Tim Clifton, Head Coach
Tim Clifton is entering his 23rd season at Mars Hill University. Clifton has led the Lions to a .500 record or higher in 15 seasons including the SAC title and the Lions first NCAA post season appearance in 2011. For his efforts guiding the Lions in 2011, Clifton was named the SAC Coach of the Year. He has a career record at Mars Hill of 119-112-0. The 119 wins place Clifton second in all-time wins of all SAC head coaches. He has recorded 70 conference victories that also places him second in that category among all-time SAC head coaches. During the 2003 season Clifton broke the school’s record for most wins by a head football coach. He surpassed Claude Gibson (1973-82) who ended his career with an overall record of 55-37-2 (.585).
Under Clifton’s direction, the Lion offense has exploded breaking several single season offensive school records such as longest run from scrimmage (94 yards by senior Leon Williams), most PAT’s scored (37) most rushing yards gained (3,130), most total offensive yards (4,803), most first downs (250), and most points scored (327).
Clifton came to Mars Hill from Ferrum College in Ferrum, Virginia, where he had been the offensive coordinator since 1987. During Clifton’s tenure, Ferrum went to four straight NCAA Division III playoffs. In the 1988-89 school year, Ferrum was a national semifinalist.
Under Clifton’s direction the Lions have set many individual records. Jonas Randolph rewrote the school and SAC record books. He became the South Atlantic Conference’s career rushing leader with 5,608 yards and led all NCAA divisions this season in rushing yards per game (197.27). The SAC Offensive Player of the Year, Randolph’s 2,170 yards in 2011 also set new SAC and school marks. He also had six games of 200 or more rushing yards and nine games of over 100 rushing yards this season. He was a three-time first team All-Super Region 2 honoree and was the Super Region 2 Offensive Player of the Year. Randolph finished the year with 2,170 yards rushing on a Division II-leading 366 carries and scored 18 touchdowns. He averaged more than 37 yards per game more than the next closest Division II rusher. Randolph was also named an AFCA All-American, Daktronics All-American, AP Little All-American and a USA College Sports All-American. Prior to Randolph’s era, Leon Williams was the all-time leading career rusher at Mars Hill recording 2,849 yards (1993-96) and then Travis McFadden (2000-03) surpassed his numbers in 2002 reaching 2,859 career yards. Terrance Stokes became the school’s single game rusher with 252 yards against Wingate University (2000) and the school’s single season rusher with 1,558 yards in 2000. Antione Jones later surpassed Stokes single-game performance with a 322-yard effort against Lenoir-Rhyne in 2005. Jon Richt has set new school marks in attempts in a season (290), completions in a game (28), yards passing in a single season (2,238), and touchdowns in a game (5), season (20) and career (44). Ashley Abernathy set school records in 1993 for most yards passing in a season (1,967) and total yards in a career (6,820). During the 1999 season, Khalid Abdullah recorded a game best five sacks against the University of Virginia’s College at Wise as well as a season high 15 sacks in 2000. Toy Williams tied the school record of three interceptions against Lenoir-Rhyne. During the 2001 season Maurice Jackson picked off nine interceptions that broke the existing school record held by Kevin Barnette and Abdullah set a new mark for the longest interception return of 100 yards on two occasions. In 2014, Dimitri Holmes set the South Atlantic Conference career record in receiving yards (4,231) and career receptions (267) while earning D2Football.com All-American honors.
Clifton has had the privilege of coaching 81 All-Conference Honor Roll players, 97 All-SAC performers, eight SAC Freshmen of the Year, and five SAC Players of the Year in Mike Belk (LB), Terrance Stokes (RB), Khalid Abdullah (LB), Jonas Randolph (RB) and Troy Harris (DE). Clifton has also been fortunate to coach eight All-Americans. Terrance Stokes was selected an American Football Coaches Association All-American, Mike Belk was a third team All-American in 1995 and David Cassell, Toy Williams and Khalid Abdullah were named All-Americans by USA Football.com and D2Football.com, two Division II Internet sites. Cassell was also named an AFCA All-American for his performances during the 2001 campaign while Abdullah received the honor in 2002. After his stellar career at Mars Hill, Abdullah was the first pick in the fifth round by the Cincinnati Bengals. The Lions sent another player to the NFL when cornerback Michael Grant signed a free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns. Jonas Randolph was a three-time AFCA All-American and the 2011 NCAA Player of the Year. Mam Nyang was a Honorable Mention All-American by Don Hansen Football Gazette.
Clifton, a veteran of 39 years, spent five years on the high school level before entering the collegiate ranks. Since joining the college ranks, Clifton has made stops at the University of South Carolina, Virginia Military Institute, Fayetteville State University, and Ferrum College.
Clifton graduated from Mercer University in 1976. Clifton and his wife Joy met while they were in school together and were married in 1977. They have two children: Myriah, age 25, a graduate of Mars Hill and Cody, age 23, also a graduate Mars Hill University. The family makes their home in Mars Hill.