Thursday, June 30, 2011

Demoralizing the Opposition with the Second Team

Wallace Wade
During his last season in Tuscaloosa before heading off to take over the head coach position at Duke University, Wallace Wade employed an unusual tactic with his Alabama squad - he refused to start the starters. For every game of the 1930 season, the first quarter was played with the second team.

"You see, that second team was able to hold everybody scoreless the whole year," he explained years later. "We knew it would help us for an opponent to play the second team and not score and then know we were sending in the first team."

And it worked. Alabama's first team stayed on the bench for the first quarter then came in and crushed the opposing team. At the end of the season the Crimson Tide had outscored its opponents 271 to 13. They held held eight teams scoreless and only Vanderbilt and Tennessee were able to reach the end zone and both of them accomplished the feat only once.

The Crimson Tide even used it in the 1931 Rose Bowl against Washington State to successfully down the Cougars 24-0 and claim the national championship.

It wasn't exactly an original idea. Knute Rockne had previously employed the tactic with spectacular success at Notre Dame calling his second squad the "shock troops." Tulane's Clark Shaughnessy tried the gambit against LSU in 1926 but the Green Wave second team allowed the Tigers to score what proved to be the winning touchdown of the contest.

You can read more about it over at Roll Bama Roll.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The 1931 Rose Court

1931 Rose Queen Mary Lou Waddell and her court.
Myrta Olmstead, Alice Ashley, Myrna Wilson,
Fannie Arnold, Florence Dunkerley. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Huey Long's Courtship of Alabama's Frank Thomas

Huey Long chats with officials prior to the
LSU vs Arkansas game in the late 1920s.
In 1934, Alabama rolled to an undefeated regular season and garnered an invite to the Rose Bowl to face Stanford. It marked an apogee for Crimson Tide head coach Frank Thomas who had lead Alabama to a 33-4-1 record in four seasons. He had seen Alabama play in the Pasadena classic the year prior to his arrival in Tuscaloosa and now he was taking the Tide there himself.

On the way to the game Louisiana's powerful Senator, Huey P. Long, allegedly made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

LSU was coached by Biff Jones who had lead the Tigers to a 20-5-6 record over three years and had claimed the Southern Conference Championship his inaugural season. A confrontation between Long - who took a major interest in the team - and the coach outside the locker room at halftime of the final game of the season against Oregon had resulted in his resignation. Long promised he would make a big-time hire and he set his sights on Thomas.

The Alabama coach had been given a five-year contract by UA president George Denny extension following the 1934 season that included "a nice increase" over his previous salary. The move came after Thomas name surfaced as a replacement for Tennessee's Robert Neyland who had been called away by the military for active service in Panama.

The first candidate Long considered was Clark Shaughnessy who had lead Tulane for more than a decade but had just finished his first season at the University of Chicago. When that offer was rebuffed the Kingfish turned his attention to Alabama's Thomas who, as chance would have it was in New Orleans.

When the Crimson Tide train stopped in the Crescent City on the way to California for the bowl game, a secret meeting was arranged between Thomas and Long, according to LSU's Athletic Director at the time, T.P. Heard. Long offered Thomas a $15,000 salary and salaries of $7,500 for two assistants of his choosing. Thomas accepted the offer on a handshake but demanded secrecy given the situation.

"If any hint of this talk gets into the papers," he reportedly told Long. "The deal is off."

Heard accompanied Thomas to Pasadena to keep Long appraised of the situation. Before the train arrived in Los Angeles, the Kingfish had changed his mind. Bernie Moore, an assistant at LSU since the late 20s, was given the job after a recommendation by Vanderbilt's Dan McGugin.

Alabama won the 1935 Rose Bowl and Thomas returned to Tuscaloosa where he coached for another nine seasons before retiring from the profession due to ill health. His final record at The Capstone was 115-24-7. Moore took the Tigers to two SEC Championships in his first two seasons then remained in Baton Rouge until 1947, finishing with a 83-39-6 record.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Alabama's Experiment with the Head Coach In Waiting

Wallace Wade handed off the Alabama head
coaching duties to Frank Thomas in 1930.
Just more than 80 years ago, Alabama tried the head-coach-in-waiting strategy in order to maintain stability in the football program. In the Spring of 1930 head coach Wallace Wade stunned Alabama by accepting the head coaching job at Duke University. Three months later his hand-picked successor, Frank Thomas, agreed to be the Crimson Tide head coach - after the 1930 season.

Wade then lead Alabama to an undefeated season, the 1931 Rose Bowl and a national championship as Thomas waited in the wings. At the conclusion of the season Wade left for Durham, N.C. and Thomas began his fantastically successful 15-year run as the Crimson Tide coach.

More on this story is available at Roll Bama Roll.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Deal That Dealt Army Wrong

Ernest Newquist, in an letter on behalf of Southern California football fans opposing the deal in 1947 that limited the Rose Bowl Game to members of the Pacific Coast and Big Nine Conferences. Army had been considered to play in the game that season but was replaced by Illinois due to the agreement.

The whole story is on Prolate Spheroid