As head coach, Howard directed the Clemson football program for the next thirty seasons (1940–1969), achieving a level of success that would not be surpassed at the school until the 1980s. Howard brought attention to the Clemson football program as much with his personality as with victories.
Football coach. Howard was born in Barlow Bend, Alabama, on March 25, 1909. He graduated from Murphy High School in Mobile and earned a scholarship from the Birmingham News in 1927 to attend the University of Alabama, where he became a member of the varsity football squad. On graduation in 1931 Howard accepted a position as assistant football coach at Clemson University under head coach Jess Neely. When Neely departed for Rice University in 1940, Howard was chosen as his replacement. As head coach, Howard directed the Clemson football program for the next thirty seasons (1940–1969), achieving a level of success that would not be surpassed at the school until the 1980s. Howard’s teams compiled a 165–118–12 record, earned eight conference championships (two Southern, six Atlantic Coast), and appeared in six postseason bowl games, including the Sugar Bowl (1959) and two trips to the Orange Bowl (1951, 1957).
Howard brought attention to the Clemson football program as much with his personality as with victories. Howard’s Alabama drawl, rotund shape, and constant tobacco chewing defined his country bumpkin image. On the after-dinner speaking circuit, Howard entertained listeners with colorful stories and wry one-liners. He also gave sportswriters fodder for their columns by carrying on mock feuds with his rival coaches in the southeast, especially Paul Dietzel at the University of South Carolina and D. C. “Peahead” Walker of Wake Forest.
Howard established several traditions that have become a part of the spectacle and pageantry associated with a Clemson football game. The team’s traditional entrance into the stadium by running down a hill at the east end zone began simply as the most convenient route to the field from nearby Fike Field House, where the team dressed. Later Clemson teams, who had the benefit of dressing rooms at the west end of the stadium, continued the tradition by boarding buses and riding back to the east end zone just before kickoff in order to make their ceremonial entrance into the stadium greeted by cheers and the school fight song, “Tiger Rag.” Howard also established the tradition of the players rubbing “Howard’s Rock” (mounted on a pedestal at the top of the hill) for luck as they entered the stadium. The rock, from Death Valley in California, was given to Howard by a friend after the Clemson Memorial Stadium earned the nickname “Death Valley,” especially for opponents such as Presbyterian College and the University of Virginia which Clemson defeated with regularity. Howard never lost to Virginia, referring to them as the “white meat” on the annual football schedule.
Howard married Anna Tribble in 1933 and they had two children. He died on January 26, 1996, and was buried at Cemetery Hill, alongside many former Clemson presidents and faculty. Howard’s final resting place on Cemetery Hill overlooks Memorial Stadium and the football field that bears his name.
Blackman, Sam, Bob Bradley, and Chuck Kriese. Clemson: Where the Tigers Play. Champaign, Ill.: Sports Publishing, 1999.
Bradley, Bob. Death Valley Days: The Glory of Clemson Football. Atlanta: Longstreet, 1991.
McLaurin, Jim. “Friends Hail the King of Clemson.” Columbia State, January 27, 1996, pp. A1, A5.
Sahadi, Lou. The Clemson Tigers from 1896 to Glory. New York: Morrow, 1983.