McClaren watched the first half from the stands as academy boss Darren Wassall took charge but, with his new side trailing 4-1, the newly-installed manager began work early.
And a half-time reorganisation did the trick as the home side came back from the dead to take a point.
McClaren will have known that Derby have struggled at home this season but the former England boss was probably not prepared for what he witnessed during the opening 45 minutes.
Ipswich scored three times in the first quarter of an hour through Christophe Berra, Daryl Murphy and Aaron Cresswell.
Zak Whitbread had reduced the deficit to just one with a goal on his debut after arriving on loan from Leicester on Monday.
Murphy made it 4-1 with his second goal of the night and the Rams looked dead and buried.
However, McClaren would have been delighted with what he saw after the break.
Captain for the night Craig Bryson gave Derby hope early in the second half and Jamie Ward pulled another goal back on the hour.
Bryson then completed the comeback with the equaliser in the 88th minute to send Pride Park wild.
Wassall made two changes. With skipper Richard Keogh suspended following his red card in the defeat at Nottingham Forest, Whitbread went straight into the starting XI. Bryson took the armband. The other change saw Ben Davies replace John Eustace.
The academy manager also included two of his players - Max Lowe and Jamie Hanson - on the bench. Ipswich were unchanged.
Derby made the worst possible start as Berra headed home from a Cresswell free-kick after seven minutes.
The home supporters had planned to applaud throughout the ninth minute of the game as a way to express their thanks to Clough - who wore the number nine shirt for the majority of his playing career - for the work he did during his four and a half years as manager.
As it was about to begin though, Murphy headed in a Cresswell corner to extend Ipswich's lead. Some fans still applauded.
Whitbread nodded past Dean Gerken in the 12th minute but it was only temporary hope for Derby as Cresswell fired through the legs of goalkeeper Lee Grant less than 90 second later to restore the visitors' two-goal cushion.
The goal glut, and chances for that matter, dried up until the 34th minute when Murphy headed home another Cresswell corner.
Former Forest striker David McGoldrick almost extended the lead five minutes before half time but his glancing header went wide.
Eustace and Mason Bennett were introduced at the break in place of Davies and Conor Sammon.
The changes quickly had an impact as Bryson rounded off a fine move from the Rams with a tidy finish from inside the area within two minutes of the restart.
With an hour on the clock the comeback was well and truly on as Ward tapped home a cross from Will Hughes, who had also laid on Bryson's goal, to cap another fine Derby attack.
The Rams' tails were up and they piled on the pressure in search of an equaliser, which came with two minutes of normal time remaining as Bryson slammed his shot past Gerken after Ipswich failed to clear a corner.