Parker on Running down the Hill
By Sam Blackman
(Editor’s Note—It was with great sadness that we learned of Coach Red Parker’s passing on Monday morning. He was the football coach at Clemson in 1973-1976. During his tenure he brought back the tradition of running down the hill. In an earlier interview, Parker remembers how he brought back the famed tradition.)
When his Clemson Tigers ran out of the dressing room and onto the field at Memorial Stadium for the first time on September 8, 1973 against The Citadel, Red Parker remembered the atmosphere was pretty stale that day.
In fact, as the former Clemson head coach recalled, there was no energy at all in the stadium. And due to that, his Tigers played stale as they squeaked out a 14-12 victory.
“When I went to Clemson, attendance was way down,” said Parker, who coached at Clemson from 1973-’76. “It was just a period of time when the enthusiasm was not the way it is now. It was kind of a difficult time out on that football field before the game and during the game.”
“It was not something that was fun.”
That following Monday morning, Parker went to then Athletic Director Bill McLellan and said they needed to do something to get the spirit and enthusiasm back in Death Valley.
“I thought about a lot of things I had heard about Clemson before I went there,” Parker said. “One of the things that struck me as being a goldmine of potential was the Tigers running down the hill in the east end zone. I saw that as a spirit up lifter.
“Coach Howard had done it for years, and I felt like it did all that he wanted it to do. He accomplished a great deal with that, and keep in mind running down the hill was Coach Howard’s deal.”
Clemson had stopped running down the hill in 1970 following Howard’s final year as head coach. There were several reasons why it did that, but the main reason had to do with the new dressing rooms in the west end zone.
“When I came to Clemson, I was astounded that running down the hill was dropped,” Parker said. “It really, really disappointed me. Well, at that point right there, after the first home game, I went to Bill McLellan, and I said, ‘Bill, there is not enough spirit and enough energy and enthusiasm in the stadium. There is just not enough to have what you have to have to play major college football. That is just the way it is.’
“He said, ‘What do you want to do?’ And I said, ‘I want to run down the hill.’ Bill at that point said, ‘We can’t run down the hill because the reason we quit is because we spent thousands and thousands of dollars on a new dressing room on the (west) end of the stadium.’ Which was true, they did. They did spend a lot of money on those dressing rooms, which they had to have. It was an absolute must. They had to have those dressing rooms down there, so I went back to my office and I got to thinking.”
And during that period of thought was when “The most exciting 25 seconds in college football” was reintroduced to Tiger fans. However, it wasn’t done the way they remembered it.
Learning how Howard’s teams ran down the hill, and why they did it, helped Parker get creative. Knowing he had to use the west end zone locker rooms, Parker thought of a plan that has been used by every Clemson coach since.
What Parker created is one of the best motivating events in sport, and one of the best recruiting tools in college football.
Clemson’s next home game in 1973 did not occur until October 6th. The Tigers were coming off back-to-back road losses to Georgia and Georgia Tech and Parker was anxious to see how the crowd would respond as Clemson ran down the hill prior to its battle with Texas A&M.
“I don’t mind thinking farfetched at times, so I decided at that point it would be worthwhile for me to figure out a way to run down the hill because you always have a little bit of dead time before the game,” he said. “I thought it would be a worthwhile opportunity to seize this and move on with it. We always used two busses to go to the motel where we stayed for the pre-game meal, and then we bussed into the stadium and dressed for the game. Well, after we got on the field and warmed up, we came back in the dressing room and did everything we needed to do.
“At that point, instead of going out onto the field for the game, we had the players get on the buses. We then drove them around the stadium to the other end of the field, got them off the buses and came down the hill together. That made a big difference in our stadium. It got people excited.”
And it still does today. Nobody in college football has such a unique entrance as Clemson’s!
“In my opinion, running down the hill is one of the greatest motivators in all of college football,” Parker said. “In fact, when I was at Clemson, we believed if we could get the prospects there on a Saturday afternoon when the Tigers ran down the hill, we had a chance to recruit them. And we brought in a lot of them.”
February 15, 2019