And with good reason.
As Clemson's head coach from 1978-89, Ford amassed a 96-29-4 record. In 1981, the Tigers went 12-0 and finished with a national championship.
Ford also won a total of five ACC Championships during his tenure at Clemson, and an SEC West crown while serving as the head coach at Arkansas (1993-97).
The Tigers went 6-2 in bowl games under Ford, which include a stretch of four-straight wins over teams like Oklahoma, Penn State, West Virginia and Stanford. (Clemson University)
Ford can often be seen at Littlejohn Coliseum taking in a Clemson basketball game, and sometimes he'll even stop by Death Valley. Two years ago he made the trip to Tampa, Fla. to take in Clemson's first and only appearance in the ACC Championship game when he was honored as an ACC legend.
Originally from Alabama, Ford earned All-SEC honors playing under his coaching mentor Paul "Bear" Bryant.
When Ford's playing days were over, he became a graduate assistant for the Crimson Tide beforing gong on to work as an assistant for nine years at Virginia Tech and Clemson.
In his coaching debut on Dec. 29, 1978 Ford led the Tigers to a 17-15 upset win over legendary Buckeyes' coach Woody Hayes in the final game of his career.
Three years later, the Tigers captured their only National Championship in football.
Here is an unedited transcript of our recent conversation with this Clemson legend:
Are you up to speed on everything with the new offense?
Ford: I didn't watch them practice this spring. I've met coach [Morris] one day. Then he was at a dinner another day. He seems like a nice guy. I have no idea what kind of a football coach he is. He's got a good record of where he's been and all, but nobody cares about that. All they care about is what he'll do at Clemson. Hopefully, he'll have good success.
It's the same kind of offense as Auburn and Oregon. With the kind of pace that they operate at, do you see that as an advantage?
Ford: As long as you make first downs. If you don't make first downs, it's probably the worst thing you can do, because you're keeping the defense on the field all day. Who's to know how they're going to do. He's got to have good people to run it. Anything you run, if you've got good people, you can be successful.
Hopefully, he's got the right people in the right place. And, hopefully, he'll have success with it. But, if they don't, it's going to be a lot of times that they're three-and-out. If they're three-and-out a lot, it puts a whole lot more pressure on the defense.
As Clemson's head coach from 1978-89, Ford amassed a 96-29-4 record. In 1981, the Tigers went 12-0 and finished with a national championship. (Clemson University)
So you're not familiar with any of the highly touted kids they have coming in this summer?
Ford: Most of them can't play. It's usually the other guys that play. It was for us. The highly touted ones, they come in and make noise in high school, and a lot of them don't pan out. The guys that weren't recruited as high, they come out, know how to work, don't expect anything but work. We had just as much luck on kids that wanted to play for Clemson. Hopefully, these guys can play. Pro people spend as much money as they do on scouting, can work them out, and still miss on a number one draft choice. Colleges are going to miss on them- not just Clemson- but anybody. Maybe they can play. [I] surely hope so.
Heading into year three under Dabo Swinney, do you have a quick evaluation where things stand with the program?
Ford: I was talking to somebody else yesterday and I've got to talk to somebody else tomorrow, they've got to win championships. That's it. They just need to win some conference championships in football. It's been a long time.
Clemson people support them very well. They give a lot of money. They've got a lot of things going for them. They're recruiting well, playing well, have good coaches, they've got all the facilities in the world they need, supposedly all the good recruits, so I think people are just about ready for them to win a championship. They do that and they'll get into the national picture. That's where everybody would like for Clemson to be.
With all of the things that you mentioned, is it kind of surprising that it's been 20 years since Clemson won an ACC Championship?
Ford: I believe you'd be better off asking the Clemson people that, because I think they should compete for it every year. Our people worked--and I don't mean it against any coach or player--but our people worked awful hard to establish something at Clemson. Our players worked hard, practiced hard, our coaches worked hard. They made some things that happened at Clemson…they take a great amount of pride in something they established. And they'd like to see the tradition continued, and we would, too.
|"They've got to win a
championship. That's just the way it is. You can be a mean, old sorry
devil and everything else, do everything different. If you win
championships, they'll still like you. I think it's all about winning.
It's always about winning."|
How's your relationship with coach Swinney?
Ford: He's a good guy, a really fine ambassador for the school. He's a very enthusiastic person- good graduation rate. But, they've got to win a championship. That's just the way it is. You can be a mean, old sorry devil and everything else, do everything different. If you win championships, they'll still like you. I think it's all about winning. It's always about winning.
You kind of helped foster that feeling of all ‘about winning' at Clemson. What does that mean to you? There are a lot of people that are still big fans of you.
Ford: I think they're fans of winning. I've got a lot of friends that support Clemson, that went to Clemson- a lot of great players and a lot of great coaches. That's my loyalty, my ex-players, my ex-players and all of my friends who supported us at Clemson, and all our friends who still like us. I've got a lot of different schools.
You've got the 30th anniversary of the national championship team coming up. What does it mean to you and your coaches and players from the 1981 team that's going to be recognized this fall?
Ford: We get to see their kids, a bunch of our coaches. We've lost two coaches off of that team. We've lost probably a player or two. Thirty years is a long time. I'm glad the school does it. I'm glad they'll recognize us. I know it'll be a great time. I'm looking forward to seeing them. The last time [we got together], I think when we played Florida State. We left at halftime. It was a good game, but we went to the house, just to watch it at our house, to get the coaches there and talk. We did that. I look forward to it.