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Oct 26, 2019

The Last Word – Caldwell’s 500th Game

By: Tim Bourret

Note: The following appears in the Boston College gameday football program.


Today is a milestone day in the career of Offensive Line Coach Robbie Caldwell, as he coaches his 500th game as a full-time college coach when the Tigers face Boston College tonight.

Let me put that in perspective.

We all look at Frank Howard as the Tigers’ legendary coach who came to Clemson in 1931 as an assistant under Head Coach Jess Neely. He coached nine years as an assistant coach and 30 years as Clemson’s head coach. However, college teams did not play as many games in those days. Howard coached just 380 games in his career, all at Clemson, 295 as a head coach and 85 as an assistant coach.

I sent an email to all 130 FBS football communication directors asking for any active coach who has reached the 500-game mark. There were many responses, but we found only one other member of the 500-game club. Northwestern Defensive Coordinator Mike Hankwitz has been a full-time assistant coach since 1973 and coaches his 566th game today when the Wildcats face Iowa. (It is interesting to note that Hankwitz was the interim head coach for Colorado against Clemson in the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl, a game the Tigers won 19-10.)

Caldwell played at Furman as the starting center between 1972-75. During his senior year, he was named the Paladins’ MVP. Have you ever heard of another center being named team MVP? Caldwell was inducted into the Furman Hall of Fame this year.

Caldwell stayed at Furman in a full-time capacity as an assistant coach from 1978-85, helping the Paladins to a 12-2 record his last season in Greenville. He then served 14 years at NC State, where he coached under Dick Sheridan and Mike O’Cain. He was a part of the Wolfpack staff that beat Clemson three years in a row (1986-88) when the Tigers won the ACC title all three seasons.

Caldwell worked at North Carolina for two years, then nine seasons at Vanderbilt under a former Tiger player and coach, Bobby Johnson. Caldwell remained at Vanderbilt through 2010, serving as interim head coach the last season.

Prior to the 2011 season, Caldwell received a call from Dabo Swinney, who was looking for an offensive line coach. Since Caldwell arrived, the Tigers have totaled double-digit wins every year, won four ACC titles, made four trips to the College Football Playoff and won two national titles.

“Robbie Caldwell is the total package as an assistant coach,” said Swinney. “He is a great recruiter who has a strong relationship with his players because he can connect with all types of people. He is one of the most respected coaches in the business.”

When Swinney was asked about what Caldwell’s players have accomplished under his direction, he thought back to the 2018 season.

“The last drive of the game against Alabama last season had to be among the most rewarding moments of Robbie’s career. We held the ball the last 10 minutes of the game, the longest drive in Clemson history, because his offensive line dominated.”

While Caldwell’s accomplishments on the field during his 500 games as a college football coach are considerable, an example of his engaging personality took place in 2015 after Clemson defeated Notre Dame 24-22 in Death Valley in a thrilling game.

Caldwell was headed home on Highway 123 when he stopped at a convenience store to get a few items. When he walked in, he came across some Notre Dame fans from California who were in distress. It was already 1:30 a.m. and they had walked over two miles from the stadium.

These poor souls had missed the shuttle back to their hotel in Seneca and were faced with the task of walking the remaining five miles in the dark and rain.

Caldwell asked how they were doing, and the Fighting Irish fans told him of their plight.

“Well, come on and hop in the back of my truck…I will take you to the hotel,” said Caldwell.

So, Caldwell went out of his way to take the two Notre Dame fans to their hotel. They were so appreciative that when they got back to California, they wrote a post on TigerIllustrated.com, telling the story. The story made the rounds on ESPN, and Caldwell got some deserved applause from Clemson and Notre Dame fans.

As a Notre Dame graduate who has worked at Clemson for 41 years, I could not be more proud of Caldwell and his contribution to the growing relationship between the two schools.

That story tells you all you need to know about Caldwell. He is the all-time salt-of-the-earth coach and person, and we take great joy in congratulating him on his 500th game today.

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