A pair of Clemson coaching heavyweights will enter the ring this fall when Danny Ford and Bill Wilhelm will be inducted into the school’s Athletics Ring of Honor, it was announced on Friday.
Those chosen for the Ring of Honor are required to be a member of the school’s athletics Hall of Fame, possess an undergrad degree from a four-year institution and have made a significant impact on the heritage of Clemson athletics history, according to the school.
Ford and Wilhelm, who is being inducted posthumously, will be honored during home football games this season. Wilhelm also will be recognized at a home baseball game.
“I could not think of a better person to go into the Ring of Honor with than Bill Wilhelm,” Ford said in a release. “When I first became the head football coach, he was someone I looked to for guidance. Everyone had so much respect for him. He certainly helped me when I took the job at age 30. I could see the respect for him wherever I went. What a great man who had such a positive influence on so many young men over 36 years.”
Ford took over as coach for the 1978 Gator Bowl and led the Tigers to a 17-15 win over an Ohio State team guided by Woody Hayes. Ford would go on to defeat other hall of fame coaches in bowl games such as Penn State’s Joe Paterno, Oklahoma’s Barry Switzer, Nebraska’s Tom Osborne and West Virginia’s Don Nehlen.
Ford led the Tigers to a 12-0 record and the 1981 national championship when he was named national coach of the year by several prominent outlets. It marked Clemson’s first national championship in any sport, and Ford remains the youngest coach (age 33) to win it all in Division I.
That would ignite a three-year span where his teams went a combined 30-2-2 before he finished his career with a 96-29-4 record and five ACC championships.
“I am very appreciative of this honor,” Ford said. “I feel a coach is less deserving of something like this than a player. They are the ones who did all the blocking and tackling, while the coaches just try to direct them and draw up the plays.
“My first thoughts are to all the players, assistant coaches, the fans, the support staff people, the trainers and managers, the sports information staff and (former play-by-play announcer) Jim Phillips, who helped make us successful on the field. If they look up in the stadium and see my name and it gives them pride for what we accomplished, I am for it.
“I also want to thank the professors that were at Clemson during my career who educated our young men. I am just as proud of my former players who have been successful in fields outside of athletics as I am of the ones who played professional football.”
Ford joins Frank Howard as the second head coach and ninth man overall inducted into the football portion of the ring. Others are multi-position player Banks McFadden, quarterback Steve Fuller (Spartanburg), receiver Jerry Butler, defensive back Terry Kinard, linebacker Jeff Davis, running back Fred Cone and longtime sports information director Bob Bradley.
Wilhelm, who died in 2010, is the second person inducted into the baseball portion in joining three-time All-American (1965-67) Rusty Adkins. Like Ford, he became a head coach at an early age as he was 29 when he took over at Clemson in 1958 and immediately led the Tigers to their first College World Series appearance. They would return to Omaha the following season.
Wilhelm, whose final year was 1993, never had a losing season over his 36-year tenure and with a record of 1,161-536-10 remains Clemson’s wins leader. He won 11 ACC tournament championships, 19 regular-season titles and appeared in six College World Series. The Tigers won an ACC-record 60 games in 1991 and averaged 50 wins over his final seven seasons. He is also a member of the Clemson Hall of Fame, the S.C. Athletic Hall of Fame and the National College Baseball Hall of Fame.