John Heisman and Clemson's First Champions
Head Coach Years: 1900-1903
Record at Clemson: 19-3-2
Winning Percentage: .83
A name synonymous with not only the early years of Clemson football but the collegiate game is John Heisman.
A stern disciplinarian, he expected his players to be of high character and performance both on the football field and in the classroom. Heisman coached the Tigers in 1900 to 1903 and was responsible for putting the Clemson name among the annals of the great early collegiate teams.
Heisman was brought to Clemson by a professor and later University President, Walter Riggs. In the spring of 1894, Riggs was a graduate manager for the Auburn football team, and he was responsible for finding a coach for the 1895 season. Riggs wrote to Carl Williams of Pennsylvania, captain of the 1894 team asking him to suggest a suitable coach. He replied recommending J.W. Heisman, an ex-Penn player, and his coach at Oberlin a few years earlier.
After several weeks, Riggs finally found Heisman in Texas, where he was engaged in raising tomatoes. Having sunk about all of his capital into the tomato venture, he was glad to go back to his old love of football and he readily went to coach at Auburn for $500.OO a year. Riggs later was hired as a professor at Clemson and he hired Heisman at Clemson in 1900. (Riggs started the Clemson football program in 1896 and was head coach in 1896 and 1899).
Heisman began his coaching career at Oberlin in 1892 and lasted 36 years in the profession. His career included positions at Akron, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Penn, Washington and Jefferson, and Rice University. He had an overall career record of 185 wins, 70 losses, and 17 ties.
He invented the hidden ball trick, the handoff, the double lateral, and the "Flea flicker." He pioneered the forward pass, and originated the center snap and the word "hike" (previously the center used to roll the ball on the ground to the quarterback).
Heisman took Clemson to a 19-3-2 record in his four seasons. His .833 winning pct. is still the best in Clemson history. He was also the Clemson baseball coach between 1901-1904.
Clemson was a powerhouse during his tenure and was a most feared opponent. His secret was that he depended on smart, quick players rather than large size and brawn.
William Heisman, a nephew of John Heisman often told a story on how his famous uncle stressed academics.
"I remember a story Coach Heisman used to tell me about this famous football player he confronted in the locker room before a big game. My uncle came busting through the door and went over to this guy and said, 'You can't play today because you haven't got your grades up to par.'The player looked up at my uncle and said, 'Coach, don't you know that the sportswriters call this toe on my right foot the million-dollar toe?' My uncle snapped back right quick and said, `What good is it if you only have a fifteen-cent head?"
Another favorite Heisman story was the speech he used to make before a season began. Heisman would face his recruits holding a football. "What is it?" he would sharply ask. Then he would tell his players, "a football was a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere-in which the outer leather casing is drawn up tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing." Then after a long pause he would say, "better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."
Heisman broke down football into these percentages: talent 25%; mentality 20%; aggressiveness 20%; speed 20%; and weight 15%. He considered coaching as being a master-commanding, even dictatorial. He has no time to say 'please' or `mister', and he must be occasionally severe, arbitrary, and something of a czar."
On November 29,1900, Clemson defeated Alabama 35-0, which allowed Heisman's team to finish the season undefeated with a 6-0 record. This was Clemson's first undefeated team and was the only team to win all of its games in a season until the 1948 squad went 11-0. The Tigers only allowed two touchdowns the entire 1900 season.
Clemson opened the 1901 season with a 122-0 win over Guilford. The Tigers averaged 30 yards per play and a touchdown every minute and 26 seconds. The first half lasted 20 minutes while the second half lasted only 10 minutes. Legend has it that every man on the Clemson team scored a touchdown in this game.
In his third season, on November 27, 1902, Clemson played in the snow for the first time in a game against Tennessee. The Tigers won the game, 11-0, and claimed the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association crown. ( An early conference that had several southern colleges and universities as members).
In his final season in 1903, Clemson defeated Georgia Tech 73-0 on October 17, 1903. Clemson rushed the ball 55 times for 6l5 yards, while Tech ran the ball 35 times and collected 28 yards. The second half was shortened to 15 minutes.
On November 24, 1903 Clemson's participated in its "First Bowl Game" as Clemson and Cumberland met on this date for the Championship of the South. The contract for the game was drawn up just two weeks before the game was to be played. Cumberland who had earlier defeated Auburn, Alabama, and Vanderbilt was considered to be champion of the southern states of Louisiana , Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky. While Clemson was considered to be the best team in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The game was played on a neutral site, Montgomery,AL. Cumberland and Clemson fought to a 11-11 tie. In this game, John Maxwell scored as a result of a 100 yard kickoff return. After the news came back to Clemson that the game ended in a tie, the students and the local towns people built a bonfire and paraded around the campus.
John Heisman's 19-3-2 record Is still the best in Clemson history on a percentage basis. The man named after the famous trophy that each year honors the best player in college football holds the distinction of building the early foundation of Clemson's football tradition.
Source: 1996 Clemson Football Media Guide