Herc Alley - A Vanderbilt Coaching Legend
March 28, 2007
One of the greatest figures in Vanderbilt athletics, whose name is mostly unfamiliar except to those who knew him, is Ernest "Herc" Alley. Alley coached the Commodores' men's track teams from 1949-71. He found his success without a single track scholarship athlete in his duration as coach.
Vanderbilt head football coach Red Sanders, brought Alley to the university as an assistant coach in 1940. Alley was made interim head coach in 1943 while Sanders left Vanderbilt for duty during World War II. In an abbreviated football schedule, the 1943 Commodores were 5-0.
When the position of head track coach opened in 1949, Alley was given the job full-time and gave up football. Alley coached several individual SEC champions, which include miler Fred Abbington, jumpers Kent Russ and Ben Rowen, discus hurler Dan Boone and javelin thrower Edward Burkhardt.
From 1949 to 1963, he compiled a record of 61-14 in dual meet competitions. This included a 40-11 mark against the SEC schools that offered scholarships to their trackmen. During one stretch from 1953 to 1958, Alley' teams were flawless never losing a single dual meet.
In a 1962 interview with Raymond Johnson of The Tennessean, Alley said:
"When I got out of football coaching, I wanted to stay in Nashville. The business manager's job came open when Pop Keyster returned to Chattanooga after two years here. Red gave me the job. That was in the summer of 1947. When Coach Anderson retired in 1948 (after 40 years), Red had to have somebody to coach track and since I was the only one who had any track experience, I became the coach.
"I hadn't even seen a Vanderbilt track meet until we met Tennessee Tech in 1949. It wasn't that I lacked interest in track. But in those years (1940-48) we had spring football practice for an indefinite period and there was scarcely any chance to see the track meets. I did go to Birmingham to the conference meet every year, I've always liked track."
Alley's teams never won an SEC championship, but consistently finished in the upper half of the conference rankings. Since Vanderbilt did not give out scholarships, Alley would scour the university campus for men that ran track in high school, scholarship athletes from other sports and anyone wanting to learn track skills.
John Wade was one of Alley's last trackmen and a member of the Vanderbilt Class of 1973. Wade recently gave this testimony on his relationship with Coach Alley:
"I was privileged to letter my freshman year on the cross-country team in the fall of 1969 and 1970, and track and field in the spring of 1970. I remember Herc Alley clearly as a grand old presence around McGugin (Center) with his habitual suit, tie and short brimmed fedora. He epitomized the complete southern gentleman and caring coach, with a heritage dating back to Grantland Rice. At least, that is how he impressed us.
Wade currently lives in Virginia Beach, Va., and is in the real estate business.
In over 30 years of service to Vanderbilt athletics in his various capacities, "Hurry Up Herc" as he was known, taught the lessons of perseverance and sportsmanship to his Commodore athletes. Alley died of cancer in August 1971. The Vanderbilt men's track is now a club sport.
"We start practice one week after school starts in the fall," Alley once said about his success. "We've just got to work hard to do it. The boys are willing, because they want to succeed badly enough to work hard. The least I can do is go out there with them.
"The spirit, determination, desire and loyalty the boys show are the reasons I coach track."
Traughber's Tidbit: Herc Alley has more service time as a Vanderbilt varsity head coach or assistant than any other former Commodore except for W. J. "Bill" Anderson who Alley replaced. The women's track team is currently and proudly carrying the track torch (or baton) for Vanderbilt under the great leadership of coach Lori Shepard. The Commodores run on a nameless track, which should be the "Herc Alley Track and Field Complex!"
Next week read an exclusive interview with a former Vanderbilt athlete who was a two-time presidential candidate.
If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via e-mail WLTraughber@aol.com.
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