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Clemson's 5 Best: Top Head Coaches in Program History

From Charley Pell to Dabo Swinney, ranking the five best head coaches in Clemson football history.

Clemson football has seen it all when it comes to head coaches. Dating back to the early days of the program with coach John Heisman to one-hit wonders like John Stone and Wayne Hart to College Football Hall of Famers such as Frank Howard and National Championship winners Danny Ford and Dabo Swinney.

The Clemson job hasn't always been the most appealing one in the business, but in the modern era of college football, it ranks among the best in the country. Today's feature ranks the five best coaches to grace the Clemson sideline.

5. Charley Pell (1977-1978)

Though he was only the coach for two seasons, Pell certainly left his mark on the Clemson football program in more ways than one. He brought Clemson back into the national spotlight with a trip to the Gator Bowl in 1977 for the Tiger's first bowl bid in 18 years. The following year, Clemson won the ACC title and Pell garnered ACC coach of the year honors for the second straight season. He finished his tenure in Clemson 18-4-1 overall before taking the job at Florida. Though he left a trail of NCAA recruiting violations, which led two years of probation, he also cleared the path for a young assistant in Danny Ford as his successor.

4. Danny Ford (1978-1989)

Ford could make the argument for number one on the list. During his time as head coach, he was 96-29-4, never had a losing season, delivered five ACC championships and the program's first-ever national title. He remains the youngest coach to win a college football national championship. A College Football Hall of Fame inductee, Ford compiled wins against some of the best in his era including Bobby Bowen, Woody Hayes, Vince Dooley, Tom Osborne, and Joe Paterno. He's the third-winningest coach in school history behind Frank Howard and current head coach Dabo Swinney.



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3. Frank Howard (1940-1969)

Howard is forever stitched into Clemson and college football history. He did a little of everything during his time in Clemson. He served as head football coach while also serving as an assistant on the track and baseball teams and oversaw the athletic department and ticket sales. He is the winningest (by the number of wins) coach in program history with a record of 165-112-12 and is the longest-tenured coach in program history. Samuel C. Jones, a close friend of Howard, is responsible for bringing the rock from Death Valley, Calif., to Clemson's Death Valley as a gift to Howard. The famous rock was used as a doorstop initially before being place atop of the hill for what is now part of one of college football's greatest traditions.

2. John Heisman (1900-1903)

Heisman, the namesake for the highest athletic honor for a college football player, coached football and baseball at Clemson. As a football coach, Heisman was 19-3-1 overall and won three SIAA (Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association) conference titles. Heisman led the Clemson to its first conference title and undefeated season (6-0) in 1900. His hire was groundbreaking not only for Clemson Tiger football in his earliest stages but for college football as a whole. Heisman's .833 winning percentage is still the highest in school history.

1. Dabo Swinney (2008-present)

The Swinney story and his ascension as to one of the best coaches in college football is truly a special one. From graduate assistant to a real estate agent to a two-time national championship-winning head coach, Swinney is proof that hard work, persistence, and faith can help carry you beyond your wildest dreams. Swinney's Tigers have won at least 10 games every year since 2011 and 12 or more every season since 2015. He is 130-31 as head coach and is nearly a sure bet to leave Clemson as the winningest coach ever. The Tigers have won six ACC titles under his leadership and are showing no signs of slowing down as one of the premier programs in the country. With wins over the likes of Bobby Bowden, Urban Meyer, Les Miles, Steve Spurrier, Jimbo Fisher, Brian Kelly, Mack Brown, Mark Richt, Bob Stoops, Frank Beamer, and Ryan Day, few have enjoyed a better last decade than Swinney.