Sesquicentennial Lecture Series
Intercollegiate Athletics at Auburn University
Speaker: David Housel
Date: October 12, 2006
Auburn through the Years:
Auburn University Sesquicentennial Lecture Series
Intercollegiate Athletics at Auburn University
Announcer, Dwayne Cox, Head, Special Collections and Archives:
[Welcome to the] Sesquicentennial Lecture series. A couple of logistical points: If you have questions for the speaker, go to the microphones so we can record them for posterity. There are refreshments following the lecture in the room behind the reference desk.
The Sesquicentennial Lectures are sponsored by the Center for Arts & Humanities of the College of Liberal Arts, they are sponsored by the University Libraries, by the Sesquicentennial Committee, and by AU Outreach.
One more thing I would like to note is that one of our senior Auburn fans is here today, Dean Foy. Dean Foy may want to lead in a War Eagle chant at some point, but it’s good to see you, Dean Foy.
I would like to introduce Anne Gramberg, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, who will introduce today’s speaker, who is a graduate of the College of Liberal Arts.
Introduction, Anne Gramberg, Dean, College of Liberal Arts:
Welcome, everybody, and, not to give you a hint, but I just turned my cell phone off. OK?
Thank you so much for coming, for listening to an Auburn celebrity. David and Jay and I had lunch before, today, and you know, I like to kind of pick people’s brain a little bit before I introduce them and see if I can get some secret stories out of them. David finally said, “You know what, Anne, I wouldn’t worry much about introducing me. Everybody knows me.” I bet you that’s very, very true, but nonetheless he handed me a little bio which I will read to you because it’s important what a person wants you to know about him or her. But I will mix it up a little bit with what I have to say about him.
David Housel has been a part of the Auburn scene for, let’s say, for a long time. He graduated in ’69 with a degree in journalism, and he had a thirty-six year career at Auburn working in the Athletic Department ticket office, serving on the faculty as an instructor in journalism, a sports information director, and finally as athletic director from ‘94 to 2005.
I would also like to add here that he was the editor of the Plainsman, the Auburn Plainsman. You know we are very proud of that very good publication, so that is not nothing, and you should add it into your bio, David. And also let’s not forget that the Jordan Hare Stadium press box was named in his honor this year in 2006.
He also put a little remark about himself in this bio which I will share with you. David’s goals in life were to be and I quote “thin, rich, and happy. Having failed in the first two, he is now concentrating on the third, being happy.” I asked him what makes him most happy about being retired, and he said he is now finally able to read. And apparently he is also able to write, and he has four books in his name, which I will now give you the titles of.
The two that you might know, or probably will know already, are Saturdays to Remember and From the Desk of David Housel, but he has added the following two: Tigerettes, Tigresses, Lady Tigers, Tigers: A Story of Women’s Athletics at Auburn and finally The Aubie Story, a collection of Phil Neel’s football program and ticket art, with essays and stories by David Housel. I asked him if he has any other hobbies while he is retired other than writing books, and he said yes, he plays golf. And he had a golf shirt on, and I asked him if he’s an avid golfer, and he said “Yes, avid and bad.”
All right, I would like to give you a quote from our former President Muse, when he appointed David in 1994 as athletics director, “David Housel represents integrity, hard work, leadership, and spirit.” And what I think is so very important (and it was in ‘94 and it might be even more so in 2006), that is David’s attitude about athletes.
Let me quote David Housel himself from 1994. David envisioned “an athletic program that will encourage and assist student athletes to reach their maximum potential as students, as athletes, and as people.” And he wanted “to prepare them to make a meaningful contribution to society when their athletic careers are over.” I think we have to remember this probably today more than ever, and we really do thank you for that emphasis. And I know you stand for that very spirit, and that’s why so many people love you and respect you.
Today, David will speak about intercollegiate athletics at Auburn. Please welcome our speaker.
Speaker, David Housel, Athletic Director (retired):
Well, we are here to talk about intercollegiate athletics at Auburn and, since we are here to talk about intercollegiate athletics at Auburn, I know of no better way than to do what Dwayne mentioned. We have Mr. Auburn here: Dean Foy. Why don’t you stand up and lead everybody in a rip-roaring, from the heart, “War Eagle,” Dean Foy?
Speaker, James E. Foy, Dean of Students (retired):
Stand up, everybody.
[audience stands up]
Let me have that good old Auburn spirit.
Everybody, get your hands up. Are you ready?
[audience says “Ready”]
OK then. Are you ready?
[audience says “Ready”]
Count off: one [clap], two [clap], three [clap], Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar Eagle! Yay! Woooo!
[audience chants the cheer along with the speaker, then sits down]
Dean Foy has proved that salvation is alive and well: him being a graduate of the University of Alabama and in being Mr. Auburn, so we can achieve better things, right, Dean Foy?
I appreciate the honor and the opportunity to speak to you here today about athletics. Athletics at Auburn can cover a broad array of topics. Athletics competition has always been important to Auburn people. Even before Auburn started an intercollegiate athletic program in 1892, they had an event called “the field day.” [I] just want you to think what a field day would be: a May pole and an athletic competition among the students, no team competition but just tug of war, sprints, probably some pig chases, goat chases, all that kind of thing.
And I think it goes back, Auburn’s emphasis on athletics goes back, of course, to the Auburn creed: “I believe in a strong mind, in a strong body … and in clean sports that develop these qualities.” I think the person who may have said it best, with all due respect to Dean Petrie, was probably Cliff Hare, quarterback on our first football team. “Athletics make men strong, study makes men wise, and character makes men great.”
There are many various avenues we can go down in terms of athletics but our topic today is intercollegiate athletics. In my time at Auburn, and we are going to talk about it from 1892 to 1994, in my time at Auburn from 1965 to 1994, I was either on the periphery or involved to some degree in the entire process, input into decisions and that kind of thing. From 1994 on, of course, I was the Athletic Director. I was in a leadership role, and I was calling the shots in some cases and making a decision in some cases.
I’m choosing not to talk about ‘94 to ‘05 in the context of my lecture today. Now, I will talk about it, and I will talk about it today, but I want to be very clear that I am going to emphasize from 1892 to 1993. And I do that for two reasons: One, I don’t think enough time has passed to put 1994 to 2005 in proper historical context. And then because I was intimately involved in some of those decisions which, if you want to talk about [them], we’ll talk about [them].
I am not going to shy away from that, but I wouldn’t want to come across as somebody defending what was done, over-emphasizing the importance of the good things, and trying to shirk responsibility or justify the not-so-good things. Again, we’ll talk about it, but we’ll talk about it separate and apart from a historical context on the intercollegiate athletics at Auburn.
We are not going to spend a lot of time talking about when this team was added or when this coach became the head coach in Auburn. We’ll talk about people, we’ll talk about personalities, but we are not going to zero in on dates, and [not] necessarily [on] specific events.
One of the best history teachers I had at Auburn was a man named Donovan Olliff, any of you had Donovan Olliff in class? He didn’t get into the names. For example, July 4th, 1776, we all know what happened on July 4th, 1776 but it is far more important to the history of this country what led up to July 4th, 1776.
So we are going to be talking about trends, and events, and movements and events that happened and some of the personalities that led Auburn to where it is today. Much of what you will hear today comes from Shug Jordan, Jeff Beard, Bill Beckwith. I heard it, I learned it, sitting at their knee, listening, raptured almost, to what they were saying about Auburn of old. Sitting around a camp fire, listening to Auburn people talk.
The story of Auburn intercollegiate athletics begins in February of 1892 in Piedmont Park in Atlanta, Georgia, as part of a celebration of George Washington’s birthday. Auburn defeated Georgia 10 to nothing in that first bowl game. The game was nothing like what we call football today. Touchdowns counted four points; extra points, two points. There was no such thing as a forward pass, and strategy more or less depended on getting your biggest men, putting them in a vee, getting the ball carrier behind them, and then going forward as far as you could go. That first team consisted of faculty and staff and students. Auburn beat Georgia 10 to nothing.
The game came about, the new game of football came about, because of the friendship of two men, George Petrie at Auburn and Dr. Charles Herty at the University of Georgia. They had met one another during their days at Johns Hopkins and maintained their relationship. And they got to bragging and talked about how much they loved this new sport. So they just said “Well, let’s see who is best.” So, really, nothing much has changed.
Interesting. Times change. Auburn’s mascot for that first game was a young African American lad dressed in white wearing ribbons of orange and blue. Georgia’s mascot for that day, that first game, was a billy goat that had ribbons of red and black tied on him. You know what the first cheer in Auburn history was? No, it wasn’t “War Eagle.” The first cheer was “Shoot the billy goat! Shoot the billy goat! Kill the damn billy goat!” That’s how it started.
Now, there is a legend that says “War Eagle,” the legend of “War Eagle” (the battle cry), started that day. If you are here today, you probably heard the story about how the Civil War soldier was fighting with Robert E. Lee in the Battle of the Wilderness (one of the worst battles of the Civil War). And he was wounded and left for dead in “no man’s land” between the two armies, and the only other living thing was this baby eagle. Educated people know a baby eagle is an eaglet, and I am sure all of you knew that.
Well, this wounded Auburn student took that eaglet, held him to his breast, to his heart, giving him warmth. [He] made his way back to Southern lines and was sent home. He brought the eagle with him, and he came in at the train station down here. He nursed the eagle back to health. The young man got his Auburn degree in engineering. You know the story. [He] joined the faculty and staff, and everybody called the eagle “War Eagle.” It would fly around, and they knew of the circumstances, so there is “War Eagle” [pointing right], “War Eagle” [pointing left]. So Tiger flying around the stadium now is nothing new, it’s just a continuation.
And then, 1892, the first game, they go over to Piedmont Park in Atlanta. They are playing the game and the eagle starts flying around, and Auburn people say what? “War Eagle, War Eagle, War Eagle, War Eagle” [pointing in different directions]. And, as Georgia breaks huddle one time, all the Auburn people said “War Eagle”, Georgia looked up, fumbled the ball, Auburn got it and won the game. War Eagle One collapsed and died on the goal line that day but, wherever Auburn people are gathered together, two or more, they still remember that first War Eagle by saying what?
[audience says: “War Eagle”]
Totally false, not true. Jim Philips, a fellow who lives here in town, made up that story when he was editor of the Auburn Plainsman back in 1962. I didn’t know it was made up. Nobody knew it was made up. Bill Beckwith took it out of the Plainsman, put it in the Media Guide, and we ran it for thirty years never knowing. We thought it might have been true, we didn’t know. And then Jim moved back to Auburn and raised some cane about the fact he wasn’t getting credit for that quote. Much as Ralph [gesturing toward the audience, presumably to Ralph B. Draughon, Jr.] wanted to make sure his daddy got credit for that quote, “Owing much to the past, Auburn’s greater debt is ever to the future.”
That story is not true, but how many of you watched the old, remember the old, John Wayne movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, what did he say? “When a legend becomes fact, print the legend,” and that’s what Auburn’s been doing. Those folks from ESPN, they don’t have any idea it’s not true. Tell it. They love it. Use it. Promote the school.
How did War Eagle really begin? Nobody knows. Like all great legends, the source, the truth is lost in antiquity. There are many stories, one about an ROTC cadet named E.T. Enslin at a pep rally in 1914 over in Langdon Hall. He had on his uniform. A piece of metal fell from his hat, and he picked it up. And they said, “What’s that?” And he said, “It’s a War Eagle. We are going to fight like war Saturday.” So everybody started hollering, “War Eagle.” Anybody want to believe that? It may be true, but… There is also a story about a circus coming through town during the deepest darkest days of the Depression and leaving an eagle in town, and the students took care of it and called it “War Eagle.”
This much is certain, “War Eagle” is not unique to Auburn. The eagle, being the majestic bird that it is, has been a part of Native American folklore and folklore around the world almost as long as man has walked the earth and carved drawings in caves, and that type of thing. There is a War Eagle Mill, Arkansas. I bet they were pretty happy at War Eagle Mill, Arkansas, last Saturday. There is a War Eagle Bluff out near Sioux City, Iowa. So the term “War Eagle” is not an Auburn term. It’s a pretty much universal term primarily among Native American cultures. But Auburn has taken it and made it synonymous with this university.
Getting back to the Auburn-Georgia game, [it] started between George Petrie and Dr. Charles Herty. There has always been a mutual respect between Auburn and Georgia. Auburn and Georgia never deteriorated like Georgia and Georgia Tech or Auburn and Alabama. In the old days when the game was played at Columbus, Cliff Hare and Dr. Herty, Cliff Hare of course was the quarterback on our first football team. They would come over here on Gay St., sit in Cliff Hare’s back porch, and then say, “Well, here is a quarter for you and a quarter for me.” (You being Auburn, you being Georgia.) They would divide up the gate receipts from the Auburn-Georgia game that way.
There has always been a lot of inbreeding between the two staffs. Georgia’s most successful football coach is who? Vince Dooley. From where? [audience answers “from Auburn”] One of Auburn’s most successful football coaches is who? [audience answers] Pat Dye. From Auburn.
Where did Shug Jordan coach before he came to Auburn? [audience answers] Georgia. A lot of respect and inbreeding, and, when Georgia comes over here in a couple of weeks, I think you will see Rodney Gardner from Auburn on their sideline. Steve Greer coached here, played there. And then, on our sideline, you will see two former Georgia players, Will Muschamp and Hugh Nall, our offensive line coach.
Auburn-Georgia has been a unique rivalry in that it has been so competitive, but it never got ugly. Coach Jordan used to have a saying, “After all these years, all the mud, the blood, and the beer (talking about fights and all like that), it’s almost even,” and it is. After 114 years, 113 years, almost even. Auburn has won 53 games, Georgia has won 48 games, there have been four ties. At Athens, Auburn leads the series 18-9 and, at Auburn, Georgia leads the series 12-9.
Georgia’s media relations director, one of my best friends in the business, Claude Felton and I have talked about the relationship between the two schools on many occasions. We have come to phrase it this way. When Auburn and Georgia play, it’s like brothers fighting, but when Auburn and Alabama play, when Georgia and Georgia Tech play, it’s like in-laws fighting. And I think that is a true example.
When you look at the history of Auburn football, the growth of the stadium and bringing all our games to campus, it’s interesting to note that only Georgia came freely and willingly. Tennessee fought it, Georgia Tech fought it, Alabama fought it. Only Georgia came in and said “Yes, we will be happy to come, banners high, coming to play ball.” Only Georgia accorded Auburn the mutual respect that a school in the Southeastern Conference earns and deserves.
One more thing about those early games: They played in February of 1892, then they played also in November of 1892. November the 22nd, they played Duke in Atlanta, Auburn did. November 23rd, they played North Carolina, November the 25th, they played Georgia Tech. So they kinda had a round robin football tournament in those days like they have a basketball tournament today. So why are people opposed to a play-off? They are playing a game every other day. But the game, of course, was different at that time.
Let’s move on to 1895, 1895 to 1899. Auburn had its first notable coach, John Heisman.
[talking to people in back of room: “You fellows standing in the back, there are some seats right over here. Y’all feel free to come on in because, if you are like me, you need to protect your legs all you can.”]
John Heisman was the first notable coach. Yes, John Heisman is the man for whom the Heisman Trophy is named. Very interesting fellow, John Heisman. He was a great Shakespearean actor. He fought to legalize the forward pass after he got to Georgia Tech. When he was coaching, he would use Shakespearean terminology: he described the football as an oblong spheroid, and “It is better to have died a young child then to fumble this ball,” things like that.
He apparently was a man of impeccable integrity. He and his wife ran into some problems at Georgia, in Atlanta. They got a divorce, and Heisman said “It’s not right for her to be in the same town with me. I don’t want to embarrass her. Therefore, this is her home, I will be the one to leave town.” So John Heisman left, effectively ending his college football career, winding up at the Downtown Athletic Club of New York City. Coach Heisman was here from 1895 to 1899, won twelve games, lost four, tied two (something like that), went on to Clemson.
Now what’s Auburn, Auburn Tigers? The name “Tigers,” the nickname “Tigers,” by the way, comes from Oliver Goldsmith’s poem (the English poet) “The Deserted Village.” There is a line way down in that poem that says “Where crouching tigers await their unsuspecting [sic] prey” and “Auburn, sweet Auburn, the loveliest village of the plain.” It only figures that crouching tiger
[technical problem with recording; part of speech is lost]
right down Thach Avenue at Jordan Hare Stadium, that’s how it came about.
There were some other things that were interesting during Heisman’s time here. We played our first home football game. First home football game happened here in 1896, [we] beat Georgia Tech 29-6 in Ross Square right behind Samford Hall. The next year Georgia Tech came back, and Auburn won 63 to nothing. And it was probably in that game where the Wreck Tech Pajama Parade (which is a thing of the past now) got its start, where all the students would parade around campus in their pajamas and holler Wreck Tech, Wreck Tech.
Supposedly (here again, according to legend, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend), supposedly there was a lot of competition between the engineers at Auburn and the engineers at Georgia Tech in Atlanta on North Ave. City slickers, country bumpkins, all that kind of thing. And Georgia Tech’s team train was coming in the next morning, and that night the Auburn students got out of their dorms, went down to the train track in their pajamas, and greased the track with pig grease.
And when the Georgia Tech train came in and they put down the sand to try to stop, to keep the wheels from turning [Mr. Housel makes sshhhh sound] on that pig grease, [they] slid half-way to Loachapoka. And the team had to walk back, and Auburn won the game 63 to nothing. And it is said that Heisman might have been sitting up above Toomer’s Corner drinking lemonade, at Toomer’s Drugstore, drinking lemonade and laughing. I am not saying he had anything to do with it.
Yes, in 1971, Pat Sullivan became the first player to win the Heisman trophy at a school where John Heisman coached. Bo Jackson did the same thing in 1985.
1908-1922. It’s getting interesting now. Mike Donahue, Iron Mike Donahue, came to be Auburn’s coach. And Auburn people were beginning to take football rather seriously, and they hired a new coach from Yale, a bulldog of a coach, they thought. They had in mind somebody big and strong like John Wayne. Train came in down at the train station, a little bitty tiny guy got off [who] looked more like Mickey Rooney than John Wayne. But he turned out to be the greatest coach in Auburn history and maybe the most significant figure in Auburn history.
He won 99 games between 1908 and 1922. And people talk about the great teams in Auburn history, the 2004 team, the 1993 team, the 1957 team; the greatest teams may have been the 1913-14 Auburn teams. They allowed one touchdown all those years. One team was proclaimed National Champion. They tied, I believe it was South Carolina or Georgia, in the last game of the year of 1914, but two straight years not even giving up a point.
Sports writers of that day said when you start talking about Southern football and you line it up, you got to go through Auburn first. The Auburn placard is at the head of the table. Now, you know who was right behind Auburn, you know who the big games of that day were? They talk about Auburn-Alabama, Auburn-Florida, Auburn-LSU, Tennessee-Georgia, Florida-Georgia You know who the big games were in that day? Auburn-Vanderbilt. Auburn-Vanderbilt, they had great teams in those days.
Probably Mike Donahue was one of the most significant names, as I mentioned. He brought, as athletic director, he brought football to a new level. He brought baseball, track, basketball, and women’s athletics. The football field moved from right here behind Ross Square to where the Haley Center parking lot is now, Drake Field they called it.
The baseball field is where Haley Center now stands. Home plate as I recall, some of you may be old enough to remember, was at the corner right there across at the intersection between what is now Tiger Drive, right across from Thach Hall. And the outfield: right field went down toward the field house, left field went out toward the Haley Center parking lot.
They also built the first gym at Auburn. If you go behind Tichenor Hall where the journalism program is and behind Foy Union, there is a parking lot there. That’s where Auburn’s first gymnasium was. It was just a big open room. They were very proud of it, but they couldn’t finish the first game because they didn’t put the lights up high enough. And these fellows went shooting these set shots (like John Mengelt used to shoot when he was playing for Auburn, that beautiful—he shot a jump shot, he set shots and come up there), and they hit the lights and knocked the lights out in the first game, so they had to be careful about where they shot the ball from.
Mike Donahue also instituted women’s athletics at Auburn. The coeds went to him and said, “We want to play basketball. Can we use the gym?” Mike Donahue said “Sure.” And let’s talk about women’s basketball here a minute. A lot of people say they don’t like women’s basketball because it’s not competitive, it’s not physical, it’s not rough and tough.
Let me read to you from the Orange and Blue, forerunner to the Auburn Plainsman. This is about the first intercollegiate basketball game for women, came against the University of Georgia. And it reads as follows:
[reads from a booklet]
“For the first time in history, coeds fight for Alma Mater. Again the Orange and Blue met the Red and Black on the time-honored battlefield of sports. And once again the Red and Black fought valiantly to the end but at last had to taste the bitter pains of defeat. This time, for the first time in history, the coeds came forth to represent their respective alma maters in the realm of sportsdom, and they did it with the same old fighting spirit that characterizes every Auburn-Georgia contest.
The game started with a rush, each side guarding like wildcats guard her little ones. Auburn soon drew first blood when Kate Floyd by some pretty pass-work threw a difficult goal. Georgia evened the count when Ms. Sparks caged the ball for a count of two. Then came the pep and fight, which brought much cheering from both sides. Flying tackles, running and interferences, [and] catch-as-catch-can wrestling holds look mild by the side of some of the tactics used in these few minutes. Even the football players in the stand had to turn away at some of the physical contact of these women playing for the honor of their alma mater.”
Auburn had two or three straight undefeated seasons in the early days of women’s basketball back in the Twenties, but unfortunately the women’s program faded away. Two things happened: one, the women wanted to take over the running, the administration, of the program from the Athletic Department, and the Athletic Department, after Mike Donahue left in 1922, was virtually broke, so they said “Fine,” and let it go. And then, there was a changing trend in the country: women shouldn’t sweat, women shouldn’t be competing this way, because it would affect their reproductive glands and it would affect their psyche. And so Alabama passed a law, as did other Southern states, that women could not engage in intercollegiate athletics competition. And it would be almost forty years before women, competitive that they were and competitive as they are, were allowed to compete again.
We are going to talk about the pivotal years in Auburn’s athletic program. I think you need to remember 1922 as a very, very pivotal year. That is the year that Mike Donahue left Auburn and went to LSU. Why did Mike Donahue leave Auburn? Mike Donahue was Catholic, and the Ku Klux Klan was pretty strong in those days. There was a lot of anti-Catholic feeling, and you think about Baton Rouge, and you think about Louisiana, and Mike Donahue felt safer in Louisiana that he did here in Auburn.
Interestingly enough, Coach Jordan faced the same kind of discrimination. When he graduated from Auburn in 1932, he was hired by a high school in north Alabama. He went up there to be the football coach, the basketball coach. [He] filled out the application: religious preference, Catholic. “Ummm, ummm. Let us get back in touch with you.” They didn’t hire him. Chet Wynne, his old coach who came from Notre Dame (a Catholic school), said “Come on back down here. We’ll have a place for you.” And thus began Coach Jordan’s coaching career, that is the greatest in Auburn history. Interesting how little things make a difference.
Mike Donahue left in 1922. Clyde Bolton in his book Stop the Presses, I Want to Get Off says 1922 was a pivotal year. Auburn couldn’t hire a coach. Alabama hired a guy named Wallace Wade, and, between 1922 and 1945, they won five of their national championships. The president of Alabama, Dr. George Denny, I believe it was (these were hard times financially, even before the Depression, hard times financially), he saw Penn and all these Eastern schools getting lot of publicity in the South because of the success of their football programs. He said we need to go play those people, let them know we can play football, let them know we exist, too. So he placed an emphasis on a successful athletic program and especially in the East, so that they can gain exposure.
But, when hard times came, Alabama launched a mighty recruiting effort in the East because, for people down here in the South, because of the agricultural base, because of the Depression, the money was tough and hard, but people in the East had more money. And so their student body base and some of you here, who are old enough, remember that, if not tradition, that perception that Alabama had mainly students from the East. It was here even until the Sixties, I would say probably even until Bryant came back. But it was a decision to emphasize football as a means of promoting the University.
Now, the worst thing that can happen to Alabama’s athletic program was having to play Auburn. Auburn was broke, Auburn didn’t have any money. They didn’t play for forty-some odd years, forty-one years I think, because of money. It wasn’t any great noble thing, it was money. Auburn wanted to pay a certain amount of per diem and take a certain number of players, Alabama wanted to pay a certain amount and take a certain number of players. They got into a fight and said we just won’t play, and they didn’t play for forty-one years. During that time Alabama rose to great heights. Auburn struggled. Auburn struggled. 1922 was a pivotal year.
Now, the more things change, the more they remain the same; no difference in Auburn and in athletics. What happened in October 1998? Terry Bowden resigned, all kinds of chaos. Oh, worst thing that ever happened, worst thing that ever happened, right? It wasn’t the first time that had happened at Auburn. It happened in 1928, when George Bohler resigned, after he started the season 1 and 4, and John Floyd came in.
The more things change, the more they remain the same. In recent years, Auburn has gone through an internal civil war. You know, the Alumni Association didn’t like the Board. The administration didn’t like all this, that, and the other. Athletics was trying to stay out of it, athletics was brought into it. That was a terrible time, as you all know.
But you know, we Auburn people, we love a fight. Our University was born in a fight, a church fight, a dirty, ugly church fight. Auburn people have mastered the art of in-fighting to the point that [while] Alabama fights on the back porch, we fight on the front porch, in the yard. And, if we don’t get enough interest, we go out and flag people down and say, “Come on, see us fight. Come on, see us kill one another. Come on, see us eat our own,” you know. Stab one other in the back, all that kind of thing.
It’s not new. Dwayne Cox and his associate Rodney Stewart talked about what happened in 1928. If you think what happened from 1998 to 2005 was bad, listen to this.
[reads from paper]
“Well before President Thach actually resigned, speculation regarding his successor abounded. Although Governor Thomas M. Kilby publicly disavowed any plans to replace him, privately he feared that finding a new president was inevitable. William F. Feagin, API graduate and Board of Trustees member, desperately sought the position, but the President and the Alumni Association opposed him and advised Governor Kilby against his appointment.”
Ever heard of anything like that before?
“The President, the new President, was Spright Dowell. Dowell met with the Board of Trustees early the following year after his appointment, which marks the beginning of a general downturn in the efficacy of his policies and popularity of his administration. Topping the Board’s agenda was a mounting crisis caused by the resignation of football coach Mike Donahue after a successful season.”
And we thought we could fight.
“Dowell commented that Coach Donahue’s resignation was viewed with alarm by practically the entire student body and a large majority of the alumni. Making matters worse, Dowell stirred controversy when he recommended that all athletic funds reside in the college treasury. API alumni began voicing their dissatisfaction with Dowell’s administration when the 1924 football season ended with 4 wins, 4 losses and a tie. On December 4th …”
You think we knew how to fight; these people knew how to fight, listen to this.
“On December 4th, a group of Jefferson County alumni held a mass meeting in which they called for Dowell’s resignation. Although their reasons were vague, the situation quickly developed into a crisis.
Trustee and Birmingham News publisher Victor Hansen charged that the group was motivated by an unsuccessful football season and that their complaint lacked substance. Associate counsel for the Jefferson County alumni group Joel F. Welch called for Dowell to be tried before the Board of Trustees and summoned all faculty and students, except freshman, to appear as witnesses against the President. A group of Montgomery County alumni represented by Haygood Patterson [aside: “who was one of our early great football players”] also presented a letter at the hearing which contained a list of additional charges against President Dowell.
Specifically, they condemned Dowell for not being big enough for the API Presidency, for his failure to resolve jealousies among some of the college departments, and for failure to act upon his statement that API suffered from dry rot. Patterson argued there was no precedent for API alumni to involve themselves in college politics without significant cause. He pointed to a series of crises, all of which had occurred in the last five years, wherein the alumni felt the situation warranted their involvement.
Dowell was convinced that athletics was a major factor behind criticism of his administration. He conceded to the Board that he possibly should have spent more time on the ball field, in the streets, or in social situations but argued that his primary energies had gone into resolving the school’s financial crisis. Two weeks later, November 5th, 1927, President Spright Dowell submitted his resignation.”
[puts down paper]
The more things change, the more they remain the same; now, that took us about seventy years. I’m glad I am not going to be here in 2076, when Auburn probably goes through it again. 1922 was a pivotal year.
1928-1950: the down years; the down years with one exception, Coach Jack Meagher, Johnny Meagher’s daddy. Stand up, Johnny. Hold up your hand so they will know we’re talking about your daddy here. [applause]
Notre Dame was riding high in that time. Yeah, I am talking about football. We talked a little bit about women’s sports, but football is the thrust, the impetus on which the athletic program is founded. We talked a little about basketball, we talked a little about women’s athletics, but football sets the tone – it sets the financial tone from 1892-2006.
Notre Dame was the “bell cow” of college football. Knute Rockne was the man. To do anything, to know anything, about football, you had to have a Notre Dame man. Auburn went through four Notre Dame men: Chet Wynne, Jack Meagher, Carl Voyles, and Earl Brown. The only good coach among the bunch was Jack Meagher. He took Auburn to its first bowl game. He set in motion the plan to build the stadium then called Auburn Stadium (we now call it Jordan Hare Stadium).
But Coach Meagher also had Auburn wear green jerseys one year. All the Notre Dame guys played each other. And they talk about wearing blue jerseys, white jerseys, orange jerseys – he wanted to show his Notre Dame coaching buddies [that] by God, he had the best tie to Notre Dame, his team was wearing green jerseys. So Auburn wore green jerseys one year. How many of you knew that? One person: my wife; well, two: Dave Rosenblatt. Worked its way through.
Then, in 1950, Auburn was 0-10-0. Something had to be done. The governor, Governor Gordon Persons, said, “You need to fire the football coach over there, Ralph.” Dr. Ralph Draughon, our President, Ralph’s father (hold your hand up Ralph so folks know here you are proud of your daddy). “You need to fire the football coach over there, Mr. President.” Dr. Draughon said, “Governor, you run the state, I’ll run the University.” Two weeks later, he fired the football coach. He did what he had to do; he just wanted Auburn to do the firing rather then get the governor involved.
Jeff Beard was named the athletic director. He wanted his friend Shug Jordan to be the football coach because they, when they were students together, had the dream of having facilities and having all of Auburn’s SEC opponents come to Auburn to play – where Auburn can play its home games in Auburn instead of Montgomery, Mobile, Birmingham, Columbus. Building on what Coach Meagher had done in 1939, they began to build it. They began to build it.
Coach Jordan applied for the job. He had been turned down in 1948, and his feelings were hurt. He applied for the job with a one-sentence letter, “I hereby apply for the head football coaching job at Auburn.” The search committee approved him by a margin of 1 vote – 4-3, 3-2, something like that. But the team of Shug Jordan, Jeff Beard, and Bill Beckwith were put together.
Coach Jordan demanded a five year contract. The biggest game he ever won was the Vanderbilt game in September of 1951, because he was an Auburn man. Notre Dame men couldn’t do the job; an Auburn man could, and the Auburn people rallied behind him. The reason he demanded a five year contract? Auburn’s history was [to] give a guy a three year contract, [he] wins a few games, [when he] has a bad year, they run him off. Sure enough, Coach Jordan was 5-5 in 1951, 2-8 in 1952. Auburn couldn’t afford to run him off. So they kept him. 1953, it was 7-2-1, ‘54, ‘55, [we] won the national championship in 1957. The rest is history.
How bad was the situation in the Auburn athletic department in 1951? You wouldn’t believe it. Broke, flat broke. They couldn’t open the doors. They couldn’t pay their coaches. Jeff Beard went up to Auburn National Bank at the time, the bank of Cliff Hare. I got to tell you, in the interest of full disclosure, I am on the board at Auburn Bank. But I say this not to brag on the bank but to talk about it. History’s history, people are people. That’s a fact.
The banks wouldn’t even loan the coaches money to buy or build houses because they weren’t sure they’d get paid. But Jeff Beard went up to Auburn National Bank, and he said, “We’ve got to have an athletic program, and, if you don’t help us, we can’t open the doors.” And so the bank gave him a line of credit that he paid off. He paid the coaches, and he paid it off as Auburn got better over the years. It was a tough, tough time, a tough, tough time.
We talked about the Vanderbilt game. Beating Georgia Tech was a big thing. Georgia Tech had beaten Auburn fifteen years in a row. Auburn beat them in 1955. Auburn had to play Georgia Tech in Atlanta every year in those days, from 1954 to 1960, because we didn’t have a facility big enough. Georgia Tech had the biggest stadium in the biggest city, and they paid the most money. Auburn had to go, so we could get the money. Washington State, a bye game; Arkansas State, a bye game for Auburn, in this day and time. That’s what Auburn was for Georgia Tech in those days: a bye game. A bye game.
That was intolerable. That had to stop, and it stopped in 1960, which I think was the most pivotal year in Auburn’s history. You got Tech out of Atlanta. You got the Georgia game here, Georgia came freely. We went to Athens freely, leaving Columbus, Georgia, behind. And, in the end, both of us enlarged our stadiums on the basis of that one game. Auburn went from 34,000 to 44,000 in 1960, 64,000 in 1970, and the rest is history. Bill Beckwith put together the financial package: the season ticket plan, the Greater Auburn Fund (now Tigers Unlimited). Auburn won that first Georgia game, 9-6.
That game that year is what ensured Auburn’s financial stability and has led to this very day. The budget wasn’t very much in 1960, but getting that game in Auburn, enlarging that stadium, started Auburn on the way. If that hadn’t happened, we might have played LSU in Birmingham a couple of weeks ago. That was the most critical, significant, year in Auburn history.
Auburn won the game, 9-6, and it’s interesting to note that, after the game, Coach Jordan made a very interesting statement. He said, if Auburn and Georgia keep playing exciting football games like this, we are going to have to start charging the fans $10 apiece to get in. The ticket to this year’s Georgia game is $50. You have to give a $200 donation to Tigers Unlimited (old GAF, the Greater Auburn Fund) for the right to buy a $330 season ticket. I’d say that Auburn and Georgia must have played some damn good football games, which they have.
Auburn again came apart in 19 – Let me say this about Dr. Draughon. For an athletic program to be good, the President and the athletic leadership have to be on the same page. There has never been a President more supportive of an athletic program at Auburn than Dr. Ralph Draughon. He used to go to practice all the time. He didn’t make the mistake Spright Dowell did, he went to practice.
[In] 1975, Coach Jordan retired. One of the Trustees, Sonny Pace from Mobile, leaked it to the press. It was an ugly, messy thing. Auburn hired Doug Barfield. Doug Barfield is a good man. I think the world of him. I think he was a good football coach, but I think he was doomed for two reasons. One, when he walked into Dr. Philpott’s house, a gentleman (whose name I won’t call) said, “Congratulations, Doug, you are our new football coach.” Coach Barfield said, “Thank you,” but what he should have said was, “Wait a minute. Maybe I am, maybe I’m not.” He should have been able to negotiate, not just his financial package, but negotiate where the direction of the program was going.
Auburn wanted another Shug Jordan, like Alabama has wanted another Bear Bryant (thank God, there is not but one). And, for about five years there, we were in a struggling environment. Coach Jordan goes on the Board of Trustees, gets mad at Dr. Philpott, and you know the story, those of you. Coach Jordan said, like Nikita Khrushchev did in the Kitchen Debate, he said: [slams hand down on podium] “Trustees ought to be running this University. The Constitution of the State of Alabama mandates that the Trustees manage the University. We get all this stuff when we are coming here to a Board meeting, we don’t have any chance to read it.” It was at that point the Board of Trustees, right or wrong, got more involved with the whole thing.
Lee Hayley, a good man, does not get the credit he deserves for giving Auburn an all around athletic program. Title IX came in, in 1972. Auburn already had a strong women’s athletic program. It got stronger after that. Tough times. Coach Hayley couldn’t see women eating in the dorm with the men. He couldn’t see them sharing a training room. But now, all that’s fine, everything is going along.
Coach Dye was hired in 1981. You know the story there, most likely. He pressured Auburn; Auburn said, “We can’t tell you.” He quit his job at Wyoming. He said, “I am a good enough football coach to get a job; an Auburn job is what I want.” Wyoming said, “You tell us today whether you are coming or not,” and he said, “I am not coming back. I am going to wait on Auburn.”
Why did he get the Auburn job? Probably because he was a good football coach, and they asked him in the interview, “How long is it going to take you to beat Alabama?” You know what he said, “Sixty minutes.” Oh man, they loved that. Then he said, “You seldom beat them in less than sixty minutes.” He also said, “I played at Georgia, I coached at Alabama. I know how to beat both of them,” and that he did, that he did. Coach Dye’s greatest contribution was getting rid of the Auburn paranoia, getting the Alabama game here. And the Alabama game here in ‘89 was a watershed event, as you know.
You can’t talk about Auburn’s athletics without talking about our NCAA problems. I don’t see a Communist behind every tree, or a Muslim terrorist behind every bush, and I don’t see an Alabama guy behind every problem Auburn’s had. I think sometimes we were guilty, sometimes we were stupid, sometimes we were foolish, sometimes we might have been set up, you know. I don’t think Alabama set us up, when we had an assistant coach go in to the home of a Georgia assistant coach and offer his son a free trip to Hawaii. How can Alabama be doing that, you know?
Dr. Wilford Bailey’s greatest contribution was getting Auburn back into the mainstream of NCAA involvement, helping Auburn to understand how to be a part of the community of intercollegiate athletics as a whole. We talked about [how] I’d be willing to talk to you about 1994 to 2005, but I don’t think enough time has passed.
Couple of other things and then we will throw it open for questions and answers. I think the overarching question about intercollegiate athletics is (and it’s been this way since 1892), “Is it worthwhile? What does it contribute to an institution of higher learning?” A lot of arguments can be made that it doesn’t contribute anything. A lot of arguments can be made that it is a significant contributor. Coach Jordan said that, if you measure football and the money spent on it, to justify the people who play it and coach it, it’s not worth it. Coach Jordan said that, and he is right, millions and millions of dollars. But if you look at it for the institution as a whole, from a universal view, I think it is worth it.
Dean Larry Benefield was talking the other day about the “halo effect.” When athletics is doing well, the halo effect shines out over the entire University. When athletics is doing poorly or when there is a scandal, the halo effect shines out over the whole University from a negative standpoint. No question about that. Depending on where you are, depending on what your jobs are, you can argue the value of intercollegiate athletics in a college setting.
But folks, no matter how you feel, it ain’t going to change. People are still going to want to have teams; they are still going to want to win. So how is the best way to handle it? I think you have to make sure that you win, and you win with integrity, and you win with class.
Let me put it to you this way: when I was athletic director, there were four measures of success. Jay has his own measures of success which is fine and good, the way it ought to be. But to me, bottom line: you’ve got to be successful competitively, you’ve got to pay your bills without relying on the University to help you, you’ve got to educate your student athletes, and you abide by the rules. [If] an athletic program does these things: win, pay your bills, educate your student athletes, and abide by the rules, you will have a successful program and you will bring credit to the University and to its people.
Finally some of the most important people in Auburn athletics, I would say George Petrie, Cliff Hare, John Heisman, Mike Donahue, Jack Meagher, Shug Jordan, Jeff Beard, Bill Beckwith, Pat Dye, Wilford Bailey, Jay Jacobs, and Tommy Tuberville.
[audience member says “David Housel”; Mr. Housel says “Thank you for your editorial comment.”]
Why do I add Jay and Tommy in there, when both of them are relatively new on the scene? Because they will chart the future. Auburn is changing. The biggest challenge facing Auburn now other than financial and business challenges (and the always challenge to win) is [that] the dynamics of being an Auburn person is changing.
When Coach Jordan was here, we struck, as underdogs. The world was against Auburn, only us (you remember, how it used to be). Now, Auburn is not a have-not, Auburn is among the haves. Auburn people are no longer considered farmers and ag. guys. They are like Alabama: they are doctors, lawyers, the whole spectrum. Auburn is no longer a have-not. The psyche of Auburn people is changing. It changed in 1981. Pat Dye’s greatest contribution was changing how Auburn people think.
If you go back and you talk to the Auburn people you know, and if you are an Auburn person, I challenge you to say that I am wrong. Prior to 1981, you talk about the University of Alabama and everybody [shudders and makes “ugh” noise] tightens up. “Something is going to happen. What’s going to happen to beat us?” Auburn was hoping to win. Coach Dye came in and said, “We ain’t worried about Alabama. We’re worried about Auburn. We spend our time thinking about Alabama; we are wasting time that we could be using to make Auburn better.”
I say that everybody who was an Auburn person before 1981, when you mentioned Alabama, [shudders and makes “ugh” noise]. Every person who became an Auburn person after 1981, says “By God, bring ‘em on, bring ‘em on.” Auburn people in this day and generation expect to beat Alabama, “Come on, boy, come on, come on. Come on, girl, we’ll take you. Come on, come on. Tee it up, you know. Jump it up.” How is Auburn going to handle that change in psychological attitude in the days to come?
You want a lineage of Auburn athletics this Sesquicentennial year? Of course it starts with George Petrie and Cliff Hare. The stories I have told you today, and many of the things I have told you, I learned from Coach Beard and Coach Jordan who were trained in the Auburn way by who? Cliff Hare and George Petrie, and, of course, Jack Meagher. Now, I always say and I think it’s true, that Coach Jordan and Coach Beard taught me how to be an Auburn man. Coach Dye taught me how to compete effectively.
As the years go by, Auburn will be less and less Shug Jordan, Jeff Beard; it will be more and more Pat Dye, Tommy Tuberville. That’s the natural transition of life, folks; holding on to what was good, letting go of what can be better. Buddy Davidson and myself, we are about the only Jordan-Beard people who are around Athletics anymore. Our time is passing; when we go, their influence will recede even further. Jay Jacobs learned from me, he learned from Buddy. He also learned from Pat Dye, and Tommy is putting his stamp on it.
The best years, the pivotal years of Auburn: 1922, 1951, and 1981. 1922 was a bad year, because we couldn’t handle our business. Alabama got ahead of us. 1951: we got in the race when Coach Jordan and Coach Beard brought it back together. 1981: attitude and the psyche began to change.
Suggested reading if you want to go further: Stop the Presses (So I Can Get Off) by Clyde Bolton; The Last Coach, a biography of Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant by Alan Barra; Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer by Warren St. John. Why would I say read those books?
Well, you got to know who you are competing against. And to appreciate where Auburn has come and to appreciate how it was (for you young folks) to be under the heel and the boot of Alabama domination, you gotta read The Last Coach. To understand the psyche of football fans, Auburn fans or Alabama fans, you gotta read Warren St. John’s Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, one the best, funniest, sports books I have ever read.
If you want to learn about the history of Auburn’s football program, the 1992 Auburn Football Media Guide which Dwayne [Cox] has here, I am sure. Auburn basketball, 2006 Media Guide. In the Arena by Pat Dye and John Logue, Shug by Rich Donnell, and then, let’s be honest about it, Tigerettes, Tigresses, Lady Tigers, Tigers, on women’s athletics at Auburn. And then I wrote a book, a collection of Auburn stories, which has a lot of history that we didn’t get into. If you want to know about specifically the football of the Fifties and Sixties, Phil Neel’s book is outstanding, but don’t spend all your money, because I’ve got three or four more coming out that you’re going to want.
So having said that and having taken out a whole hour, I’ll still throw it open for questions. Any questions?
[video for question(s) not available]
We’ve had more success overall in women’s athletics than we’ve had in men’s athletics. Our swimming program is by far the most successful program Auburn has had. The only thing close would be Swede Umbach’s wrestling program in the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties. But, in looking at the broad picture, I think the thrust of Auburn athletics, how we got to where we are, was the people we’ve covered today. They made the difference so we can hire David Morris, so that we could keep him when Florida tried to hire him, so that we can have the facilities, so that we can have the outdoor pool.
David Morris and Joe Champion, you know there are many, many, Sunny Smith, you know there are many, many other great coaches, Hal Baird, and many people that I could name. But I didn’t know how detailed I should get, given the amount of time that I had. We can stand here all day, just naming people.
But you’re right, David Morris is one of the people who had helped make this place special. The most successful coach. But he has benefited from the money that Tommy Tuberville, and the success Tommy Tuberville, has had. David Morris’s program has benefited from getting that Georgia game here in 1960. That was the thrust of what I wanted to share with you.
Other questions or comments?
Thank you very much.
Dean Foy, I think you ought to close it out, one more time. What do you think?
[from audience, “One more time!”]
One more time.
In 1926, I came to Auburn with my brother. I was visiting my brother who was a student at Auburn at that time. I learned a yell that I want you to be familiar with. It’s called “Hullabaloo, Caneck! Caneck!” and it goes like this.
Hullabaloo, Caneck! Caneck!
Hullabaloo, Caneck! Caneck!
War eagle, War eagle,
Auburn Tigers, rah, rah!
[audience member, shaking his head, “Too complicated.”]
But “War Eagle” is the best of them all.
Get your hands up.
Are you ready?
[audience says “Ready”]
OK then. Are you ready?
[audience says “Ready”]
Count off: one [clap], two [clap], three [clap], Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar Eagle! Yay! Woooo!
[audience cheers along with Dean Foy]