Whether Ford wanted the advice or not, he and Howard spoke everyday.
"Coach Howard helped me tremendously and I'll help Dabo (Swinney) any way," Ford said Saturday in Tampa. "But he doesn't need any help. He's got a good background--learned from coach (Gene) Stallings, who learned from coach (Bear) Bryant. You can't get any better than that."
The Pendleton resident and former Clemson head coach keeps a respectful distance and only comes around when asked. He doesn't beat down the doors of the West Zone but feels welcome around Clemson football whenever wants to.
"I don't think I bother (Swinney) any," Ford said. "That's a compliment to him."
"I think we've got about as good a relationship that you can, as far as two coaches."
One of three headlining inductees in this year's ACC Football Championship Game Legends Class, Ford will be honored along with 11 other players and coaches at the ACC Night of Legends on Friday.
Ford appreciates the job Swinney has done in his first full season as head coach. He wasn't so sure that Clemson would be playing this Saturday after the Tigers' 2-3 start even though he believed 3-2 would have been a realistic start.
"You don't ever know about a football coach until you get in a ditch," Ford said. "He worked his way out of a ditch pretty good. That's a good sign."
Honored, but not thrilled about the induction, Ford's even more excited about seeing the Tigers play in the championship.
"Thank gosh Clemson is down here. I'd hate to have to drive 500-something miles and it not before for anybody," he said. "At least I've got somebody to pull for in Clemson this week."
His coaching career at Clemson began in 1978 with a win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. Three years later, he led Clemson to the school's only national title.
"When I first went into coaching at Clemson, coach Howard said, ‘You've screwed up and won too many the first year.' I'm afraid that's what (Swinney) might have done," Ford said. "Now, they might expect him to be here every year, and they're not. The conference is too equal. There are some good coaches and good players at all the schools."
Seeking out advice from someone who's been there and done that, Swinney consulted Ford on several occasions in the early days of his young career as Clemson's head coach.
"He's got a lot of wisdom. A lot of common sense," Swinney said.
He understands what Clemson's appearance in the championship game means to Ford.
"I thought it would be great this year if we could figure out a way (to win the division), because they were honoring coach Ford. I think that's a special opportunity for coach Ford and for Clemson."
C.J. Spiller, who was honored as the ACC Player and Offensive Player of the Year, is happy to see Ford receive the recognition.
"He gives good advice. We've been fortunate enough to have him around…He and coach Howard are the foundation of how Clemson should be played," Spiller said.
Though Ford is unsure if he can call Spiller the best player in Clemson history, there is one thing he's sure of when he watches 28.
"When he gets in wide-open space, I've never seen a guy that could make so much happen and turn a football game around as quickly as he has," Ford said. "Certainly we'll need one this weekend to win the football game."
Ford discusses Dabo, Spiller
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