Clemson football Coach Danny Ford was reprimanded and placed on one year's probation by the university yesterday because of his behavior in last week's loss to Maryland. He also was told he cannot be on the sideline for next year's game against the Terrapins.
In addition, four Clemson players were suspended for Saturday's game against South Carolina for their actions against Maryland's Lewis Askew at the end of the Terrapins' 34-31 victory in Clemson, S.C., and two others were reprimanded and placed on probation. Of the six players involved, all three underclassmen were suspended for next year's game at Maryland.
Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Bob James, who acted jointly with Clemson in determining the punishment, said the stern disciplinary action is the first of its kind in the 15 years he has been commissioner. "There's no way I would sit in this chair and tolerate actions like this," James said last night. "It was very ugly."
Ford's coaching activities will be limited to the press box for the Maryland game Nov. 15 in College Park. There was no precise explanation of what probation entailed, but ACC sources indicated Ford and his players will be watched closely, and any future incidents will result in harsher punishment.
In a prepared statement, Ford apologized for his behavior and that of his team. "I regret that this incident took place and I apologize to everyone . . . " The players all were told to apologize to Askew.
The suspended players are senior defensive end Eric Dawson, senior safety Ken Danforth and freshmen defensive backs James Lott and Norman Haynes. Eldridge Milton, a senior linebacker, and Keith Williams, a junior linebacker, were reprimanded for their involvement and placed on probation.
Maryland Coach Bobby Ross, who had said he did not want any action taken against Clemson, said last night, "I know that's a tough thing for Clemson to do. I was surprised it came as fast as it did. But they are to be credited with taking the initiative and taking very decisive action. I'm glad it's all over with."
Maryland won the controversial game, 34-31, on a 20-yard field goal with three seconds left after tying it, 31-31, with 1:18 remaining. Ford was irate because he said the officials did not notice the 25-second snap clock had expired, which would have nullified Maryland's game-tying touchdown pass and resulted in a five-yard penalty. Ford ran onto the field and berated the officials and easily could be heard screaming obscenities during the regionally televised game.
After the final play, on which Askew made a tackle on the Clemson sideline, replays indicated that at least six players surrounded Askew and began beating him about the head and body. Several times, Clemson players pulled his face mask and tried to take off his helmet. At least one Clemson player used his own helmet to hit Askew.
Askew said later he was well-protected by his helmet and pads and did not receive any injury. He was not available to comment last night.
Ross, who couldn't see what happened from the middle of the field, was shocked the next day when he saw the replay and called it "a street mugging. He wasn't hurt, but he could have been."
Ross said yesterday he wrote a letter of thanks to Clemson player Raymond Chavous, who ran over to pull his teammates off Askew. Both Ford and James commended the work of graduate assistant coach David Bennett, Chavous and player Terence Mack in breaking up the assault. "They are a great credit to Clemson University," James said.
In an interview last night, James said, "There's probably not a group of people today who are sorrier than those kids at Clemson. But it's like your family in a way. You have to take some disciplinary action at times. It tears you apart. We're not trying to make an example of those players at Clemson."
Bob Skelton, the faculty representative at Clemson, Athletic Director Bobby Robinson, and Nick Lomax, the acting vice president for student affairs, worked in conjunction with James to reach a decision on the punishment.
James said it was Ford's behavior on the field, after the game-tying touchdown pass, that warranted his reprimand and probation. James said the Clemson officials did not try to determine if Ford's actions played a role in the behavior of his players. "But you have to put all the pieces together," James said.
"We do not condone the actions that took place at the conclusion of the Clemson-Maryland game," Robinson said in a statement. "This behavior does not belong in intercollegiate athletics and it was an embarrassment to the university."