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Record: 165-64-8 (.713), 22 years
by Furman Bisher, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The way I get the story, Bobby Dodd came to Atlanta with the Tennessee basketball team for the tournament that ended the 1931 season in the old Southern Conference, and never left. He had been hired, very quietly, as a football assistant at Georgia Tech. Spring practice was about to begin, and he brought along his few belongings and bunked in with Ed Hamm, who had won the Olympic gold medal in the broad jump in 1928.
Dodd, as a crafty All-American quarterback at Tennessee, had been in great demand as a coach once his eligibility had played out. Bob Neyland had expected him to move onto his staff at Knoxville, and the renowned Wallace Wade, then breaking in at Duke, had made overtures. But it was Bill Alexander who won him, through the solicitous services of Chip Robert, extolled as a scatback at Tech in the early 1900s, and who had generated great wealth in the architectural world. It was said that General Neyland never forgave Dodd for turning him down, and when Dodd's third Georgia Tech team thoroughly trounced the Vols in 1947, the abyss was deepened.
But so much for old wounds. On to the grandeur of the Days of Dodd at Georgia Tech, the stuff of which fables are woven. To try to compress in a few pages the glorious times of Dodd as football coach at Georgia Tech is likened to the Biblical parable of passing a camel through the eye of a needle. So I can only tell it as I saw it, lived it and have reminisced it.
Dramatic events took place in the lives of both of us in 1950. I moved from Charlotte to join the Atlanta newspapers. I arrived in town one weekend, Bill Alexander died the next weekend, so I never knew the man. Dodd ascended to the athletics directorship and he was launched on a glorious run that ended with his withdrawal from coaching in February 1967.
Robert Lee Dodd brought a different style to coaching, an emphasis on craftsmanship, finesse, well rehearsed execution and sideline genius. Many a time have I heard it said, "Bobby Dodd was the best sideline coach I ever saw."
He didn't believe in leaving your game on the practice field, so Dodd teams enjoyed their weekday afternoons. While some coaches left their teams bruised and battered with the idea that they were making them tough for Saturday's game, Dodd left his men on the edge of condition, hungering for some contact. He wasn't always that easy, but it was more the rule than the exception.
He also de-emphasized his own role in coaching. His assistants coached, he supervised, kept track of drills and entertained his guests from the press, usually aloft on his tower, the first of those things I ever saw. We once did an article for Look magazine titled, "Head Coaches Don't Coach Any More." He was ahead of his time, far ahead.
Dodd was a reluctant student, from the time he first made acquaintance with football at Kingsport High in Tennessee. Don't consider him a Tennessean. "I'm a Virginian," he said. "That's my home." He was born in Galax. Add a "y" to it and you've still got a scruffy mountain town in southwest Virginia. He was probably the only star it ever produced. At Kingsport, he was so happy playing high school football that, "I planned to make that my career," he said often in the annual presentation of the Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year Award.
When his playing time ran out at Tennessee, he was still a first-quarter junior. It was later that he began to realize the gross mistake he'd made, and how errant he'd been having no college diploma. He turned on the academically uninspired like a reformed alcoholic turns on boozers. He preached education, demanded education, provided a tutor for his less accomplished classroom athletes, and hounded them until they left Georgia Tech with diploma in hand.
He approved of marriage for his players, another forerunner among coaches. Most coaches frowned on wedlock. A player got married at Mississippi, John Vaught kicked him off the squad.
"Keeps them off the street," Dodd said. "You know where they are at night."
At one time, golf was Dodd's main avocation, fancied himself as quite a player, and especially a putter. Fred Hooper, the legendary horseman, takes credit for `curing' him of golf. "I played him in Miami one year and beat him out of $700. He wrote me a check, put his clubs in the car and told me he'd never play again," Hooper said.
He did, one more time, for four holes at Peachtree Golf Club a few years before his death. Frank Broyles was in town and Dodd went along for a few holes until it wasn't fun any more. "Now I know why I quit this game," he said, put his club back in the bag and walked the rest of the round with us.
Fishing succeeded golf, bass fishing. He was a master at it. Dodd didn't take up anything he couldn't master. We were preparing for a magazine story on Dodd's fishing when the accompanying photographer, Kenneth Rogers, said, "Just throw out a line so I can see if I'm in focus."
Dodd made a casual cast with a top-water lure, something snapped at the lure, made a run with it, the reel singing a tune happy to any angler's ears, and Dodd pulled in a six-pound bass, just practicing.
Tennis? The tennis stories about Dodd are legend. He had an unorthodox style, a swing like somebody falling out of a tree, but he was a smashing doubles partner. He covered the court and his best shot was a protective one. The week after two South African girls had won the U.S. Open doubles at Forest Hills, they came to town and played a match against Dodd and Joe Becknell, a local pro, both twice as old as the two champions. Dodd and the pro had the girls on the ropes in the second set, an ace away from winning, but youth and agility eventually won out over the two tiring elders. It was a match to remember, though.
You know the records. They're all in the book, how many games he won, all those bowl games he won--six in a row at one time before Broyles, his old pupil and assistant, then at Arkansas, broke it in the Gator Bowl--all the statistics, all the glory and the honors. What isn't in there is Dodd the Person because you can't translate a man's personality, his grace, and how he can charm those around him, into figures. Old Georgia Bulldogs hated him because he made it look so easy. Over one stretch of the '50s Dodd beat Georgia eight games in a row. It seemed that Georgia might never beat Georgia Tech again. But then it seemed there would be a Dodd at Georgia Tech forever. Nobody could imagine it otherwise, but time and its wretched allies take care of such fantasies. A street has been named for him, and the stadium gathered around Grant Field, all attempts to prolong the legend, but the best of it are the memories that warm the heart.
Coaches have come and coaches have gone since, some who played for him and walked in his shadow, and long the search will continue, but when the final chapter is written, there will have been only one Bobby Dodd at Georgia Tech, the place those who reach back in sentiment call The Flats.
The Dodd File Born Robert Lee Dodd on Nov. 11, 1908 in Galax, Va. Starred as single-wing quarterback at Kingsport (Tenn.) High All-America quarterback at Tennessee, leading the Volunteers to a 27-1-2 record from 1928-30 Began his 36-year coaching career in 1931 as a Georgia Tech assistant under William Alexander Had a 57-year association with Tech, through stays as head coach (1945-66), athletic director (1950-76) and alumni association consultant until his death at age 79 on June 21, 1988 Compiled a 165-64-8 record (.713) in 22 seasons Guided Tech to a 31-game winning streak from 1951-53, including a perfect 12-0 season and national title in 1952 Posted a sparkling 9-4 record in bowl games Won eight straight bowl games and six in six seasons from 1951-56, including the 1952 Orange, 1953 Sugar, 1954 Sugar, 1955 Cotton, 1956 Sugar and 1956 Gator Tutored 21 first-team all-Americas Inducted into the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame in 1993. Already in the Hall for his playing career at Tennessee, he joined Amos Alonzo Stagg as the only inductees to be enshrined as player and coach
BOBBY DODD YEAR BY YEAR (165-64-8, 22 years) 1945 4-6 2-2 SEC/T-5th 1946 9-2 4-2 SEC/4th Oil Bowl (W) 1947 10-1 4-1 SEC/2nd Orange Bowl (W) 1948 7-3 4-3 SEC/5th 1949 7-3 5-2 SEC/4th 1950 5-6 4-2 SEC/5th 1951 11-0-1 7-0 SEC/1st (Champions) Orange Bowl (W) 1952 12-0 6-0 SEC/1st (Champions) Sugar Bowl (W) Co-National Champions 1953 9-2-1 4-1-1 SEC/2nd Sugar Bowl (W) 1954 8-3 6-2 SEC/2nd Cotton Bowl (W) 1955 9-1-1 4-1-1 SEC/ 3rd Sugar Bowl (W) 1956 10-1 7-1 SEC/2nd Gator Bowl (W) 1957 4-4-2 3-4-1 SEC/8th 1958 5-4-1 2-3-1 SEC/T-8th 1959 6-5 3-3 SEC/7th Gator Bowl (L) 1960 5-5 4-4 SEC/7th 1961 7-4 4-3 SEC/T-4th Gator Bowl (L) 1962 7-3-1 5-2 SEC/4th Bluebonnet Bowl (L) 1963 7-3 4-3 SEC/6th 1964 7-3 1965 7-3-1 Gator Bowl (W) 1966 9-2 Orange Bowl (L)