew up wishing to be a chicken farmer. Why, ol' Danny Ford is a farmer, buddy, the proud owner of a 134-acre dairy spread on which he cuts his own hay and has 50 cows. Ford insists he is now halfway through his coaching career, after which he plans to go back to the farm permanently with his wife and four children and "make milk and butter and live a normal life." Ford actually arrived late for a day of the Tigers' spring practice the year before last to tend to the birth of a calf.

"I remember when I first saw Clemson," Ford says. "We were riding in from Anderson, South Carolina, on the Alabama team bus one Saturday morning. Nothing was there as we came off the highway. Then all of a sudden out of nowhere came the stadium. We pulled in from the red light, and right over there next to the gates and dressing rooms was—dang!—a bunch of cows! The school's old dairy barn was right smack there! I said to myself, 'Well now, I'll never see anything like this again.' Dang if I don't end up living a few blocks away."

Is Clemson truly America or what? Thomas Green Clemson, the 6'6" onetime U.S. charg� d'affaires in Belgium who donated his Fort Hill, S.C., estate to establish Clemson Agricultural College in 1889, had a sister who married a grandnephew of George Washington.

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