Any football coach who produces a winner at Clemson, the Atlantic Coast Conference's only truly football-crazed school, is bound to be a hero in these parts.

That is just what Charley Pell was. In two years as Tiger boss, he produced an 18-1 record, two bowl invitations and an Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Men in the area tried to dress like him. Students held Charley Pell look-alike contests. Pell could do no wrong.

Until, three weeks after winning the ACC title, Pell packed his bags suddenly and headed for the University of Florida. Easier to recruit there, he said.

Pell went from hero to hate list in the blink of an eye. "A lot of us felt used; we were really hurt," said Billy Lott, who will start at quarterback for the Tigers against Maryland Saturday afternoon. "He said he had done all he could with Clemson. That didn't make this year's seniors feel too great."

Into the void stepped Danny Ford, at 31 the nation's youngest head coach of a major team. Ford's first task: beat Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. He did, 17-15, in the game that led to the ouster of Buckeye Coach Woody Hayes.

But not Ford, who is as laid-back and loose as Pell was serious and intense, is faced with a more difficult task: defending Clemson's ACC title with a team depleted by the loss of 15 starters, including All-America quarterback Steve Fuller and his favorite target, Jerry Butler.

"I wouldn't mind seeing us go 11-1 again," Athletic Director Bill McLellan said today. "But I'm not that big a fool to expect it. We don't have the depth and experience we need. Last year we had both."

Ford, a 1970 Albama graduate, learned his football from Bear Bryant -- just like Pell. He has kept Pell's schemes both offensively and defensively, having designed the offense as Pell's offensive coordinator.

But the similarities stop there, "Coach Pell was incredibly organized," said Perry Tuttle, Butler's replacement at split end. "Coach Ford is a lot looser about things. At first, things were kind of unorganized. Now they're organized, but not the same detailed way as before."

"I can't change my personality just because I'm a head coach and not an assistant coach," Ford said today. "Charley was a worrier. He used to worry a lot about things he couldn't do anything about. I try to just worry about things I can control. If Maryland comes in here Saturday and plays great, nothing I can do. I just worry about Clemson."

Leaning back in his chair, feet propped up on the desk, Ford looks more like a student assistant than the head coach of a major college football team. His boyish features and soft Alabama drawl add to that image. But when he talks about his job, even though his tone of voice never changes, his competitiveness becomes apparent.

"We still haven't built the foundation we need here. If we had we wouldn't have freshmen and sophomores laying at the tackle spots. We'd have juniors and seniors. We need at least two more years to build that foundation."

Because the Tigers were 11-1 a year ago and are conference champions, a lot is expected of them in spite of the graduation losses. And although McLellan says he will be delighted with anything approching seven victories, Ford isn't ready to give up the ACC title without a fight.

If the Tigers are to be successful, Lott must come through. No one expects him to be Fuller, now with the Kansas City Chiefs, but down here, any quarterback wearing orange and white is expected to do a lot.

"I thought going out for the Furman game I'd be incredibly nervous," Lott said. "But I felt so confident the nerves never hit me. Maybe that's because the guys have worked so hard to tell me they believe I can do the job."

Lott says that if he had realized four years ago, when he came to Clemson, that Fuller, then a struggling sophomore, was hoing to blossom into a star, putting him on the bench for three years, he would have gone elsewhere.

Ford, naturally, is glad he didn't. "If Billy had been red-shirted and had two more years to play he could be a great quarterback," Ford said. "Now, he's very good. He's not Steve Fuller because he don't have that kind of ability.

"But he's handled the situation very well. He's done the most important thing someone in his position can do -- he hasn't tried to be Steve Fuller. He's just trying to be Billy Lott."

Tuttle is faced with a similar situation in replacing Butler, who caught seven passes for the Buffalo Bills in his second pro game last Sunday.

"Jerry and I were very close, we worked together all the time," said Tuttle, who had six catches for 145 yards, including one 85-yard touchdown jaunt against Furman. "But when I first got here people would come up to me and say, 'you're going to be the next Jerry Butler.'

"Well I've modeled myself after JB and I want to be as good as him. But I'd like people a couple years from now to be saying, 'who was that ol' number 15 who we had here before Perry Tuttle?'"

With Fuller and Butler gone, the Clemson people are realistic enough to know there will not be the explosive quality on the offense that existed a year ago.

And so, although they will still field an extremely competitive football team, this is, in a sense, a rebuilding year at Clemson.

But with the best facilities in the ACC, with a fund-raising organization which raised $2.4 million in fiscal 1979 and with Ford young, eager and popular with the players, Clemson should be a factor for years to come.