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Hiring Outside the Box: How the Georgia Bulldogs Were Ahead of the Curve on Hiring Practices

The good ol' boy hiring system is dead, dead, dead. No longer does a coach need to be part of the family tree to be hired in what was the most good ol' boyish of conferences, the SEC. Not a single one of the current non-fired coaches in the Sexy Excellent Cash conference is an alum of the program, or even coached at the university prior to taking the job as head coach at the school.

In a recent posting, Dr. Saturday made reference to a Spencer Hall column from last November, which I failed to notice at the time (sorry, Orson) and from which the above quotation is taken.

Is it true, though? Is it really accurate "to say that more modern hiring practices have been forced on the schools by the competitive pressures within the league"? Perhaps the firing of Phillip Fulmer (the event giving rise to Spencer’s column) and the subsequent hiring of Lane Kiffin represented a dramatic break for Tennessee, but is it truly modern for an S.E.C. school to hire from without?

Not here in Bulldog Nation, it isn’t. Counting (as most football historians do) James Coulter and former John Heisman assistant Frank Dobson as "co-coaches" in 1909, Mark Richt is the 25th head football coach of the Red and Black. He also is the 18th not to have earned his undergraduate degree in Athens.

If Spencer is right to say that hiring practices which do not favor alumni over outsiders are "more modern," then modernity came very early to the Classic City. Georgia’s first three coaches (Dr. Charles Herty, Ernest Brown, and Robert Winston) all graduated from the University, and all served prior to the hiring of Cornell graduate Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner in 1895.

Four of the seven Georgia alumni to have served as the head football coach at their alma mater had come and gone by 1906. Five of them had moved on from Athens by the time Sanford Stadium was dedicated in 1929. In fact, the most accomplished alumnus ever to have served as head coach of the Bulldogs, former Georgia quarterback and team captain George Cecil "Kid" Woodruff, went 9-1 in his final season in 1927, but his team’s loss to Georgia Tech in Atlanta to conclude the campaign provided the impetus for Steadman Vincent Sanford to begin the fundraising campaign to build a first-class facility in Athens.

Six of Georgia’s first ten football coaches were graduates of Ivy League schools. The last of these, Charles Barnard, was hired in 1904 to update the Red and Black’s offense by installing the Harvard "power" system . . . which consisted largely of a single innovation: run it between the tackles. W.S. "Bull" Whitney, who also wasn’t from around here, was hired away from North Carolina A&M (now N.C. State) in 1906, making him the last Georgia head coach with prior Division I-A head coaching experience.

Georgia men have been at the helm between the hedges for just ten of the last 81 years and, during the periods when Johnny Griffith and Ray Goff roamed the sidelines, the ‘Dawgs went 56-50-5 and posted records of 1-9 against Florida, 3-6-1 against Auburn, and 5-5 against Georgia Tech.

Except during the tenure of George Woodruff, the greatest successes of Georgia football all have come when someone who was not an alumnus of the University was in command of the football program. Many of the Bulldogs’ most notable achievements have come when the team was coached by someone who attended a school which we consider a rival, regard with disdain, or play (or played) with some frequency.

Alex Cunningham went to Vanderbilt. Herman Stegeman was a graduate of the University of Chicago, which was then a member of the Big Ten. Harry Mehre was a product of Notre Dame, Wally Butts was a Mercer alum, and, of course, Vince Dooley came out of Auburn. That Mark Richt attended college at Miami (Florida) does not warrant so much as the raising of an eyebrow.

As a general proposition, Spencer Hall undoubtedly is correct that something has changed in the Southeastern Conference when teams steeped in tradition are looking outside their programs to find new head coaches, often ones with no prior ties either to the league or to the region. "Modern," though, may be too strong an appellation to apply at this end of the Appalachians. In Northeast Georgia, we have been hiring head coaches from parts unknown for quite a while, and it’s been working out just fine.

What Lewis Grizzard said long ago still applies. We’ll let ‘em move down here, work among us, and marry our women, just as long as they don’t tell us how they did it back in Cleveland.

Go ‘Dawgs!