Furman’s Dick Sheridan Inducted Into South Carolina Football Hall of Fame
Dick Sheridan Was A Trailblazer For Furman Football
GREENVILLE, S.C. — Every great success story has a starting point, and at that starting point, is almost always a leader and trailblazer. For Clemson, it was Frank Howard, for Georgia Southern, it was Erk Russell, and for Furman, that leader and trailblazer was Dick Sheridan.
Last week, Sheridan was inducted into the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Greenville. It was the fifth awards ceremony for the association, and it was a veritable “who’s who” of college football legends from the state of South Carolina, including Clemson national championship-winning quarterback Deshaun Watson and South Carolina running back and Heisman Trophy winner, George Rogers. Rogers’ son, Brandon Poole, played his football at Furman (2000–03).
Sheridan was one of five inductees, as the star-studded class descended on the Hyatt for the banquet and in addition to Sheridan included: Fisher DeBerry (former head coach at Air Force/assistant at Wofford and Appalachian State), Charlie Brown (SC State/Washington Redskins), LeVon Kirkland (Clemson LB, 1988–91/11-year NFL veteran and all-pro with the Pittsburgh Steelers). Doc Blanchard (1945 Heisman Trophy winner at Army) was the lone posthumous honoree. He passed away in 2009.
Sheridan would take the Furman football program from good-to-elite. Predecessor Art Baker had led Furman helped put Furman in position to win its first of 13 Southern Conference football titles in 1978 under Sheridan. Baker left to become the head coach at The Citadel following the 1977 season. Sheridan would take Furman to that next level in Division I-AA football, culminating in the program’s first of three NCAA Division I-AA national title appearances in 1985.
The native of Augusta, S.C., came to Furman as an assistant in 1973. Sheridan had been a very successful high school coach at Orangeburg HS, Airport HS, and Eau Claire HS and was a graduate of the University of South Carolina.
Two years prior to arriving in Greenville as an assistant coach under Art Baker, Sheridan helped lead Orangeburg High School to a perfect 13–0 record and a AAAA Football Championship. In 1972, Sheridan moved just up the road to Airport High School, where he led the Eagles to their first-ever playoff appearance.
When Sheridan arrived at Furman, the Paladins were coming off a 1972 campaign, which had seen the Purple and White finish off what was a disappointing 2–9 overall record. With Sheridan on-board, the Paladins would start to build their winning brand, which would culminate in the first of Furman’s 13 Southern Conference championships in 1978. The ’78 campaign would be the first with Sheridan at the helm after Baker left to become the head coach at The Citadel.
In what was a strange irony, Furman and Sheridan would square off against The Citadel and Baker in what was a huge rivlary game and potentital Southern Conference title matchup in the final game of the regular-season for the Paladins. A Furman win and the Paladins would join Chattanooga as co-champions for the regular-season league crown.
The oldest rivalry in the SoCon would literally come down to the final play, and it was Furman’s defense that would prevent The Citadel’s Stump Mitchell from crossing the goal line on 4th down allowing the Paladins to take home their first of what would be 13 Southern Conference Football crowns.
“Well, we hadn’t won a conference championship in however many years so it was very special when you win a championship for the very first time,” former Furman and NC State head coach Dick Sheridan said.
As it’s been said, there can never be a second first. That 1978 title would prove to be the prelude to greatness for Furman football. Despite finishing the ’79 season with a 5–6 record, Sheridan and the Paladins would dominate the first half of the next decade, winning five Southern Conference titles over the next six seasons, including making a national title appearance in Sheridan’s final season at the helm of the Furman football program in 1985.
During his tenure as head coach in Greenville, the Paladins won six Southern Conference titles, and compiled an overall record of 69–23–2 during his eight seasons, helping lay the foundation for Furman’s lone national title, which would come three seasons later.
During Sheridan’s era, Furman would get wins over Division I-A members NC State (1984 and ‘85), South Carolina (1982) and Georgia Tech (1983). It would ultimately lead to Sheridan being hired as the Wolfpack’s head coach in 1986 following a 12–2 season from the Paladins and run to the national title.
The Paladins would drop a disappointing 44–42 decision in Tacoma, WA in the national title game to Erk Russell’s Georgia Southern Eagles in 1985. It would prove to be Sheridan’s final game as the head coach of the Paladins before moving on to N.C. State. Sheridan served as the school’s Director of Athletics from 1982–85.
One of the things that made Sheridan such a special head coach for Furman was the relationships he enjoyed with some of the other coaches around the Southern Conference, especially former legendary Western Carolina head coach Bob Waters, who succumbed to Lou Gehrig’s disease in May of 1989. He coached with the horrible disease for five years after learning of the terminal outcome.
“People who compete against each other respect each other, but Bob was not only someone you respected but you loved. I can remember the last time we competed he was in a wheelchair, and I can remember going across the field so he was a special guy,” Sheridan said.
When asked about coach Waters, it wasn’t an easy answer for Sheridan to answer, as he fought back emotions when remembering his close friend. The coaching fraternity is something neat in a lot of ways, and tight bonds are formed, despite the competition against one another. The fact that coach Sheridan — now a South Carolina Football Hall-of-Famer — had trouble answering the question shows you the kind of character and integrity the former Furman and NC State head coach has.
Sheridan and Waters’ most memorable matchup likely came in the 1983 Division I-AA Semifinals, with the Catamounts coming to Greenville with the winner getting a chance to play for the Division I-AA national title the following week.
In a game which pitted the two top Southern Conference teams against one another, and with future NFL stars on both sides. Players like Furman’s Stanford Jennings, and Western Carolina’s Tiger Greene, Dean Biasucci and Clyde Simmons, the game was definitely worth the price of admission. Furman’s Jennings became the second player in NFL history to return a kickoff for a TD in a Super Bowl in 1988 for Cincinnati, while Simmons would enjoy a 14-year NFL career. Biasucci had a successful nine seasons with the Indianapolis Colts (1984–92), where he finished third all-time leading scorer with 784 points.
In the semifinal clash between the two SoCon coaching titans, Waters would end up seeing his team win the day, as the Catamounts came to Greenville and picked up a hard-fought, 14–7, win to move on to what still remains the school’s lone national title appearance. Western would end up losing the championship game, 43–7, to Southern Illinois.
“Coach Waters was an example for all of us about perseverance and toughness and he was a great man,” he added.
Sheridan, who attributes the Furman coaching tree back to Art Baker, talked about his special relationships with former Paladin head coaches and players. He was candid in describing the “ilk” that each of his former assistant coaches were a part of. I asked the former Furman legendary coach about Bobby Lamb (2002–2010), Bobby Johnson (1994–2001), Bruce Fowler (2011–16) and Clay Hendrix (2016-present).
“Well, all of those guys have played for me. Bobby Lamb, of course, was the quarterback the two years that we beat NC State, and Bruce Fowler is a man who I have tremendous respect for and he did things the right way, ethical, smart, and he was actually a walk-on from Cincinnati and we didn’t recruit that area. He actually became a starting cornerback for us, and I talked to him just within the last week and he’s moved to Florida now, but I have the utmost love for Bruce.”
“Of course Clay and I have talked many times since has gotten the [Furman] job and he’s the same kind of guy. Bobby and Clay and Bruce are cut from the same cloth and in the same mold.”
Sheridan also enjoyed great relationships with his former colleagues. That includes his presenter at last week’s South Carolina Football Hall-of-Fame, in former Furman head coach Bobby Johnson. Johnson will be inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame on May 15 in Columbia.
Johnson played for Sheridan at Eau Claire High School, where he was standout basketball and football player for Sheridan, while also excelling in baseball.
“I have known Bobby [Johnson] since I started coaching at Eau Claire when Bobby was in eighth grade. I was the middle school basketball coach and football coach and Bobby was one of my players and when I found out I had to have somebody introduce me tonight, I called Bobby. You know Bobby turned out to be a great coach both at Furman and Vanderbilt and I think the respect and esteem that the football community has for Bobby is the fact that he is on the football playoff selection committee. Everybody that knows Bobby respects him.”
THE CHALLENGES AT N.C. STATE:
From 1986–92, Sheridan plied his trade as the head coach of the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Prior to Sheridan’s arrival in 1986, the Wolfpack had compiled just a 9–24 record in the previous three campaigns under the direction of Tom Reed.
Sheridan would have an immediate impact for N.C. State, turning the Wolfpack from ACC cellar-dweller into an instant contender. The Wolfpack would finish out Sheridan’s first season in Raleigh with an 8–3–1 overall. He had completely reversed the 1985 team’s mark of 3–8.
“The challenges were more at NC State than they were at Furman because coach Baker had set the table so well for us to have the success we did and at N.C. State the most wins they had was three in the previous three seasons and it was definitely a rebuilding program, but also that’s one of the most satisfying things for a coach and take something that maybe wasn’t so good and make it better.”
Sheridan went on to help the Wolfpack to six bowl appearances in his seven seasons at the helm of the Wolfpack, and posted a 52–29–3 record as the head coach of N.C. State. In his final bowl appearance, N.C. State would drop a 27–10 contest to a Steve Spurrier-led Florida team in the 1991 Gator Bowl.
Like the Furman job, Sheridan helped make the job in Raleigh for his successor — Mike O’Cain. All told, Sheridan finished his career with a 121–52–5 before retiring following the 1992 campaign. He finished his career with a 31–18–1 mark against ACC competition, while finishing his career with a 41–10–1 mark against Southern Conference competition.
Sheridan’s influence extends even beyond Furman, with former Orangeburg-Wilkinson standout Buddy Pough being a highly successful coach in the MEAC at South Carolina State, while Todd Varn, who played for Sheridan and served as a graduate assistant under Sheridan at NC State, is a successful offensive coordinator at Presbyterian College.
“It’s a tremendous joy to see the Art Baker coaching tree, and mine too, to have so much success. For instance, Robbie Caldwell is the offensive line coach at Clemson, Buddy Pough is the head coach at South Carolina State, and Clay [Hendrix] now at Furman, Todd Varn is the offensive coordinator at Presbyterian and played for me at NC State, and after I left Furman, Jimmy Satterfield, who was my offensive coordinator and Bobby Johnson, who was of course of my defensive coordinator and both of those guys went on to coach at Furman, and they did a fantastic job and they were part of my staff, but I had six people go with me to N.C. State and they stayed with me the whole time, and I had eight people stay with me the eight years at Furman and the seven years at NC State, and that is pretty rare.”
In the modern era of NC State and at Furman, Sheridan was a trailblazer of a coach. Just three years following Sheridan’s matriculation to NC State, Furman claimed the program’s only national title, while he helped usher in a successful era of football at NC State following his departure due to health concerns following the 1992 season.