Former Vanderbilt coach Bill Pace

Oct. 9, 2013

Bill PaceCommodore History Corner Archive

The late John Bibb, sports writer for Tennessean, reported that former Vanderbilt head football coach Bill Pace (1967-72) balked at his initial opportunity to interview for the job's opening due to loyalty. When Jack Green resigned as the Commodores' head coach, the Vanderbilt search committee looked at Pace, considered a dashing and daring, hot young assistant coach at Arkansas. Frank Broyles, who had another young assistant coach with potential in Johnny Majors, coached the Razorbacks at the time.

Majors had been the first coach to interview at Vanderbilt and Pace was reluctant to compete with his friend. Pace was 40 years old at the time. Said Pace, "I don't want to interfere with Johnny's plans in case he is interested in going to Vanderbilt. He'd make them a fine coach, I know that." Majors quietly withdrew his name from consideration.

Bibb gave this report in an 1989 article: "Later it became known that Pace's turnabout on the Vandy job came after a discussion with Jess Neely, the Commodore alumnus who had retired at Rice and was being wooed by longtime Vanderbilt friends to return to Nashville as athletic director. It was a package deal. Neely wasn't interested without Pace, and Pace hadn't shown any interest until Neely came into the picture."

Later, Pace would take over the athletic director's job (1971) when Neely retired. Pace took over for Green (1963-66) who had a four-year record of 7-29-4. He was born in Douthat, Okla., and graduated from Picher High School in Picher, Okla., in 1950 and played baseball with Mickey Mantle. Pace earned a degree in Business Administration from Wichita State University in 1954. In college, Pace played football, basketball and baseball and was all-conference in football. He served in the U.S. Army for two years in 1955-56.

Before arriving on the Vanderbilt campus, Pace had the following coaching experiences:
1954--Wichita State freshmen coach (9-1)
1955-56--Fort Sill Army (9-2 and 8-2)
1957--University of Arkansas freshmen (6-5)
1958-61--University of Kansas backfield coach (4-6, 5-4, 7-2, 7-2)
1962-66--University of Arkansas backfield coach and offensive coordinator. Arkansas won the national championship in 1964, leading the nation in scoring and at one time winning 22 consecutive games.

Two of Pace's players had outstanding NFL careers with QB John Hadl (Kansas) and WR Lance Alworth (Arkansas), an NFL Hall of Fame member. Pace was considered a red-hot commodity upon his arrival at Vanderbilt and an offensive wizard. He was inheriting a difficult situation at Vanderbilt.

Pace 1968
In the five seasons before Pace, the Commodores managed eight wins while losing 38 games and tying four. They just won three SEC games in 29 attempts. In Green's last season, the Commodores were 1-9 and 0-6 in the conference. Pace's first season was predictability tough. A 2-7-1 (0-6 SEC) record included victories over William & Mary and North Carolina. The tie was against Navy (35-35).

Leading Vanderbilt that season was wide receiver Bob Goodridge who was First Team All-SEC and the SEC's MVP. He was just the fourth SEC MVP for Vanderbilt at that time.

Pace's only winning season came in 1968 with a 5-4-1 (2-3-1) record. Victories were collected over VMI, Army, Tulane, Kentucky and Davidson. The 14-14 tie was against No. 15 ranked Florida. The Commodores lost a tough game that season to No. 7 ranked Tennessee, 10-7. There was improvement with Pace heading the Commodores. This would be Vanderbilt's first winning season since 1959.

In 1969 the Commodores slipped to 4-6 (2-3), but recorded an upset against Paul "Bear" Bryant's Alabama squad that came to Dudley Field as the 13th-ranked team in the country. Vandy quarterback, Watson Brown, led the charge in the 14-10 victory. Brown had been offered a scholarship to Alabama by Bryant.

One other milestone from that season was the 63-8 win over Davidson in Nashville. The Commodores amassed 798 total yards that still stands today as a school record. That total at the time established a new NCAA and SEC record for total yards. The record was broken in 1973 by Alabama (833 yards against Virginia Tech).

Also in 1969, Commodore tailback Doug Mathews recorded 849 rushing yards to lead the SEC and break the school-mark held by Tom Moore (676) since 1959. Mathews is the only Vanderbilt running back to lead the SEC in rushing.

In 1970, Vanderbilt was 4-7 (1-5) with wins over Chattanooga, The Citadel, Kentucky and Tampa. The tie was against Louisville (0-0). The 1971 season concluded with a 4-6-1 (1-5) mark, recording victories over Chattanooga, Mississippi State, Tulane and Tampa. Pace's final season arrived in 1972 with a 3-8 (0-6) record. Wins came over Chattanooga, Virginia and William & Mary. Pace resigned his head coaching and athletics director positions on Jan. 16, 1973.

During his tenure, top Vandy players were All-Americans Chip Healy and Bob Asher; All-SEC players Bob Goodridge, Steve Smith, Ken Stone and George Abernathy; Pat Toomay and Watson Brown. Pace's six-year record was 22-38-3.

"When you consider how few things Vanderbilt football fans have had to cheer about for so many years, it is remarkable that they have been as loyal as they have," said Pace upon resigning. "In my estimation, there is a group of 20,000 fans in America who have done more for less than Vanderbilt followers. My only regret in resigning is that I have been unable to put together the sort of football program they deserve."

When asked to reflect on what it considered the problems that led to his resignation, Pace added, "I have no answer. If I did, I wouldn't have resigned. If I had a complaint, and I really don't, it would have something to do with the lack of communications between the campus and athletic department. It may be the toughest problem of all to solve--this lack of communication between the faculty and the coaches and the players."

Steve Sloan replaced Pace as Vanderbilt's head coach. After leaving Vanderbilt, Pace coached at Georgia Tech as an assistant for a short period and was on the Georgia staff for six seasons under Vince Dooley and for two seasons at Tennessee under Johnny Majors. Pace was offensive coordinator at both SEC schools. He retired in 1982 to move back to Nashville where he was associated with Nashville's Jacques-Miller, Inc. as a financial planner. Pace and his wife, Joan, later purchased Southern Trophy shop in 1987. Pace died in Nashville at age 58 in May 1990. He was buried in Athens, Ga.

Pace 1969Watson Brown was Vanderbilt's head football coach when Pace died. Pace said during his second time in Nashville, "I realize there's no room for me in coaching, but it's a great town [Nashville] and Vanderbilt is a great school. I guess it is contagious, but I'd sure like to be there to see the Commodore football team and its fans celebrate their successes, I'm absolutely convinced one of these days, a Vandy football coach is going to punch the right buttons at the right time. Nothing would thrill me more than for that coach to be Watson Brown."

Brown was recruited by Pace out of Cookeville, Tenn., and coached at Cincinnati, Rice and Vanderbilt, and is currently the head coach at Tennessee Tech. Brown said upon Pace's passing, "I came to Vanderbilt because of Coach Pace. He was like a second daddy to me. Other than my immediate family, Coach Pace had as much to do with my life as any single person.

"I talked to Coach Pace about every move I made. When I got to Vandy [as head coach] he was one of the first people I had breakfast with. And I can't count the number of times I've called him since then, over how many breakfasts we've discussed various Vanderbilt problems.

"In fact, I was with him just a couple of days ago. I always valued his insight and opinions. I think of Coach Pace as a people person who left an awful lot of friends at Vanderbilt. I have lost a close friend and Vanderbilt has lost one of the classiest people that has ever been at the university."

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