Aug. 29, 2008
Clemson and Alabama have two of the top football traditions in college football. Each program has a legend that has served as the rock of their respective foundations for many years. Both men have a lot in common.
Clemson’s Frank Howard, a 1931 Alabama graduate served as the Tigers head coach from 1940-69 and he remains the school’s all-time leader in victories with 165. Alabama’s Bear Bryant, a 1934 graduate at Alabama, coached Alabama from 1958-82 and is the all-time leader in victories among Crimson Tide head coaches with 232. They are two of the 20 coaches in Division I history to coach at the same school for at least 25 years.
They also shared a long time common friendship. Howard was a senior in 1930, helping Alabama to a perfect 11-0 season under Head Coach Wallace Wade. That season culminated with a victory over Washington State in the Rose Bowl. Bryant came to Alabama as a freshman in the fall of 1931, but he worked out with Howard and some of the other Alabama seniors in the fall and spring that academic year because he attended high school in Tuscaloosa.
Bryant was a senior with the Crimson Tide in 1934 and the Tide again finished with an 11-0 record, a year that concluded with a victory over another Pac Eight school in the Rose Bowl, Stanford.
When Howard became the head coach at Clemson in 1940, Bryant was an assistant at Vanderbilt, but when he called Howard to enquire about joining Clemson as an assistant, Howard had already filled his staff.
At first, one might wonder how that could have changed the history of Clemson football. But, it probably wouldn’t have had much of a bearing because Bryant would have moved on to become a head coach anyway, just as he did when he took the head coaching position at Maryland in 1945.
The two legends got together on the gridiron five times. Bryant was the head coach at Kentucky in 1952 and defeated Howard’s Tigers, 27-14. There was a four-game series from 1966-69 between Clemson and Alabama. Two of the four were close games, as Alabama won at Clemson in 1967 by a 13-10 score and the Crimson Tide won the following year at Alabama, 21-14. Clemson won the ACC title in 1967 and Alabama finished second in the SEC.
The two men remained friends after Howard retired from coaching in 1969. One story that documents their friendship took place in 1981. Clemson was on the way to its national championship and Alabama was in the hunt as well. The Crimson Tide finished in the top 10 that year.
Prior to the 1981 season finale with South Carolina, Jane Robelot, then the senior student in charge of pep rallies at Clemson, went to Coach Howard with the idea of inviting Bear Bryant to her “Danny Ford Appreciation Pep Rally” the Friday night prior to the game. Ford had played for Alabama from 1967-69, including three games against Clemson.
Bryant was still coaching the Crimson Tide, but had the November 21 weekend off and Robelot innocently thought Bear might want to fly over to surprise his former pupil (instead of preparing for the next week’s game with Auburn).
Howard decided he would have some fun, and impress a pretty co-ed, so he called Bear on his direct line and put him on the phone with Robelot. In retrospect it had to be one of the most memorable conversations of Robelot’s life. And that is saying something considering she went on to become an anchor of “CBS This Morning” in 1995 and interviewed many celebrities, even presidents.
Bryant and Howard remained friends until Bryant died on January 26, 1982, just 28 days after he coached his final game. Howard passed away 13 years later, ironically on the same January 26 date.
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