On Dec. 1, Charley Pell became head coach of the downtrodden but still promising Clemson football team. It should have been a day to relish.

Instead, it became the prelude to his most dismal experience in 15 years of coaching.

Pell, then the team's defensive coordinator and assistant head coach, replaced a friend, Red Parker, who quickly ended their relationship by refusing to talk to Pell since that December day.

"Fate turned crazy," said Pell, whose Clemson team hosts Maryland Saturday in the Atlantic Coast Conference football opener. "We (the staff) felt we were all gone. Then I was made head coach.

"I've tried to call him (Parker) a dozen times. I've been in coaching 15 years and my actions have never been questioned. It hurts me very deeply and made things very uncomfortable.

"Up until that day, me realtionship with him was excellent. There have been some very disparaging moments here, a rocky start. It's very discouraging."

Pell has retained four assistant coaches and hired five new ones. Asked if the turnover had anything to do with aides taking sides. Pell replied vaguely, "very factor of the transition was disappointing, as I guess all transitions like this are."

Last season, everything seemed to ounce the wrong way for Clemson, and Parker, in his fourth year, was rumored to be on the way out after the team posted a 3-6-2 mark.

Pell had heard that Parker wanted to leave and open a car dealership. When Pell asked Parker about the rumor, he denied it.

Now Parker reportedly is selling cars in Arkansas and Pell is trying to bring peace to a troubled program.

"We're opening up a can of worms here that we have no business opening up. I must be in the Twilight Zone to talk about his," said Pell. "I had hesitations about taking the job, yes. I wanted to be sure it was the right thing.

"I have accepted a real challenge and tried no to look back."

Pell, who served as an assistant at Alabama, Kentucky and VPI and as head coach at Jacksonville (Ala.) State, already has stamped his trademark on the Clemson program.

On the field, the offense will line up in the I formation, rather than last year's veer.

Off the field, Pell has been trying to bolster the team's academic standing, which he described as terrible.

"We've made a lot of progress there. We have some people thinking about graduating," said Pell. "We're watching study hall more carefully. We're counseling the students one on one and communicating with the parents. It involves a lot of man hours and time.

"There were only 11 football players in both sessions of summer school who were there because they had to catch up, and that's the fewest in 15 years."

Clemson has sold a record number of season tickets, more than 20,000 and has raised a record $1 million plus from alumni.

Pell raves about the Clemson alumni, calling them the most loyal in the country, and expounds like a tour guide on the area's lakes, mountains and its proximity to Atlanta and other bustling spots.

"Clemson," said Pell, "is unique."

Pell's primary task at the moment is rebuilding the confidence of his players, many of whom, he points out, have never played on a college team that won more than three games.

An upset of Maryland would give his Clemson team "a taste of something they've needed for a long time." and finally give Pell a reason to look ahead.