Larry Williams is nothing if not devoted to his craft.
Williams, senior writer for TigerIllustrated and co-author of A State Of Disunion, a book about the Clemson-South Carolina football rivalry, spent countless hours with his eyes glued to microfilm, archived letters and news clippings to put together his newest work, The Danny Ford Years At Clemson: Romping and Stomping, which sets out to chronicle in detail the rise and fall of former Clemson football coach Danny Ford.
"My belief after doing both the rivalry book and the Ford book is that when you're talking to people about stuff that happened 25 or 30 or even more years ago, their memories fade, and so there are gaps. Sometimes people don't remember stuff. Sometimes they embellish stuff without even realizing it," said Williams, who was an award-winning sports writer for the Charleston Post and Courier before getting in the digital news game in 2008. "The closest thing you can get to what actually happened is going back and reading accounts as they were happening."
Whereas the book on the rivalry that Williams co-authored with friend and former colleague Travis Haney required Williams to engage in more traditional journalism and fact collecting - much of that book centers on anecdotes from former players and coaches - The Danny Ford years required Williams to put on his historian hat and pore over any article he could find written during the Ford era. That includes pieces on the coach from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Charlotte Observer, Greenville News, Anderson Independent, State, Post and Courier, as well as national magazines and papers. Williams also spoke to some former players to help give him a more complete picture of the days of Ford, who coached Clemson from the last game of the 1978 season until the end of 1989.
"When you're trying to present a definitive history of an 11-year period, you have to explore every single day," Williams said.
He did just that for five solid weeks, spending most hours of the day looking at stories, letters and everything he could find to paint a picture not of the Danny Ford era in retrospect - but the thoughts and prevailing opinions of the man at the time.
And while Ford remains an icon to Clemson faithful, letters sent to the athletic director early on in Ford's tenure show how vulnerable he was at the beginning of it all - a fact easily lost on some who understandably remember Ford for his five conference titles and the national title he earned in 1981.
"It was interesting to read letters from the fall of 1980, and Danny Ford is in his second full year, and you had fans saying 'we've got to fire this guy. He's inexperienced. He's just an offensive line coach. He's too young. He doesn't know what he's doing,'" Williams said. "Honestly, they were a lot of the things some people are saying about Dabo Swinney. It is eerie how similar some of the criticisms are."
The fruition of Williams' labor actually first manifested itself in the form of a series of stories about the Ford era on TigerIllustrated. The series ran in February, and was a hit with the site's subscribers. Williams knew the potential for a book on the same topic was plenty doable.
"From 1978 until early 1990, when he and Clemson parted, it seemed like there was something happening every week that was interesting," Williams said. "One of the coolest things is that people who read the book - even though it's not necessarily journalism, it's more of a history - people still think it's very newsworthy. Not only to people who weren't around back then, and who are enlightened and say 'wow I didn't know that happened,' but even to people who were around back then.
"Even those people, there are details they've forgotten. So much time has passed that when you present what I hope is a definitive account of that era, it still has that 'wow' factor. Because people forget. They can't remember everything."
The book covers it all, from Ford's rise from a mere 30-year-old offensive line coach to head coach, to his battles with the school's administration, NCAA investigations and ultimately his departure under what remain mysterious circumstances. For Williams, the research and legwork was well worth it.
"Having grown up in the state following college football really closely as a kid, I was even more interested in it," Williams said of the painstaking research.
As a child of the Palmetto State, researching for and actually penning the book was a process of both discovery and rediscovery.
"I'd run across something and be like 'whoa, I remember that,'" he said.
The Danny Ford Years At Clemson is published by The History Press in Charleston, and can be purchased online.