Daily Dose of Crimson Tide: Xen Scott

Special to BamaCentral

Christopher Walsh

There’s a story that Joe Sewell, who played football at Alabama but was better known for his success in baseball, used to tell about Xen Scott, who went 29–9–3 from 1919 to 1922 and is considered by many to be Alabama’s first great football coach.

The team was in the middle of practice and Scott, who was ill at the time, walked off the field. Not sure what to do, and fearful of making the wrong decision, the players kept practicing until it was dark out.

Hours later, someone was able to contact Scott’s wife, who told them the coach was resting. 

The players finally went home.

Because of World War I, Alabama didn’t sport a team in 1918 and had finished 5–2–1 the year before in Thomas Kelly’s final season with the Crimson Tide. So naturally, school president Dr. George Hutcheson Denny, a huge football fan, hired a horse racing writer from Cleveland, who had never played the game at a high level, to coach the team.

If anyone was laughing, they certainly weren’t after Alabama crushed its first five opponents by a combined score of 225–0, including 49–0 against Ole Miss and 40–0 vs. Sewanee. 

Led by players like Mulley Lenoir, Ike Rogers, and Riggs Stephenson, Alabama posted a program-best eight victories, with only a 16–12 loss to Vanderbilt in Nashville preventing a perfect season and first Southern Conference title.

Scott’s team managed to top that mark in 1920, the first 10-win season in Alabama history. It outscored its opponents 377–35 with eight shutouts, and crossed the Mason-Dixon Line for the first time, pounding Case College in Cleveland, Ohio, 40–0. The Tide defeated Sewanee again, 21–0, and also avenged its loss to Vanderbilt, even though the Commodores were the only opponent to score during Alabama’s first eight games.

However, similar to 1919, the Tide had one stumble, a 21–14 road loss to Georgia, after the Bulldogs returned two blocked kicks and a fumble for touchdowns.

After compiling an 18–2 record over two years, Scott had to rebuild in 1921, and following a 4–0 start, the Tide went into a 0–4–2 tailspin beginning with a 17–0 loss to Sewanee in Birmingham. Only a controversial 14–7 victory over Tulane in New Orleans secured a winning season at 5–4–2, but Scott had laid the groundwork for an impressive run that would propel Alabama into football glory.

It began with a 111–0 victory against Marion Institute, and although Alabama lost 33–7 to Georgia Tech, 19–10 at Texas, and tied Sewanee 7–7, the Crimson Tide’s schedule included a Nov. 4 showdown with highly regarded Penn in Philadelphia, where the home team was considered a sizable favorite, especially since Northeast football was still thought to be vastly superior to that played in the South.

A field goal by Bull Wesley and the recovery of teammate Pooley Hubert’s fumble in the end zone by center Shorty Propst was all Alabama needed to pull off a remarkable 9–7 upset in front of 25,000 fans.

The team celebrated the program’s biggest victory to date by parading through the city, but due to health reasons Scott had already turned in his letter of resignation. Alabama finished 6–3–1 after a 59–0 victory against Mississippi State. Scott died soon after from throat cancer.

The 1919 Alabama football team
Special to BamaCentral

Some of this post originated from "100 Things Crimson tide Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die," published by Triumph Books