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Coaching Spotlight: Walter Riggs

Coaching Spotlight: Walter Riggs
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia

Clemson’s football program is a long and storied one. It does not necessarily command the prestige of programs like Oklahoma, Notre Dame, or Michigan, but in that time the Tigers have won a national championship, beaten rival South Carolina often, and celebrated many influential head coaches and players. 

The man that made it all happen was named Walter M. Riggs. He was responsible for the creation of an official Clemson University football program as well as its continuation and livelihood throughout the beginning of the

twentieth century. 

Riggs graduated from what is now Auburn University in 1892 where he played on their newly formed football team, was the head of the Glee club and was a member of Phi Delta Theta. He also earned a Bachelor of Science degree in both mechanical and electrical engineering. 

Riggs became the head coach of the Auburn Tigers in 1893, but moved to Clemson after the 1895 season, and handed over control of Auburn’s program to a man named Jon Heisman. Yes, the Heisman that the trophy was named after. 

In 1896, Walter Riggs became the first Clemson football head coach. Low on money, Riggs stole a few of the Auburn practice jerseys for the newly minted Clemson players. They were very worn and had the navy color mostly faded out. Thus, Clemson’s official colors became orange, and later on, a faded navy-purple color called Regalia. Clemson also owes its mascot to Riggs’s Auburn affections for the Tiger. 

Riggs ended up becoming the head coach again in 1899 due to a lack of funds in the athletic department. That was the first year that Clemson ever played Auburn. Under the guidance of Jon Heisman, Auburn won that first meeting 34-0. In 1900, Riggs officially stepped down as head coach, but hired Heisman to coach from 1900 to 1903. Clemson’s first home game was against Davidson College on Bowman Field in 1900. 

Riggs continued to work for the university as a professor in engineering, but his real passion was for athletics. He created the position of athletic director, which is currently held today by Dan Radakovich. Riggs became the president of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletics Association (SIAA) in 1912. The SIAA had 72 members when it was dissolved and comprised almost all of the members of the current Southeastern Conference (SEC), six from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and the University of Texas at Austin in the Big 12, as well as other schools that are not in Division I football. 

In order to alleviate the usage of Bowman Field, a new field was to be built on the north side of campus. In 1915, it was finished and named Riggs Field. Riggs Field was the first of many solely athletic facilities to be built on Clemson’s campus. It was where the Clemson football team played until they moved to Memorial Stadium in 1942. Now it is currently being used by the men’s and women’s soccer teams and has been since 1980. 

Walter Riggs died in 1924, two days before his 51st birthday. Some say that he worked himself too hard. In the end, his dedication and sacrifice has led Clemson to be a home for one of the top athletic programs in the nation.

In a fitting turn of events, the Clemson football team will be playing Auburn

to kick off the 2016 football season on September 3.

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