Vanderbilt Athletics

The history of Vanderbilt Athletics part 2

Sept. 3, 2008

History of VU Athletics Part 2 (pdf)  |  History Corner Archive

  Grantland Rice (right) with Fred Russell

This is part two of a three-part series on the history of Vanderbilt athletics. To read part one, click here.

Baseball has been a part of Vanderbilt athletics since its official debut in 1886. That two-game schedule drew a 1-1 record splitting with Vanderbilt’s first athletic rival Sewanee. Schedules were increased as the game of baseball became more popular throughout the South. A member of the 1900-01 baseball teams was Grantland Rice.

Rice was not successful in his attempt to play football, but graduated from the university in 1901. The Murfreesboro, Tenn. native became a national legend as a sports writer with his rhythmic poetic sports stories. Rice also coached Vanderbilt to an 11-9-2 record in 1908.

In 1912, the Chicago Cubs of the National League played an exhibition game on the original Dudley Field against the Nashville Vols. On that Cubs team was the famous double-play combination of [Joe] Tinker to [Johnny] Evers to [Frank] Chance.

Tris Speaker, a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, clubbed a home run on Dudley Field in 1914. Speaker’s Boston Red Sox team was playing an exhibition game with the Nashville Vols of the Southern Association. Vanderbilt also hosted the Boston Red Sox in a 1921 exhibition game played at Dudley Field where the Commodores lost, 9-1.

Vanderbilt (20-8) won the 1921 Southern Conference baseball championship behind the managing of Byrd Douglas who later became a distinguished Nashville judge. Manager Bill Schwartz (1917, 1924-40, 1952) led Vanderbilt into Southern baseball prominence in the early era of Commodore baseball. Schwartz was a former manager of the Nashville Vols. He ranks third all-time at Vanderbilt in victories with a 155-112-1 record.

The Southeastern Conference was formed in December 1932 and began competing for championships in the spring of 1933. Vanderbilt was one of the 13 charter members. Other members include Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Sewanee, Tennessee and Tulane. Sewanee would withdraw from the conference in 1940, Georgia Tech in 1964 and Tulane in 1966. Arkansas and South Carolina officially joined the conference in 1990.

With the retirement of McGugin after the 1934 season, Vanderbilt looked to former player Ray Morrison to continue the football success. As the decades passed, the Commodores could not find the dominance they once enjoyed. Coach Red Sanders (1940-42, 1946-48) was building a quality team, but bolted for UCLA. Sanders is a member of the College Hall of Fame primarily with his success with the Bruins.

Nashvillian Bill Wade became the 1951 SEC Player-of-the-Year and one of the most highly acclaimed football players in Commodore history. Wade was an All-American and played professional football for 14 seasons. He was the winning quarterback in the Chicago Bears defeat of the New York Giants in the 1963 NFL championship game. Wade was the No. 1 selection in the 1952 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams.

Vanderbilt’s Dudley Field witnessed its first night game on September 25, 1954 against Baylor. Evangelist Billy Graham, who held a crusade at the stadium earlier that year, donated the permanent lights. The Commodores lost to the Bears 25-19 with Charley Horton scoring two touchdowns. Vanderbilt kicker Bobby Goodall added a field and the Commodore defense came up with a safety.

Art Guepe’s 1955 squad stunned No. 8 ranked Auburn, 25-13 in the 1955 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. This was Vanderbilt’s first bowl appearance as quarterback Don Orr ran for two touchdowns and All-American fullback Charley Horton rushed for another six-pointer. The victorious Commodores concluded that historic season with an 8-3 record.

As Vanderbilt approached the 1960’s only three teams have earned a winning record since. In 1969, Vanderbilt broke the NCAA and SEC record for most yardage in a game against Davidson. The Commodores amassed 798 yards in the 63-8 victory. Tailback Doug Mathews led the Commodores in rushing with 138 yards while quarterback Watson Brown added 118 on the ground. Vanderbilt passed for 368 yards.

When in 1973, 28-year-old Steve Sloan became the nation’s youngest head coach and the Vanderbilt campus was full of excitement. In Sloan’s second and last season, he guided the 1974 Commodores to a Peach Bowl invitation with a 7-3-1 record. Vanderbilt kicker, Mark Adams booted two field goals in the 6-6 defensive struggle with Texas Tech.

Fred Pancoast’s (1975-78) Commodore club defeated Tennessee in Knoxville 17-14 in his first year at the helm. That Vanderbilt team finished the season 7-4, but was unable to gain a bowl bid. In 1978, Vanderbilt running back Frank Mordica rushed for 321 yards against Air Force breaking the SEC record. His feat still tops the record book today, but was tied last in 2007. Mordica was the first Vanderbilt rusher to gain over 1,000 rushing yards in a season and is the Commodores leading career rusher with 2, 632 yards.

Roy Kramer became the Athletics Director for Vanderbilt in 1978. The former Central Michigan head football coach was the driving force behind the 1981 construction of the new Vanderbilt Stadium. Included in the four-level project was a new press box and luxury suites. The new home for the Commodores expanded the seating capacity to 41,000 at a cost of $10.6 million. Vanderbilt upset Maryland 23-17 in the dedication game.

In 1982, SEC Coach-of-the-Year George MacIntyre (1979-85) led Vanderbilt to its last winning season with an 8-4 record. The accomplishment secured a Hall of Fame Bowl bid in Birmingham. Vanderbilt quarterback Whit Taylor was named MVP in a 36-28 losing effort against Air Force. Taylor broke seven HOF bowl records with his 38-51-3 performance totaling 452 yards.

Commodore All-Americans in this modern era include Bucky Curtis (1950), Chip Healy (1968), Bob Asher (1969), Barry Burton (1974), Allama Matthews (1982), Jim Arnold (1982), Chuck Scott (1983), Leonard Coleman (1983), Boo Mitchell (1988), Jamie Duncan (1997) and Jamie Winborn (1999). More football greats to were the black and gold include Phil King, Tom Moore, Bob Goodrich, Pat Toomay, Bob Goodrich, Will Wolford, Jay Chesley, Preston Brown, Carl Woods, Jamie O’ Rouke, Chris Gaines, Kurt Page, Dennis Harrison, James Manley, Greg Zolman, Dan Stricker, Hunter Hillenmeyer, Moses Osemwegie and Earl Bennett.

In 2005, coach Bobby Johnson’s edition was led by quarterback Jay Cutler who brought excitement to Commodore fans with his prolific passing. Cutler earned SEC Offensive Player-of-the-Year honors while being selected 11th overall in the 2006 NFL draft. He is currently the staring quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Cutler leads Vanderbilt in all-time career passing (8,697 yards) and career total offense (9,953). Vanderbilt’s all-time record in football is 546-542-50 in 118 years.

Dudley Field has had many great players trample on its sod. In 1932, the Chicago Bears, of the newly formed National Football League and coached by legendary coach George Halas, played an exhibition game in Nashville. The great Red Grange would score touchdowns with Bronco Nagurski to defeat the Boston Braves, 25-0.

And 33 years later, Halas again led his Bears to another 1965 exhibition game on Dudley Field. The Los Angles Rams were the victims that day in a 28-14 Bears victory. Scoring two touchdowns that afternoon was rookie Gale Sayers and on defense was another rookie Dick Butkus.

When the Houston Oilers of the NFL moved its franchise to Nashville, the Tennessee Oilers played their 1998 season on Dudley Field while the new downtown stadium was being constructed. The Oilers would become the Titans.

  Bob Polk

The modern era Vanderbilt basketball began with the hiring of Bob Polk (1948-58, 1960-61) as its first full-time basketball coach. The Commodores were for the first time offering basketball scholarships with Billy Joe Adcock the initial signee. Other recruits by Polk include Bob Dudley Smith, Hank Duvier and George Kelly. Adcock graduated after the 1949-50 season and became Vanderbilt’s first All-American.

Polk’s greatest achievement was winning the only SEC Tournament in the school’s history in 1951. The 19-8 Commodores rolled by Tennessee, Georgia and LSU before whipping Kentucky in the finals, 61-57. Polk suffered a heart attack and missed the 1958-59 season. He retired from Vanderbilt for heath issues in 1961. Polk ranks second all-time in Commodore victories with a record of 197-106.

In this period, Vanderbilt was playing its home games at area high schools and David Lipscomb’s McQuiddy Gymnasium. The Vanderbilt administration decided at their hiring of Polk, that basketball was to be given a chance to succeed on the campus. Dedicated in 1952 as a memorial to all Vanderbilt men and women that served in World War II, historic Memorial Gymnasium was constructed. The Commodores defeated Virginia, 90-83 on Dec. 6, 1952 in their inaugural home game. The gymnasium has been the sight of many exciting finishes giving way to the name, “Memorial Magic.”

The Roy Skinner (1959, 1962-76) era began with the retirement of Polk. Skinner quickly guided Vanderbilt to one of the elites of the SEC. After securing center Clyde Lee (1964-66), Skinner led the Commodores to their first SEC basketball championship with a 24-4 record. Vanderbilt would fall to Michigan 87-85 in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Along with Lee, All-SEC honors went to teammates Bob Grace and Ed Miller.

Lee would become an All-American and two-time SEC Player-of-the-Year. He left Vanderbilt as the all-time leader scorer and now ranks sixth with 1,691 points. Lee currently holds all Commodore rebounding records. The outstanding play of Lee attracted swarms of fans to Memorial Gym. Balconies were added to the gym to increase the seating capacity. These additions were referred to as “The Balconies that Clyde Built.”

The color barrier in the SEC was broken when Perry Wallace joined the Commodores as the first black scholarship player during the 1967-68 season. Wallace remained poised while enduring treats and taunting throughout his career. The forward was a Second Team All-SEC selection in 1970. Wallace ranks second on the Vanderbilt all-time career rebounding list.

Vanderbilt, with Skinner, would win its second SEC championship in 1974 to finish 23-5. Skinner won his third of four SEC Coach-of-the-Year awards and the Commodores competed in the NCAA Tournament. During Skinner’s tenure he would coach such greats as Jan van Breda Kolff (1974 SEC Player-of-the-Year), Tom Hagan (All-American), Bo Wyenandt, Bob Warren, Terry Compton and the famous F-Troop of Joe Ford, Jeff Fosnes and Butch Feher.

In 1981, Charles Davis and Mike Rhodes played their final season for the Commodores. Rhodes and Davis battled for the Vanderbilt all-time career points lead. Rhodes erased Lee’s record by totaling 1,724 points in front of Davis’ 1,675.

The arrival of coach C.M. Newton (1982-89) upgraded the Commodore program years after Skinner retired as Vanderbilt’s all-time coaching leader (278-135). Newton’s “Bomb Squad” of Scott Draud, Barry Booker and Barry Goheen lit up the Vanderbilt scoreboards. With center and SEC Player-of-the-Year Will Perdue, Vanderbilt made it to the Sweet Sixteen of the 1988 NCAA Tournament before falling to Kansas, the eventual national champs.

Newton was a two-time SEC Coach-of-the-Year. Other basketball greats to have played in the Newton era were, Phil Cox, Jeff Turner, and Frank Kornet. In 1990, coach Eddie Fogler (1990-93) led Vanderbilt to the NIT championship. This title is the men’s only championship in a national tournament. Draud was named the tournament’s MVP.

Duke transfer Billy McCaffrey led the 1992-93 Commodores to its third and last SEC title and another Sweet Sixteen appearance. Vanderbilt set a school record with 28 wins (6 losses) that season. McCaffrey was named the SEC Player-of-the-Year and gained All-American honors while Fogler was selected SEC Coach-of-the-Year and National Coach-of-the-Year. Also giving outstanding efforts were Chris Lawson, Bruce Elder, Dan Hall and Kevin Anglin.

Jan van Breda Kolff (1994-99) returned to Vanderbilt as coach taking the Commodores to one NCAA Tournament appearance in 1997 losing in the first round. His Commodores also received bids to two NIT’s. Playing top caliber SEC basketball at this time were Drew Maddux, Dan Langhi (2000 SEC Player-of-the-Year), Ronnie McMahan and Frank Seckar.

Kevin Stallings is in his ninth season leading the Commodores. Under his guidance Vanderbilt has appeared in two NIT’s and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament in 2004 and 2007. In 2004, Matt Freije became the Commodores all-time leading scorer with 1,891 points.

Key Commodores in the 21st century include Greg LaPointe, Russell Lakey, Ron Hundley, Corey Smith, Mario Moore, Julian Terrell, Alex Gordon, Derrick Byars (2007 SEC Player-of-the-Year) and Shan Foster (2008 SEC Player-of-the-Year). In 2008, Foster eclipsed Freije’s all-time scoring record with 2,011 points.

The Vanderbilt men have an overall record of 1,404-1003. Their home record in Memorial Gymnasium is an astonishing 669-184. They have made 10 NCAA Tournament appearances including four in the Sweet Sixteen and one Elite Eight. The Commodores have made 11 NIT (18-10) appearances with one championship (1990) and one Runner-up (1994).

Next week read part three of the history of Vanderbilt Athletics. If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via e-mail

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