Charlie Pell

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Charles Byron Pell, Charlie Pell, a native of Albertville, Alabama, born February 17, 1941, became Clemson's 20th head football coach in 1977 after Red Parker was fired following a 3-6-2 season record in 1976. A two-way starter and three-year letterman at the University of Alabama under legendary Coach Paul William "Bear" Bryant, Pell was a member of the Crimson Tide's 1961 National Championship team.

Early career

Upon his graduation in 1964, Pell initially worked for Coach Bryant at Alabama, but went to Kentucky with former 'Bama Assistant Coach Charlie Bradshaw in 1965. When Bradshaw retired in 1969, Pell applied for and got the head coaching position at Jacksonville (Alabama) State University. Apparently, the school did not want a bachelor coach so Pell married his girlfriend Ward Noel in 1969, formerly a student working in the Kentucky athletic department. This was his second marriage. The JSU Gamecocks went 10-0 in 1970, the second of five seasons that Pell coached the team, and beat Florida A&M in the Orange Blossom Classic, the first predominately white team to play in the historically black bowlgame. JSU was 33-13-1 under Pell. In 1974 Pell joined the staff of former 'Bama Assistant Coach Jimmy Sharpe at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Give 'Em Hell, Pell

Pell arrived at Clemson as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator under Red Parker in early 1976. After the lame 3-6-2 1976 outcome, Coach Parker was ordered to fire several assistants. When he refused, Athletic Director Bill McClellan terminated him and asked Pell to take over the reins. As Parker's replacement in 1977, he turned the program around, bringing the Tigers an 8-2-1 season, their first top 20 ranking since 1959, and a berth in the 33rd annual Gator Bowl where the team faced the defending National Champion Pittsburgh Panthers. In 1978, Pell led the Tigers to a 10-1 regular season, Clemson's first ACC championship since 1967, and a second bowl bid, a return match in the 34th annual Gator Bowl opposite the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Go to Hell, Pell

Pell stirred up controversy, though, by accepting the head coaching position at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, on December 4, 1978, before the bowl game was played. His assistant, Danny Ford, was named as his replacement and Pell's offer to stick around for the bowl game was declined.

Pell was a near unanimous choice for Atlantic Coast Conference coach of the year in both 1977 and 1978, the first coach, regardless of sport, to be so honored in each of his first two years.

Unfortunately, there was a downside to Charlie Pell's success - recruiting violations that would lead to the Clemson football program being placed on the probation immediately after winning the 1981 National Championship. The University of Florida would experience many wins under Pell, and would also be put on probation a few years later due to his management of their football program.

Battle with depression

After leaving college coaching, Pell sold automobiles in Florida for a time. This and other business deals failed, leaving Pell deep in debt. On February 2, 1994, suffering from clinical depression, Pell attempted to take his own life by asphyxiation but circumstances prevailed to save him. Pell learned to deal with depression, and in 1995 he coached for a year at a new high school near Lakeland, Fla. His players were undersized and inexperienced, and they finished with a 1-9 record.

After being diagnosed with and fighting cancer for many months after a large tumor on his lung was diagnosed in October 2000, Charlie Pell died of cancer in May 29 2001. He was 60. He is survived by his wife; three children, Charles Pell Jr. of Birmingham, Ala., Sloan Pell Farrell of Huntsville, Ala., and Carrick Pell of Shreveport, La.; and two grandchildren. He spent the last years of his life living in Southside, Alabama. Shortly before his death, Pell was honored at the spring Orange & White game in April with a ceremony at halftime for his part in putting Clemson back on a winning tradition.

Irony of the flawed hero

Despite Charlie Pell's infractions in recruiting, he was an excellent coach, well-liked by his players. Both the University of Florida and Clemson now generally overlook the probation he brought upon each institution, and focus on the very real improvements he brought to both programs, making both National Championship contenders. Pell went 18-4-1 at Clemson, and his .804 winning percentage at Clemson is second only to John Heisman's .833 in Clemson football record.

Pell on Attitude

"I want players to think as positively as the 85-year-old man who married a 25-year-old woman and bought a five-bedroom house next to the elementary school."


Preceded by: Red Parker Clemson University Football Coaches Succeeded by: Danny Ford