Frank Howard

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Frank Howard (March 25, 1909 - January 28, 1996) is one of Clemson University's most famous football coaches. A native of Barlow Bend, Alabama, he coached at Clemson for 39 years, thirty as head coach, stepping down in 1969. His legendary 1948 Tigers went undefeated and beat Missouri in the 1949 Gator Bowl, which was the bowl's first sell-out, and that game ensured the future success of the Gator Bowl. It was Clemson's first perfect season since 1900. His colorful persona, and penchant for imaginative language and improbable stories made him Clemson's most recognizable figure and representative until his death.


Howard graduated high school in Mobile, Alabama, where he played football, baseball, and basketball, and served as both the Junior and Senior Class President. He attended the University of Alabama on a scholarship from the Birmingham News in the fall of 1927. He played reserve guard on the football team his sophomore year, started every game his junior year (except two, out for an ankle injury), and was a first stringer through his senior season under Coach Wallace Wade, whose team blanked Washington State 24-0 in the 1931 Rose Bowl. Howard was known as the "Little Giant" of the Tide's "Herd of Red Elephants". His roommate for a time was Paul "Bear" Bryant.

Howard comes to Clemson

Fresh out of college, Howard landed at Clemson, where he was a line tutor under Coach Jess Neely. "At least that was my title," Howard recalled. "Actually, I also coached track, recruited players, and had charge of football equipment. In my spare time I cut grass, lined tennis courts, and operated the canteen while the regular man was out to lunch." Howard was track coach from 1931 to 1939, and served as baseball coach in 1943, where his 12-3 record is still among Clemson's best percentages.

As line coach, Howard was part of Clemson's successful 1939 season under Jess Neely, achieving an 8-1 record and a bid to the 1940 Cotton Bowl in Dallas to play undefeated Boston College. When Neely left Clemson in 1940 for Rice University, the Clemson Athletic Council met to name a successor and council member Prof. Sam Rhodes suggested Howard's name. Howard, standing in the back of the room, said "I second the nomination." He got the job, becoming Clemson's seventeenth head football coach and never left. He signed a one-year contract that he promptly lost, and he never had another in thirty years.


Howard married the former Anna Tribble of Anderson, South Carolina on August 23, 1933. They had two children, Alice (Mrs. Robert McClure of Gastonia, North Carolina) and Jimmy, of Pendleton, South Carolina. Alice Howard was one of the Clemson beauties featured in the 1955 edition of TAPS (page 65). Jimmy Howard would play Clemson football under his father in the early 1960's. Anna Howard passed away on May 15, 1996. Frank and Anna are interred on Cemetary Hill next to Memorial Stadium.


Under Frank Howard's command, the Tigers remained nationally-recognized contenders throughout the 1950's. In the sterling 1948 season, the team won a Southern Conference championship (Howard's first of eight), won their second bowl game, and finished eleventh in the national rankings. For the rest of his life, Howard credited the 1948 team with saving his job. Howard nearly repeated the '48 success in 1950 when the Tigers were ranked tenth by the Associated Press with a 9-0-1 season and a 15-14 win over Miami (Florida) in the Orange Bowl. Howard would take the Tigers to the Orange Bowl again in 1952 and 1957. Clemson also played in the 1959 Sugar Bowl and the 1959 Bluebonnet Bowl, where they beat seventh-ranked Texas Christian, 23-7.

As the style of football evolved in the 1960s, Howard's ground game became outdated, and Clemson's gridiron fortunes declined. The Tigers last winning season under Howard came in 1967. On December 10, 1969, he stepped down as the fifth winningest coach in the nation, with 165 victories, 96 of them in the Atlantic Coast Conference. His final record was 165-118-12, for a .580 winning percentage. Howard was elected to the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame on January 31, 1969.

Howard also managed the athletic department during his tenure, and continued on as athletic director until February 4, 1971, when he was named assistant to the vice president of the university. On June 30, 1974, he retired from the university payroll, but continued to come into his office daily until failing health slowed him down, serving as Clemson's ambassador until his death in 1996. On November 16, 1974, the grass playing surface in Clemson Memorial Stadium was dedicated as Frank Howard Field.

Howard could be found most mornings at the Holiday Inn of Clemson where he gathered with his Coffee Club in the motel's dining room.

Howard's Rock

The rock was a gift from Sam Jones, who brought it from Death Valley, California, to Death Valley, South Carolina. Coach Howard didn't know what to do with the rock and used it as a door stop in his office for several years. In 1966 it was placed at the East entrance to Memorial Stadium, which is used by the players just before they run down "The Hill." Clemson won the next game, and Coach Howard realized that the rock was "lucky." From that day forward, he allowed players that were willing to give 110% to touch the rock for good luck, but said all others should "Keep your filthy hands off my rock." Thus began the tradition of Clemson football players touching "The Rock" before each game.

Howard quoted

Coach Howard was well known for telling jokes and being an entertaining public speaker.

"Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades."

"I had a lot of offers to go to other schools, but I turned them all down. Clemson was the only place I could bum chewing tobacco from the professors."

"Just because I don't always use them right words, don't mean I don't know 'em."

"The only good thing to ever come out of Columbia [the home of rival USC] is Interstate 26 headed West [toward Clemson]."

When asked about the possibility of a rowing team at Clemson, Howard replied: "I will never endorse a sport in which you sit on your butt and go backwards."

"I love this place.....I've got a spot already picked out where I want 'em to put me when I die -


  • Martin, Johnny, "Death Valley: 72 Years of Exciting Football at Clemson University", Independent Publishing Co., Anderson, S.C., 1968, Library of Congress card number 68-58849, page 32.
  • Bourret, Tim, "Clemson University Football Vault", Whitman Publishing, LLC, Atlanta, Georgia, 2008, ISBN 0794824307.

Preceded by: Jess Neely Clemson University Football Coach Succeeded by: Hootie Ingram