Q&A with George McGugin

Sept. 5, 2012

George McGuginCommodore History Corner Archive

Dan McGugin (1904-17, 1919-34) became a football coaching legend at Vanderbilt with a 197-55-19 record. He was born in Tingley, Iowa, on July 29, 1879. His grandson, George McGugin, was born after Coach McGugin's death, and played football for the Commodores (1960-61). George's father Dan McGugin, Jr. also played football for Vanderbilt (1929, 1931) and his coaching father. George McGugin graduated from Vanderbilt in 1962 and received his Vanderbilt law degree in 1965. He retired from practicing law in Nashville in 2008 and works with his son in an investment business.

Recently "Commodore History Corner" writer Bill Traughber had a conversation with George to discuss the McGugin legacy.

How many children did Coach McGugin have?

"Lucy Ann was the oldest and married a man named Pugh Moore. He was an AP correspondent during the war and ended up writing for of the Memphis newspapers. Then the next was my dad, Dan Jr., and then came Leonard Fite McGugin. Lucy Ann and Pugh Moore did not have any children. My dad had two sons; my older brother Danny McGugin III is deceased and me. Then Leonard McGugin had two children, Virginia Fite and Leonard Fite, Jr. My twin sons are Daniel and Bill and I've got a daughter Susan McGugin who is married to Jay Davis."

Though you never knew Coach McGugin, you grew up hearing stories about him?
"I was born in 1940 and he died in 1936, so I never knew him. My father told many stories about him. He was born in Tingley, Iowa, and went to Drake University where he played three years of college football. Then he went to the Michigan Law School and received his law degree while playing two years on the Michigan football team. He played on the 1901 Michigan team that beat Stanford 49-0 in the first bowl game [Rose Bowl] ever played in this country. He was the starting left guard and played the next year on the point-a-minute team. In his third year in law school, he was an administrative assistant. Fielding Yost was Michigan's coach, who had a connection with William Dudley [head of Vanderbilt athletics], which Dudley Field is named. Yost was primarily responsible for my grandfather getting the job at Vanderbilt."

Wasn't there a famous talk that Coach McGugin gave his Commodores before the 1922 Dudley Field dedication game against Michigan and Coach Yost?
"When they dedicated the stadium in 1922, and played Michigan, part of his pregame speech to his players was about the Civil War. Coach McGugin told his players that the dads and granddads that are buried in the cemeteries around Nashville were put there by the dads and granddads of the players they were going against that day. The irony there is Coach McGugin's dad and his two uncles fought for an Ohio regiment during the Civil War, and Fielding Yost, for which McGugin played, his dad fought for a Virginia regiment in the confederacy. Yost was born in West Virginia. Yost became the iconic coach in the mid-west in the first part of the 20th century and Dan McGugin became the iconic coach in the South in the first part of the 20th century. Dan McGugin's roots were on the northern side and Fielding Yost roots were on the southern side."

Tell me about Coach McGugin and Fielding Yost's close relationship.
"After McGugin came to Vanderbilt in 1904, he met and fell in love with Virginia Fite of a longstanding Nashville family. In the following summer of 1905 there was a reunion of the 1901 Michigan team in Detroit, which is close to Ann Arbor. McGugin wanted to take his fiancé Virginia to this reunion and her parents said there was no way in the world he was going to take their daughter up there. They did say they would let him take her if they took her older sister Eunice as a chaperone. They said that's fine and took Eunice. So Yost met and fell in love with Eunice. They got married and Dan McGugin was the best man in Fielding Yost's wedding and Yost was the best man in Dan McGugin's wedding. They married sisters and were now brothers-in-law. Yost and McGugin built houses side by side in Nashville. Those houses are still there on Craighead down there by West End Junior High School. Yost moved and lived here in Nashville except when he was coaching during the season. He lived here until about 1910, but moved back to Michigan full-time when his coaching duties became more demanding. Yost and McGugin were in all types of business interests together. Yost was also a lawyer. If you look at McGugin's second Vanderbilt team photo in 1905, you will see Yost posing with the team, and Vanderbilt played Michigan in the third game that season. That is unprecedented. Can you imagine Les Miles being in the Alabama team photograph?"

What were the circumstances that brought Coach McGugin to Vanderbilt and Nashville?
"One reason McGugin was interested in the Vanderbilt job was as a kid growing up his dad use to talk about how mild the weather was in the South. Coach McGugin's dad, Benjamin Franklin McGugin, had been captured during the Civil War and sent to the prison camp in Andersonville [Ga.] from which he escaped. He talked about how much warmer it was in the South than it was on the plains of Iowa. My granddad always had that in the back of his mind. So when the Vanderbilt job became available he was more than interested in it. It is lucky that Vanderbilt got Dan McGugin. He applied for the Vanderbilt job and did not receive a reply. [William] Dudley had gone to Europe for the summer, and when the entire summer went by and he didn't hear back from Vanderbilt, McGugin assumed they weren't interested. So McGugin sent a telegram to Case Western Reserve accepting their job opening for a head football coach. Within a short period of time, he did receive a telegram from Dudley offering the Vanderbilt job. It turned out that the telegram operator never sent out the first telegram to Case Western Reserve. If he had, McGugin would have honored it and gone to Case Western Reserve. So he retracted that and accepted the Vanderbilt job."

You must have grown up listening to so many stories about your grandfather that you were influenced to play football like your father did at Vanderbilt.
"Yes, from day one though my dad never promoted it. I picked it up by osmosis and I knew from the get-go that my grandfather had been the head football coach at Vanderbilt. As a kid I was always interested in football. I played grade school football, high school football [at MBA] and at Vanderbilt where I wasn't any good. I was a freshman in 1958; redshirted in 1959 and I started some at left end. In those days you played both ways. I played guard on defense protecting the linebacker. In 1960-61, I played under Art Guepe, and graduated in 1962. Then I went on to law school at Vanderbilt, but didn't come back for a fifth year. When I was there we weren't very good. The highlight I remember was beating Georgia between the hedges in 1961. The year that I redshirted we beat UT 14-0 in Knoxville. I was there, but didn't dress for the game. Once we played Georgia at Dudley Field and during my first play in the game I tackled Fran Tarkington. The photo of that tackle was published in the Tennessean. I can say I tackled a future pro football hall of famer."

Did having the name McGugin help you to gain a football scholarship to Vanderbilt?
"The interesting part of my story is when I was at MBA, I was a good high school player, but I was not a solid college prospect. I was kind of small, but in those days Bowden Wyatt was coaching at Tennessee and they were running the single-wing. In the season of 1957, I was a senior and Johnny Majors was a graduate assistant on the Tennessee staff. He was working Middle Tennessee and John Majors started recruiting me for to the University of Tennessee. He told me I'd be playing blocking back for the Vols and that I was going to be the next Stockton Adkins, who played with John Majors. And Vanderbilt wasn't recruiting me. But Tennessee was so I went on a visit to Knoxville and that's where I was going to college. Through his connections in Nashville, my dad said to some Vanderbilt people it didn't matter to him, but it is going to look awful funny if the grandson of Dan McGugin went to Tennessee to play football. At the very end, Vanderbilt started to recruit me. That is where I wanted to go, so I signed with Vanderbilt. Ultimately I became very good friends with John Majors and he likes to kid me, `Damn you, McGugin. I got you that scholarship to Vanderbilt.' My father played for McGugin in 1929 and 1931. I never understood what happened, but he wasn't very good. Coach McGugin was a football coach that ends up being the father of 35 to 40 guys at that time and now his son is one of those players. My dad didn't talk much about his time playing football."

Dan McGugin with his son, Dan McGugin, Jr.Didn't Coach McGugin have a sense of humor?
"Fielding Yost and Dan McGugin were on a train from Nashville heading to New York for the American Football Coaches Association annual meeting. Yost was to receive the primary award and was going to have to make an acceptance speech. Yost was a very studious and serious guy. He put together a speech and in those days a train ride could be three days. And the entire way up there Yost would say, `Dan, how about this?' and he'd give McGugin part of the speech. So during the time on the trip McGugin would have heard the speech, no telling how many times, over and over again. Now it is the night of the event and just before the presentation, the master of ceremonies said, `Before we call on Fielding Yost, we've got his brother-in-law and close friend Coach Dan McGugin from Vanderbilt. He is here so we would like to call on Coach McGugin to make a few remarks.' Well, McGugin stood up there and gave Yost's speech. Yost is sitting on the front row just grinding his teeth, clinching his jaw, madder than a wet hen. McGugin had a great sense of humor."

Did Coach McGugin ever meet your mother?
"My dad met my mother [Carol Catherine Bew] in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in 1935. My mother was from Norfolk, Virginia, just a short distance from Virginia Beach. My dad fell in love with her and talked her parents into sending her to Vanderbilt. She tells the story when she went over to Coach McGugin with her soon to be husband [George's father] to meet Dan McGugin and his wife. She was nervous and knew who Coach McGugin was and his reputation. Coach McGugin was a big man, like 6-foot-2. Other family members were there and my dad introduced her to Coach McGugin and the family. He told her to sit down next to him on the sofa. Coach McGugin had put a Whoopee Cushion underneath her seat. She sat down and that thing went off. She apologized and said she had never been so embarrassed and humiliated. But it broke the ice and gave some insight to his personality and sense of humor. Here was this formal, stilted atmosphere and he put a Whoopee Cushion on the sofa. My mom and dad got married in April 1936, and Coach McGugin died in January 1936. He died before they got married."

Do you have much memorabilia from Coach McGugin?
"I have the game ball from the 1922 game at Dudley Field [dedication game] against Michigan. I've got about six of his smoking pipes. He smoked cigars and pipes. I gave a couple of things to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. I have all types of newspaper clippings, his law degree from Michigan and photographs. I also have the desk that Coach McGugin used in his law office. He earned his living practicing law and not just coaching football. He was a very good attorney. He was involved with all types of business ventures. He was one of the attorneys that helped draft the Tennessee Workers Compensation Act. I also have a file full of copies of letters he wrote to Walter Camp when Camp was selecting his all-star teams. Camp would write Coach McGugin asking his opinion of certain players in the South."

Do people in Nashville recognize the name McGugin?
"Yes, still to this day, even though all his players are gone. This past fall I went to the Ole Miss/BYU game with a guy I now work with who is from Cleveland, Mississippi, and is an Ole Miss grad. We were walking around "The Grove" and there was a guy wearing a Vanderbilt sweatshirt. I couldn't believe he was wearing that shirt at a Mississippi football game in Oxford when Vanderbilt was not playing. He was about my age and I went up to him to ask about wearing the Vandy gear, that he got my curiosity. He said he was a Vandy fan and graduated two years behind me. He told me his name and I said I was George McGugin. He looked at me like I was lying and asked me what was my real name. He didn't believe me. To this day people are aware of the McGugin name."

Your twin sons also have a Vanderbilt athletic connection?
"Both my sons went to MBA and played football and tennis. They were part of individual and team state championships in tennis. They played doubles together and won the state championships as juniors and seniors. They were good football players. Bill was a quarterback and Daniel [not the IVth] played tight end, linebacker and long snapper. The tennis coach at Vanderbilt was recruiting them, as was Tennessee. They wanted to go to Vanderbilt and they looked at Notre Dame, but somewhere in the recruiting process Vanderbilt disappeared and stop recruiting them. Since Tennessee was hot after them, they went to Knoxville. They wanted to play big-time college tennis. They were part of the eight-player rotation. The coach that recruited them left Tennessee and Vanderbilt got a new coach and was suddenly short of quality players. So Bill and Daniel transferred to Vanderbilt without having to sit out a year. They played tennis for three years at Vanderbilt and graduated. They were not good enough to play SEC or big-time football and could have played for several small colleges, but decided on tennis. When Daniel graduated from Vanderbilt he got a job at MBA as the head coach for the ninth grade for three years. He knew he needed to get a different look so he became a graduate assistant for Larry Coker at the University of Miami. Then the FRA [Nashville's Franklin Road Academy] job opened up and they hired him. Daniel coached at FRA for two years then became head coach at MBA and won a state championship there."

The photos accompanying this story are of George McGugin as a Vanderbilt football player, and Dan McGugin with his son, Dan McGugin, Jr., also a Vanderbilt football player.

Traughber's Tidbit: Actor Claude Jarman, Jr., was born on September 27, 1934, in Nashville and is best known for his first acting role in The Yearling (1946). Appearing in his third movie, Intruder in the Dust (1947), there is a scene in his character's room at home of pennants hanging on the walls. A few of the recognizable pennants are of Ole Miss, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. The movie was filmed in Oxford, Miss. With limited roles, Jarman returned to Nashville, took courses in pre-law at Vanderbilt and served three years in the U.S. Navy. He did appear in a few more movies and today lives in California.

If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via email at WLTraughber@aol.com. Traughber's fourth book, "Vanderbilt Basketball: Tales of Commodore Hardwood History" will cover Vanderbilt basketball history. The book should be available around October 15.



Proud Sponsors of Commodore Athletics