By Pat Edwards and Carla Habeeb
Ramblin' Reck Club
We joyfully noted the return of the full football squad to the Tech campus for the practices. Some of us turned out in the Ramblin' Reck to greet the players as they returned from the Rose Bowl Field, where they had been practicing. Seeing the team set me to thinking of the history of Georgia Tech Football. So as a way to welcome Coach O'Leary to his first full season as the head coach of the Yellow Jackets, I wanted to visit the subject of the "Holy Trinity" of Tech Football Coaches: Coach John Heisman, Coach William Alexander, and Coach Bobby Dodd.
Coach John Heisman, who came to Georgia Tech in 1903, was the first head football coach of the Yellow Jackets. Heisman coached over his thirty-nine year career at Oberland, Auburn, Clemson and Akron Universities, as well as Tech, but spent the longest period of time, sixteen years, at "the Flats".
Immortalized in the Heisman Trophy, that is awarded to the outstanding college football player each year, Coach Heisman was invited to the position of head football and baseball coach at Tech against the wishes of the then President Lyman Hall. Hall felt that the offer of $2,000.00 a year and 1/3 of the gate receipts was too generous.
Coach Heisman led the efforts to build the first football and baseball fields, including the present Grant field. The property was cleared of rocks and stumps using a three hundred convict chain gang, loaned to the Institute by the city of Atlanta. Coach John also procured the first uniforms and coaching staff that enabled him in his first year at Tech to achieve a 8-1-1 record, beating Georgia 23-6, losing to Auburn, 0-12 and tying his previous employer Clemson, 11-11.
Coach Heisman was a draconian disciplinarian with very little tolerance for error. He was fond of describing this philosophy to his Freshman players by referring to a football as, "A prolate spheroid in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller, rubber one. Better to have died a small boy than to fumble it." Players that failed to heed this warning were forced to endlessly throw a football against a wall and then catch it.
The `Golden Tornado', as the Heisman Tech Team was called, was credited with the historic 222-0 victory over Cumberland on October 7, 1916 in Atlanta. No other team in the history of football has match the score in a game that was called by the Reader's Digest as the "Little Big Horn" of football. Tech scored 32 touchdowns in less than 50 minutes of playing time, carrying the ball for over 978 yards, averaging 3.8 points per minute, and NEVER threw a pass in the whole game.
Coach Heisman left Tech in 1919 when he and Mrs. Heisman divorced. He relocated to Pennsylvania in order to reduce any social embarrassment to her.
Coach William Alexander succeeded John Heisman as the Head Coach at Tech in 1920. Although Coach Alexander was only thirty years old when he assumed the reigns of power on the flats, he was the unanimous choice of the players who had played under him while he was the assistant coach for Heisman.
Coach Alexander, an unassuming, honest and dignified leader, is revered here at Tech for his over forty years of service to the Institute at large, not only his accomplishment with the Institute's athletics. Coach Alexander's interests in the well being of the Institute, his efforts in developing student life and school spirit, often in close cooperation with his close friend Dean Griffin, would be testament alone for his place in Tech history, but he also amassed an enviable record of 134 wins, only 94 losses and 15 ties in his thirty year head coaching career.
William Alexander lead the Yellow Jackets through many of the hardest years of the great depression, when college sports suffered from a suffocating shortage of funding and available talent, as well as the trying years of the second world war, when Tech lost some of its most promising players and coaches, such as player Clint Castleberry, lost in service over North Africa, and Line coach Max Tharpe.
Coach Dodd, who is perhaps the most popularly recognized coach in Georgia Tech history, succeeded William Alexander, and coached at Georgia Tech, as an assistant as well as a head coach, for over thirty-six years where he compiling a record of 165 wins, 64 losses and 8 ties.
Coach Dodd, who retired in 1966 as head coach, is famous for winning six straight major Bowl games starting in 1951. The feat has only been duplicated by Bear Bryant with a streak that began in 1976, but has never been beaten.
Coach Dodd remained after his retirement as an affectionate figure on Tech Campus until his death in the 1980s.
In an age where football coaching dynasties are sacrificed to make way for the pursuit of the Dollar, (not to name names, Coach Ross), the memories of the dynasties that made up the monumental Tech Football programs of years past keeps all true Tech Fans looking eagerly to the future for a leader worthy of the caliber of Tech's Past. (That means you, Coach O'Leary).
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