Frank Howard was born at Barlow Bend, Alabama and in his own words, “it was only three wagon wheel greasin’s from Mobile.” With a limited number of opportunities that a small community could offer, Howard left Barlow Bend “walking barefoot on a barbed wire fence with a wildcat under each arm” towards Mobile.
After finishing Murphy High School, he entered the University of Alabama on an academic scholarship provided by the Birmingham News in the fall of 1927, and the 185-pounder played reserve guard his sophomore year. During his junior year, he started every game but two, as an ankle injury sidelined him for the two games he missed. Again his senior year he was a regular. We was a dynamic, tough lineman for Alabama and had a good career. His destiny would be to coach.
Howard stepped onto the rolling hills of Clemson in 1931 as he came to his first coaching post under then, Clemson head coach, Jess Neely, as a line tutor. “At least that was my title,” Howard said in that gravely, southern drawl. Always the unapologetic self-promoter, he would say, “Actually, I also coached track, was ticket manager, recruited players and had charge of football equipment. In my spare time I cut grass, lined tennis courts and operated the canteen while the regular man was out to lunch.”
He wore many caps for Clemson Athletics. He was the Tigers baseball coach in 1943 and his 12–3 record that year is still among the best percentages for a season in Clemson history. Howard was also track coach at Clemson from 1931 to 1939. Now, back to Football.
When Neely accepted a new position at Rice University as the Owls new head coach in 1940 he suggested Howard as his replacement. This story is quintessential Frank Howard.
When the Clemson Athletic Council met to name a successor to Neely, Prof. Sam Rhodes, a council member, nominated Howard to be the new head coach. Howard, standing in the back of the room listening to the discussion, said; “I second the nomination.” He got the job and never left, thankfully.
He was quick witted and possessed a sharp, dead-pan sense of humor that he’d always use to his benefit. It’s said that after the Tigers defeated South Carolina 27-0 in the final “Big Thursday” game, as the team was leaving the field, they were pelted by the Gamecock fans with drinks, trash and spit all while shouting “ Go to HELL.” Classic Frank Howard response? I’m paraphrasing here but it’s remembered by many he yelled back “I’m in Hell and I’m just trying to get out, so long suckers…”
When he retired as head coach following the 1969 season, he was the nation’s dean of coaches, having been a head football coach at a major institution longer than anyone else in the United States. When he retired, he was one of five active coaches with 150 or more victories. Including a pretty doggone impressive Bowl record for “little ole Clemson” 3-3.
Over his long career he would be named to many Halls-of Fame all over the country. He was named Southern Conference Coach-of-the-Year in 1948. In 1959, he was named Atlantic Coast Conference Coach-of-the-Year and was accorded the honor again in 1966. His teams impressively won six ACC championships, no small feat.
In addition to heading up the Clemson football program Howard also had the job of directing Clemson’s entire athletic program, and at the same time raising all the required scholarship funds. The athletic department was always on a sound financial footing under the guidance of Howard.
He was bigger than just a great coach, he was a larger than life human being. Just ask any of his players. He was always loved and revered by each of “his boys” all endearingly calling him “Coach.”
Howard retired from coaching on December 10, 1969, after 39 years on the Clemson coaching staff, 30 of which were as head coach. He was also athletic director during this time and he kept this position until February 4, 1971, when he was named assistant to the vice president at the university, the post he held when the mandatory retirement age of 65 rolled around.
An era at Clemson University ended June 30, 1974, when Frank Howard officially retired from the payroll. Another era ended January 26, 1996, when Howard died at the age of 86 and forever silenced a voice that had been synonymous with Clemson for nearly 65 years.
Although he retired from all official duties in 1974, he never quit coming to the office and he never stopped representing Clemson in a manner which continued to win friends for the place that was so dear to his heart.
After his retirement, Clemson University honored Howard with the presentation of the Clemson Medallion, which is the highest public honor bestowed by the university to a living person who exemplifies the dedication and foresight of its founders. He was a charter member of Clemson’s Ring of Honor at Memorial Stadium in 1994.
If the word “Legend “ ever described anyone, it would certainly be Coach Howard. His legacy and lore continues to this day. These Hills are still alive with his spirit Today.
Early in his time at Clemson, having no money for scholarships, he and Rupert Fike established IPTAY, “I Pay Ten A Year” booster club. Today, it is one of the most successful College Football fund raising organizations.
However, the most lasting of his legacies is “Howard’s Rock” at the top of the Hill. It’s is the beginning of what would be referred to as the “Most exciting 25 seconds of College Football. Thanks Coach Howard, Clemson today, owes you a “Big One.”
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