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Sep 01, 2019

The Last Word – Frank Howard

By: Tim Bourret

Note: The following appears in the Georgia Tech gameday football program.

This season marks the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Clemson campaign, the 30th and final year for Frank Howard as the Tiger head coach. That head-coaching tenure is still fifth longest in FBS history at one school.

One of Howard’s most memorable victories that year was a 21-10 win at Georgia Tech on Oct. 4 in front of a sellout crowd of over 50,000 fans. It was considered an upset, because Georgia Tech had started the year with two impressive victories and Clemson had not won in Atlanta since 1945, losing 10 consecutive games over that 24-year time period.

When the game ended, the Tigers carried Howard off the field. Senior Charlie Waters, an All-ACC wide receiver, played in the game and helped carry Howard. Waters was one of the leaders of Howard’s final three teams and went on to become an All-Pro safety with the Dallas Cowboys.

Howard coached at Clemson for 30 years and took his teams to Atlanta to play the Yellow Jackets 14 times, including each of his last eight years. He won only twice, in 1945 against Head Coach Bobby Dodd and that 1969 game against Head Coach Bud Carlson.

You may wonder…why in the world did Clemson play Georgia Tech all those games in Atlanta? Remember, Georgia Tech did not join the ACC for football until 1983, so Howard never played the Yellow Jackets in a conference game.

The reason Clemson went to Atlanta every year was to balance the budget. These were different times for college football, especially Tiger football. Howard was not only the head coach, he was the athletic director. You don’t see many coaches today who also serve as athletic director, but he did both for 30 years.

Howard was an outstanding coach, but he also knew he had to run a fiscally-balanced department if he was going to have credibility (and a job) with Dr. Robert Poole and Dr. Robert C. Edwards, the two Clemson presidents during his coaching and administrative career.

There weren’t the television contracts, shoe contracts or even merchandise revenue that there is today. So each year when Dodd offered Howard the opportunity to make more money by playing Georgia Tech in Atlanta than he would playing a game at Clemson, Howard signed that contract, and the Tigers made an early-season bus ride down I-85.

For much of Howard’s career, the Tigers played South Carolina in Columbia. The gate receipts were spilt for those games, but they were played in Columbia until 1960, because South Carolina had a bigger stadium and there was a bigger “pie” to split.

When Clemson built the west endzone stands, it changed to a home-and-home schedule starting in 1960, because Memorial Stadium was increasing in size to rival that of Williams-Brice Stadium.

Playing Georgia Tech and South Carolina on the road almost annually for much of his career, Howard only enjoyed coaching the Tigers at home for 38 percent of his games. By comparison, Head Coach Dabo Swinney has coached the Tigers at home for 50 percent of his games (73 of 146 entering today).

Howard is still Clemson’s winningest coach with 165 victories, but Swinney is gaining on that total with 116. Howard averaged coaching just under 10 games per year, while Swinney has coached 59 games during the last four seasons, so the soon-to-be 50-year-old Swinney has more opportunities for victories each year than Howard did.

So today, take a minute to reflect on the contributions Howard made to the Clemson program. Sometimes, we refer to the “good ole’ days” as “simpler times.” But that was not the case for Howard. He actually coached in more difficult times when you take everything into account.

He led Clemson to 165 wins, eight conference championships and six bowl games during an era where there were only 10 bowl games per year. His accomplishments were many, and one of the victories he took the most pride in was a win over Georgia Tech in Atlanta nearly 50 years ago.