Football program builds on strong history
By Derrick Ma / Student Publications
Cheerleaders ride on the outside of the Ramblin' Wreck to lead the team onto the field before home football games. This tradition has been a part of Tech football for more than two generations.
With four national championships, nine undefeated seasons, 15 conference championships and the best all-time bowl winning percentage, the tradition that is Tech football becomes all the more clear. While Tech has received accolades in basketball as of late, football has been the tradition-laden program for more than a century.
Tech first played football in the fall of 1892 and lost all three games. A year later, Army Lieutenant Leonard Wood came to Tech to help shape the program. Wood led Tech to a 28-6 victory over Georgia, the first victory in school history. Wood was also at the helm for the worst drubbing in school history when Auburn won 94-0 in Athletic Park in 1894.
John Heisman was hired in 1903 and became Tech's first paid coach. "The Wizard," as he was nicknamed, had an annual salary of $2,250 and received 30 percent of the gate receipts. During his 16 years at Tech from 1904-1919, Heisman compiled a 102-29-7 record.
Heisman was not only a great coach, but also an innovator of the game itself. He championed the legalization of the forward pass as well as having his players call plays at the line instead of huddling.
In a game that did not see a single first down, the Golden Tornado scored 32 touchdowns and amassed 978 yards rushing. Despite the game being only 45 minutes long, Tech defeated Cumberland 222-0 in what is the most lopsided victory in college football history.
The following season, Tech went 9-0 and Heisman was awarded the first national championship after three undefeated seasons. The Golden Tornado defeated their opponents that season with a combined mark of 491-20, including a 41-0 victory over Pennsylvania. Heisman's squad opened the season by defeating Furman and Wake Forest in the same day.
William "Aleck" Alexander was a backup on Heisman's 1906 and 1907 squads. He later joined the staff as an assistant coach and was ultimately selected to follow in his former coach's footsteps. Alexander compiled a 134-95-15 record from 1920-1944.
Alexander was the first coach to take a team to each of the original four major bowls: the Sugar, Cotton, Orange and Rose. Alexander won only three of four, but Bobby Dodd would later follow to make Tech the first school to win each of the four bowls at least once.
After retiring in 1944, Alexander stayed on as athletic director until his death in 1950.
In the 1928 undefeated season, Tech defeated Knute Rockne's Notre Dame squad 13-0 in Atlanta. The win was the first for Tech in six games against the Irish.
Later than season Tech suffered a scare against Alabama. The score was tied 13-13 at the end of the third quarter before Tech broke away to win 33-13. A Thanksgiving-day rout of Auburn and a win against Georgia precluded heading to the 1929 Rose Bowl, where Tech defeated California 8-7 to claim their second national championship and the first bowl win in school history.
Tech football has only one retired jersey number, the No. 19 of Clint Castleberry. Despite only playing one season as a freshman in 1942, the legend of Clint Castleberry remains strong. Even though he saw limited action against Georgia and then Texas in the Cotton Bowl because of a knee injury, Castleberry finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.
After the 1942 season, Castleberry joined the Army Air Corps. On Election Day 1944, Castleberry flew on a B-26 Marauder from Nigeria into Senegal, but the plane was never seen again.
After an extensive search, 16 days later on Nov. 23, 1944 the army officially changed the classification from "Missing In Action" to "Killed, No Body."
Robert Lee Dodd was selected to replace Alexander after serving for 13 years as an assistant on his staff. The hiring of Bobby Dodd led to what would later be referred to as the glory years for Tech football.
Between 1945 and 1966, Dodd compiled a 165-64-8 record along with winning the 1952 National Championship. The 12-0 season was culminated by a 24-7 victory over Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl.
In the 1951 through 1956 seasons, Tech won six bowls in a row under the helm of Dodd.
Even with all the accolades on the field, Dodd has been revered as an even better man off the field. The street and stadium named after him are only small tributes to such a great man.
On Sept. 17, 1955, Tech defeated Miami 14-6 in the first college football game to be nationally broadcast in color.
The Jackets left the Southeastern Conference in January of 1964. According to Dodd in his book Dodd's Luck, the SEC instituted a limit of 140 scholarships to be used between football and basketball. The schools were also allowed to sign 45 recruits a year. Dodd believed that a scholarship was a four-year commitment to a player and wouldn't run a player off if he were hurt or unable to contribute on the field.
Unfortunately, the other SEC schools didn't feel this way. Before the January athletic director's meeting, Dodd convinced five other ADs in the conference to follow suit. Before the meeting Bear Bryant said that he would have the Alabama AD vote with Dodd to change the rule, but when the votes came the Alabama AD didn't vote with Tech.
Following the meeting, Tech's president Dr. Edwin Harrison announced that Tech would regretfully leave the SEC.
The retirement of Dodd marked the end of continuity in the leadership of Tech's football program. In the 14 years between Dodd's retirement and Bill Curry's hiring, Tech went through three coaches in Bud Carson, Bill Fulcher and Pepper Rodgers. During that time span, the Jackets only had one season with more than seven wins.
Tech joined the ACC in 1978 and became a full member for the 1983 season.
Curry returned to the flats in 1980 as coach after being a co-captain on Dodd's 1964 squad. Curry built the foundation needed for the future title run. In 1985 Tech entered the national scene after a 9-2-1 season. After the following season Curry left Tech for Alabama.
Homer Rice was hired in 1980 as Director of Athletics and was charged with undertaking the complete rebuilding of the Tech athletic department. Ranked at the time as one of the worst programs in the ACC, Rice built the foundation for Tech to be competitive in many sports. Rice retired in 1997 after revitalizing the athletic program and leaving behind much improved facilities.
Rice developed the "Total Person" concept plan that has since been emulated by nearly 200 schools and is the model for the NCAA "CHAMPS" program.
Bobby Ross was hired away from Maryland to become the eighth head coach for the Jackets. After winning just five games in his first two seasons, Ross managed to turn the program around in his third year finishing 7-4.
Under Ross Tech entered the 1990 season unranked in the national polls but then went undefeated that season. The only blemish on the 11-0-1 season was a 13-13 tie with North Carolina.
Tech was awarded the co-national champions by a one-vote margin in the coaches' poll after beating Nebraska 45-21 in the Citrus Bowl.
Ross left after the 1991 season to coach the San Diego Chargers.
Up-and-coming assistant Bill Lewis was hired to replace Ross as head coach, and it appeared to be a good fit through the first five games of the 1992 season when Lewis went 4-1. But in his next two and a half years, Lewis had a record of 7-18 before being replaced by George O'Leary after eight games of the 1994 season.
After four years of being around .500 Tech again gained national esteem in 1998 when the team went 10-2 and claimed Tech's second ACC title.
Tech also finished second in the ACC in each of the following two seasons, and in 2001 George Godsey broke Hamilton's single season passing mark by 25 yards for a total of 3,085 yards.
During his career, Hamilton set virtually every Tech passing record. He finished second in the Heisman voting to Wisconsin's Ron Dayne in 1999.
After the 2001 season George O'Leary departed for the vacant Notre Dame position after six seasons at Tech. That's when Chan Gailey took over the reigns of the program.
Gailey is the first coach on the Flats to get to a bowl game in each of his first three seasons. Tech has played in bowl games for the last eight consecutive seasons.
This season is the first without long-time radio announcer Kim King around the Tech program since the young left hander arrived on campus in 1963. King finished his career at Tech as the all-time leading passer.