Later today, hundreds from far and wide will gather to celebrate the homegoing of Clell Laverne Hobson Sr., a true icon in University of Alabama athletics history.

Clell, who before his passing on March 14 was the oldest living Alabama football and baseball letterman, left behind a lifetime of precious memories, stellar athletic accomplishments, and – most importantly – countless lives changed for the better. He was 93 years young.

“Dad meant a lot to a lot of people, and we were all proud of that,” said Clell’s son Butch, a former Tide football and baseball player. “Our time together, especially in the latter part of his life, was very special. He knew the Lord. He was very strong in his faith; a very strong Christian man and a wonderful role model for not only his family, but for everyone he was associated with.”

Born in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 28, 1930, a year into the Great Depression, Clell’s early days were anything but easy. His father, Vernon, had to quit school in the fifth grade to help raise the family. Despite the hardscrabble life, though, athletics for Clell served as somewhat of a salve, a welcome distraction from the crumbling economy and national despair.

Because there were no organized youth leagues in the area, Clell grew up playing football and baseball in the nearest cow pasture or playground. Often, he’d be found peeking through the bushes to watch the Alabama football team toil through another practice.

“We looked up to all those Alabama football guys,” said Clell in an interview for my book, Alabama’s Family Tides. “They had guys like Harry Gilmer, Norwood Hodges, Lowell Tew, Herb Hannah, Pat O’Sullivan, George Albright, and Gordon Pettus. They took care of us Tuscaloosa youngsters. One time Gordon Pettus gave me a pair of football pants to practice in at high school, and I was thrilled to death.”

After an outstanding three-sport career at Tuscaloosa High School, Clell entered the University of Alabama on a football scholarship in January of 1949. Never again would he have to peek through the bushes to watch his beloved Crimson Tide practice. He was now, in golf-speak, “inside the ropes.”

Clell’s two-sport tenure for Alabama from 1949-1952 was exemplary.

As the signal caller on the gridiron, he rushed 164 times for 453 yards and completed 107 of 190 passes for 1,299 yards and eleven touchdowns. Of his three seasons, his junior campaign was most impressive, finishing second in the nation in pass completion percentage and becoming the fourth back in Alabama football history to exceed the 1,000-yard mark in total offense.

On the diamond in 1950, Clell and his Crimson Tide teammates finished 16-9 to win the SEC championship and earn a trip to the College World Series. Alabama finished 17-5 his junior season and 13-11 during his 1952 senior season.

As long as Crimson Tide football records are kept, though, it’ll be the 1953 Orange Bowl for which Clell will forever be best known.

In the second most lopsided bowl game ever, Alabama crushed the Syracuse Orangemen, 61-6. Clell completed 14 of 22 passes for 207 yards in the rout. Seven different Tide players scored touchdowns, and even a freshman from Montgomery named Bart Starr joined in the fun by tossing a 22-yard touchdown pass to Joe Cummings. Defensive back Cecil “Hootie” Ingram, former UA Athletics Director, scored one of Alabama’s seven touchdowns on an 80-yard punt return. In the rout, twelve bowl game records were set.

“We seemed to do everything right that game,” Clell said. “It was the first time the fans could see all four major bowls on television on the same day, and some of them left the game early so they could watch it on TV. We had never seen a television camera before, and they took close-ups of all the players. It was quite an experience.”

Although Clell’s football talents had earned him the headlines, baseball would be his livelihood for the next five years. In January 1953 Clell was drafted twice by Cleveland – once by the Indians to play baseball and once by the Browns to play football.

“But all my life,” he said, “I had wanted to play professional baseball. I really didn’t have any desire to give football a try.”

Five years in the minors proved enough for Clell, and in 1957 he settled back in Alabama to begin a successful football coaching career.

“After five years in pro baseball, I had not made it,” Clell said. “(Wife) Polly and I had three kids (Butch, Mike, and Linka) by then, and I felt it was time for me to come back and do something I was going to do in the future.”

Perhaps the most unanswerable trivia question in Alabama football history is, “Who was the director of the Tide’s athletic dorm, Friedman Hall, during head coach J.B. “Ears” Whitworth’s final 2-7-1 season in 1957?”

You guessed it. Clell Hobson.

Even though five years out of college, Clell had not finished his degree, so back to Tuscaloosa he headed. A visit with Tide assistant football coach (and Athletics Director) Hank Crisp resulted in an offer to oversee Friedman Hall. With his mind set on finishing his physical education degree, Clell happily took the scholarship and moved his family into the dorm. Head baseball coach Happy Campbell also took advantage of Clell’s presence by utilizing him as a volunteer assistant coach.

Then in December of that year, “Mama called” Paul “Bear” Bryant back home to coach his alma mater. Everyone knew changes would be made, and unfortunately Clell was one of those changes.

“Coach Bryant wrote me a letter and told me he wanted his own people directing the dorm,” Clell said. “Coach Sam Bailey came by the dorm, and we showed him around. We got along just super; there were no hard feelings.”

In hopes of kicking off his football coaching career as part of Bryant’s first staff, Clell paid the coach a visit.

“I went into Coach Bryant’s office to talk about a football coaching job,” Clell said. “He said he would love to have me, but that they were very limited because of a tight budget. He looked at me straight in the eye and told me he would hire me if he could. He was very honest with me, and I admired him for that.”

With degree in hand and family in tow, Clell headed down Highway 82 to Centreville and Bibb County High School to begin his long and storied career as a coach and administrator. After one year as an assistant football coach at Bibb County, he took over head coaching duties for five seasons (1959-1963). Then it was on to Aliceville High School for three seasons (1964-1966), then to Bessemer High School (now Jess Lanier) from 1967-1973. He retired from coaching in 1973 but continued to serve in education as assistant principal at Jess Lanier (1974-1985) and Davis-Emerson Middle School in Tuscaloosa from 1986-1993.

Through his 45-year career in athletics and education, Clell touched innumerable lives. His infectious smile, bubbling personality, and servant heart earned him genuine hero status, especially to folks in Tuscaloosa, Bibb County, Aliceville, and Bessemer, as well as in Linden and Demopolis, where he spent his last couple of years in healthcare facilities.

“As far as a father, we’re all biased what we can say about our dad, but he was a special human being,” said son Butch, who after his Crimson Tide football and baseball careers played in the majors for the Boston Red Sox, California Angels, and New York Yankees (and served as Red Sox manager in 1992-1994). “He loved people. He never met a stranger. Every time we’d go somewhere, whether it was to a grocery store or in downtown Tuscaloosa, he spoke to everybody because he felt like he knew them. I think that’s a pretty special thing. I’m pretty sure I took that from him, because my son says the same thing to me – ‘Dad, why do you say hello to everyone? You don’t even know them.’”

As quarterback on the late 1960s Jess Lanier teams, Butch recalls what it was like to play for his dad.

“Everything that happened on the field was my fault,” Butch laughed. “There’d be times in practice when I’d call a sideline route and the receiver ran a curl and I threw a sideline and all of a sudden it was my fault. I’d be the one to take the heat for it. I didn’t particularly care for him on the football field. Sometimes I’d want to take the ball and hit him in the back of the head!

“But Dad was a tremendous football coach. He loved his players as Coach Bryant did. I think I took a lot of that into my career as a manager by letting my players know every day how much I cared about them.

“When playing for Coach Bryant, on Sundays we’d watch the previous day’s game film in the projection room. After finishing, on his way out, with that Pall Mall cigarette hanging out of his mouth, he’d look at us, and say, ‘Boys, go home and call Mama and tell her you’re OK. And remember this, I love every one of you.’

“And Dad did that with all his players. He let us know how much he cared about us and loved us.”

Caring and loving certainly go both ways. Not only did Clell show love and care for others, but he was also the recipient of the same, many times over.

“The people at the nursing home down in Linden (where Clell lived for two years) absolutely loved him,” Butch said. “You know, when you get to be that age, it’s not easy. His body was hurting and sometimes he didn’t have good days. But when he did something or said something he shouldn’t have, he would always apologize. He’d always say, sometimes with tears in his eyes, ‘I’m sorry about the way I acted yesterday. I hope you’ll forgive me. You know I love y’all.’

“He was a very beautiful man in his feelings for everyone he met.”

Although he’s “Dad” only to Butch, Mike, and Linka, Clell will always be “Coach” to everyone else. In our short phone interview earlier this week, I asked Butch what Clell thought about his time as Red Sox manager.

“When I managed Boston, Dad was able to watch all the games on TV,” Butch said. “So at some point after every game, we’d talk and he’d say, “Son, why did you make that move? So-and-so is not hitting; are you going to have him in the lineup tomorrow?’

“He was always coaching. He’d tell all the aides and nurses at his nursing homes, ‘You know, I just want y’all to understand, I’m just an old football coach and sometimes I just can’t stop coaching.’

“He will be known to everyone as ‘Coach.’ And I’m very proud of that.”

© 2024 Tommy Ford All Rights Reserved

(For those interested, the Hobson family has set up the Clell Hobson Sr. Memorial Endowed Scholarship at the University of Alabama. To donate or for more information, please visit and enter “Clell Hobson” in the search bar.)