Note: The following appears in the Wake Forest football gameday program.
After each Tiger football game, I interview Head Coach Dabo Swinney as part of my job as color commentator on the Clemson Athletic Network. Last season after Clemson’s thrilling 51-45 overtime victory at Wake Forest, I waited for Swinney in a room just off the Tiger locker room that was only 50 yards from the Wake Forest locker room.
Just as I was about to begin taping the interview, Wake Forest Head Coach Dave Clawson knocked on the door and came into the room that was adjacent to the visiting coaches locker room. It had been an amazing game, one that had a huge impact on the ACC standings and the national rankings.
The two coaches had a warm greeting and conversation about the game, one that showed how much respect they had for each other. It was a great demonstration of sportsmanship by both, but especially by Clawson, who had suffered a very close loss to a team he has never beaten. Clawson also expressed his condolences to Bryan Bresee, who had just lost his sister to cancer.
It was something I enjoyed being a witness to because it was one of those times during my professional career I could say, “This is why I am involved in college athletics.”
Swinney will soon become the winningest coach in Clemson history. Clawson is third in Wake Forest history, but is rapidly chasing down the school record for wins by a head coach. The Demon Deacon record stands at 77, a mark held by both Peahead Walker and Jim Grobe, and Clawson is only 15 victories shy.
Reflecting on that meeting made me recall some coaching interactions of the past. Yes, times have changed.
In 1962, Florida State came to Clemson for a men’s basketball game. The night before the contest, Seminole Head Coach Bud Kennedy had dinner with Clemson Head Coach Press Maravich at the home of Clemson Sports Information Director Bob Bradley. Louise Bradley made a great dinner that featured her renowned pinto beans. After dinner, the coaches listened to music by Mitch Miller on the Bradleys’ record player.
My first year at Clemson was the 1978-79 academic year. Bill Foster was Clemson’s head men’s basketball coach, and that season we had two fierce matchups against Terry Holland’s Virginia squad. The following summer, Foster, Holland and their wives vacationed together.
Perhaps the all-time best example of camaraderie and respect between two coaches involves another pairing of Clemson and Wake Forest football coaches.
Walker was the head coach at Wake Forest from 1937-50, and Frank Howard guided the Clemson program from 1940-69. They faced each other on the gridiron 11 times, and Walker and the Demon Deacons came out on top in seven of those games. Four of those Wake Forest wins took place at Memorial Stadium, which opened in 1942.
To this day, Walker is still the only opposing head coach with a perfect record at Memorial Stadium (given a minimum of three games).
In 1948, when Clemson had an 11-0 record and finished No. 11 in the AP poll, the Tigers’ biggest win of the year was at No. 19 Wake Forest. Two years later, Howard beat Walker and his No. 17 Demon Deacons in Winston-Salem on the way to a 9-0-1 record and No. 10 final ranking.
Despite these intense games, Howard and Walker were the best of friends. They spoke together at Touchdown Club meetings, something you never see today. While both gentlemen had great respect for each other, both understood the importance of promoting the game.
While Walker and Howard had great respect for each other, they were master jokesters. Prior to the 1949 Wake Forest at Clemson game, Howard met with friends of his with the Clemson police department. He wanted to prank Walker.
As the Wake Forest team got off the bus on gameday, Howard had the police approach him and put him in handcuffs, saying he resembled an escaped convict from a nearby prison. At the time, there were trees on the hill next to the visiting locker room. The police tied him to a tree as Howard looked on. Walker had to instruct one of his players to vouch for him before they would untie him.
The following season, Walker took a job coaching in the CFL, and he asked Howard to travel to Canada to work with his team during the preseason. Walker got Howard back and arranged with security at the Canadian airport to stop Howard and prevent him from entering the country.
“I am a football coach and here to see Peahead Walker,” said Howard to the guards.
“You don’t look like a football coach to me,” said one security guard as he looked at Howard.
A few minutes later, Walker came out from behind a curtain, laughing hysterically.