Sept. 13, 1999
Fearless. That is a quality that is often needed in order to be a successful defensive coach. With the hiring of Rodney Allison as defensive ends coach, Clemson has a man that fits this description perfectly.
As a kid growing up in Odessa, Texas, Allison and his friends collected live rattlesnakes. After capturing the snakes, they would sell them by the pound at local roundups. “We had no fear of the snakes. I can remember one day when they surrounded us,” Allison said. “We probably caught 150 of them just on that one day.” Not only was Allison fearless, but he was also elusive. Despite collecting dangerous snakes for several years, he was never bitten.
It was this same fearless attitude and elusiveness that led Allison to an electrifying career as a quarterback at Texas Tech University. Although only 5-11, Allison guided the Red Raiders to three bowl games and was nominated for the Heisman Trophy in 1977. “That year there was Earl Campbell and Matt Cavanaugh. To be nominated with those guys was almost like living in a dream. I was realistic enough to know, however, that I wasn’t as good as those guys.”
His versatility as a quarterback was as impressive as his snake catching ability. During the 1976 season, Allison had 139 passing attempts and 140 rushing attempts for 1,458 and 706 yards respectively. The Red Raiders finished the 1976 season 10-2, tying the school record for regular season wins.
Steve Sloan was Allison’s head coach at Texas Tech and current New York Jet’s head coach Bill Parcels served as the team’s defensive coordinator. It was Parcels that helped Allison keep the Heisman hype of 1977 in perspective. “When everybody was telling me how good I was, Coach Parcels was telling me that I wasn’t anything until I won a championship. I have always remembered that,” Allison stated.
Allison graduated from Texas Tech with a Bachelor of Arts in physical education in 1978 and was hired by Sloan as the running backs coach the following year. He remained at Texas Tech as an assistant coach until 1983.
In 1984, Allison went to Duke where he was reunited with Sloan who had been named head coach of the Blue Devils a year earlier. He served as running backs coach for the next four years and it was at Duke that Allison first worked with current Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden. It was also during this time that he got his first look at Clemson football. “When Tommy and I were at Duke and they ran down the hill with William Perry and Michael Dean Perry, they struck fear into you. Anybody in this profession has always perceived Clemson as a tough, hard-nosed football program.”
In 1988, Allison went to Southern Mississippi where he served the first two years as running backs coach and then as quarterbacks coach the following two seasons. As quarterbacks coach, Allison coached current Green Bay quarterback, Brett Favre. Because of his relationship with Favre, Allison watched former Green Bay defensive end Reggie White on a regular basis. “Reggie is probably as good a player as I have ever seen”, Allison feels.
With his success as quarterbacks coach, Allison was promoted to offensive coordinator at Southern Mississippi during the 1991 season.
In 1993, after only one season as offensive coordinator at Southern Mississippi, Allison went to Auburn where he worked as running backs coach for five seasons under Terry Bowden. Over the years, Allison has developed a unique friendship with each of the Bowden coaches. “They are a lot alike and yet a lot different. A reason that they’re all successful is that they’ve got a similar core in terms of their philosophies, but they also have their own certain ideas that they have drawn from their own experiences. However, their basic success philosophy is the same and I think they have received that from their father.”
During his first three seasons at Auburn, Allison coached three 1,000-yard rushers. The 1993 team finished the season with a perfect 11-0 record and was ranked fourth in the final AP poll. For the past three seasons at Auburn, he served not only as running backs coach but also as offensive coordinator.
For Allison, the biggest similarity between Auburn and Clemson is the tremendous pride each school has for their respective football programs. “There is no pro team in Alabama, and there is no pro team in South Carolina. That puts a tremendous focus on college football in these states.”
Now wearing Clemson orange, Allison will coach defense for the first time in 20 years. The switch to defense has been met head on by Allison. “My mentality has been very easy to switch over to the defensive side of the ball simply because of the way that I have always coached offense. Attack, go get them, play hard, and play on the edge.”
The most difficult aspect of the transition for Allison has centered on what he calls the little things of coaching. “The biggest adjustment has had nothing to do with coaching kids or anything similar to that. It is as simple as walking into a meeting with your players. You’ve always drawn the circles on one side of the board and now you have got to draw them on the other side.”
Allison also feels that the time and effort he has put in over the years as an offensive coach will make him that much more effective as a defensive coach. “When I first made the move here to defense I was not sure if it would be an advantage or not, but after being over here, I would definitely say it is an advantage. What a defensive coach might think is a weakness of his defense might not always be the same that an offensive coach would think is a weakness of that particular defense.”
For many coaches, the switch from offense to defense after 20 years would be an overwhelming experience. For Rodney Allison it is not. He has proven that he is not afraid to take chances in order to be successful.
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