In April, Danny Ford and Will Muschamp gave speeches on leadership at Knight’s Companies, a concrete contractor in Summerville. The talks sounded pretty similar to Ford.
“They do a lot of things similar to us,” the former Clemson and Arkansas coach told The State. “They believe in a lot of the same things.”
Those similarities have led to what might be considered an unlikely friendship between the man who coached Clemson to the 1981 national title and the man charged with rebuilding South Carolina’s football program to once again challenge the Tigers for in-state dominance. That’s exactly what has happened, though, as the pair have traveled together to multiple speaking events similar to the one in April.
When asked about their relationship, Muschamp responded with a loud laugh.
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“I gotta stay away from that,” he said. “Nah, he’s a good guy. He’s been great.”
Ford also treads lightly on the subject, considering how sensitive fans on both sides of the rivalry can be about anything that smells of fraternization.
“I’ll have to watch what I say or I’ll get a lot of bad remarks from Clemson people,” Ford said. “He seems like a very down-to-earth fellow, works hard and has a plan to try make them successful in Columbia. I wish him well. I hope he has a program down there that makes everyone in the state proud along with what Clemson has developed. Just as far as people go, he’s a nice fellow, and I’ve enjoyed the time we’ve been around him.”
Both have a reputation as coaches who can correct with loud and colorful language but stay on good terms their players. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette writer Bob Holt, who covered the Razorbacks while Ford was their coach, remembers one practice where Ford made his players run the same play “over and over and over” while exhorting them all along.
“It was like,‘Oh my gosh,’ but I know that toughened guys up,” Holt said. “Danny came along and really brought a lot of discipline to the program. He didn’t tolerate guys messing up.”
Ford, who now works on his farm in Pendleton, S.C., coached Clemson from 1978 through 1989 and then went to Arkansas, where he inherited a program coming off a 3-7-1season and left after five years with an overall record of 20-36-1.
“I’ll use a pickup truck analogy because Danny was a pickup truck kind of guy, they had a pickup truck that was in a ditch,” Holt said. “He pulled the pickup truck out of the ditch and got it back on the road. I really respected Danny. To me, the measure of the coach is did he leave the program in better shape, and there’s no doubt Danny left that program in better shape. The next year, when Houston Nutt came in, they went 9-2.
Muschamp coached at Florida for four seasons before coming to South Carolina, where he inherited a team that was 3-9 in 2015 and improved it to 6-7 in 2016 and 9-4 in 2017.
“I think, from what they have done, if they can show improvement from year to year like they have done, that’s really good,” Ford said. “Just like Clemson, if they can continue to win 10-11 games a year, that’s really good. I have been in both of those leagues, and I don’t mind telling you when you play in the SEC that’s a tough league from week to week. The ACC, you can have a little break, but the ACC has changed since I’ve been in it. The SEC is probably a little bit more physical from week to week.The ACC when I coached wasn’t like that.”
Ford and Muschamp met once on the field, when the Razorbacks traveled to play Georgia, where Muschamp was a starting safety. Ford doesn’t remember Muschamp from the game, he said.
“No, he couldn’t have been too good,” Ford said. “We beat them didn’t we?”
They did. Arkansas won that meeting 20-10 in Athens, Ga., a result Muschamp also remembered. Another similarity between the two men, neither minds needling friends and acquaintances. When it was pointed out to Ford that Muschamp was initially a walk-on for the Bulldogs, he replied, “A lot of times they make really good coaches because they have overachieved before.”
“Usually these really, really good players, they don’t turn out to be too good a coaches because it comes so easy for them,” Ford continued. “The other guys have to work so hard to get there.
“I guess that means I wasn’t a very good player either.”