Life Has treated Robert E. Lee Dodd, the gentleman with the cautious smile on the opposite page, rather handsomely. Only last year, the alumni of Georgia Institute of Technology, where Dodd is head football coach and athletic director, bought him a $50,000 home. It is his as long as he remains athletic director, a job which carries a lifetime tenure if Dodd wants it. Also, Dodd gets a new car every year, thanks to the alumni, simply because they like him personally and appreciate his value as the caretaker of Georgia Tech's long and extraordinarily successful football tradition, of which the Institute is justifiably proud.
In the past 25 years Georgia Tech has won 169 games. Only three major teams have won more in this period. Bobby Dodd was at Tech every one of those years—the first 13 of them as an assistant to W. A. (Bill) Alexander. Since becoming the third head coach in Tech's history in 1945, Dodd has won 102, lost 28, tied four.
"Practice this week in preparation for the Tigers will be the same as for any other game," says Dodd. "We'll throw some passes, run some plays, kick the ball around and have some fun. Low pressure all the way. And on Saturday the kids will be ready."
The "kids" are one of the real anomalies in big-time college football. Because of Tech's high academic standards their football players must be scholars in fact as well as name. This keeps many of the beefy tackle types away from Tech and has forced Dodd to replace size with speed. Yet Dodd makes his system work in one of the toughest conferences in the country—the Southeastern.
Even this year, while Dodd is rebuilding after losing nine starters from last year's Gator Bowl champions, his Yellow Jackets are again a team to be feared as much as any in the South. Their record so far would not bear this out, as their only win has been over weak Kentucky, followed by a tie with SMU and last Saturday's stunning 20-13 loss to Louisiana State. On Saturday, Tech tangles with the undefeated Auburn Tigers, recent victors over Tennessee, and the form says that Auburn is bound to win this, its last serious obstacle on the road to its first Southeastern title. However, the form can be grievously wrong when it comes to sizing up the quick, smart, opportunistic teams that year after year are machined on the lathe of Bobby Dodd. For he is full of surprises as well as contradictions.
Without football Dodd would probably have wound up just another guy from Kingsport, Tennessee. So it was surprising to hear him warn the other day that he might lead a movement to put an end to intercollegiate football; cut off the hand that feeds him.
"Recruiting has gotten too far out of hand," he explained. He sat, feet propped up on his glass-topped desk, surrounded by a battery of cream-colored telephones. Occasionally one of the instruments would ring and Bobby would briskly dispatch instructions or note information.
"Illegal recruiting," he continued, "I mean the kind where a coach will go out and offer a kid the world with a fence around it—it's going to ruin football. It's bad enough now, and if it gets any worse I'll have to stand up and say, 'Let's get rid of intercollegiate football. Let's play on an intramural basis. But let's play it honest.' "
Nevertheless, a great deal of Dodd's success as a coach stems from his ability to recruit football players; to get outstanding high school stars to come to Tech. "Sure," he admits, "we recruit here. But I can't think of one instance where we ever got a boy using unethical tactics. We offer them what the Southeastern Conference allows. A kid comes here, he gets his tuition, books, meals, a place to sleep and a little laundry money, and if he spends the money on laundry he doesn't have anything left over at the end of the month.
"Now, there are some schools in this conference," said Dodd, "and other conferences, too, that go beyond the rules. They'll offer a boy money; they'll help his parents with the mortgage; they'll buy him fancy clothes even when he's still in high school. Actually what these coaches are doing is offering kids bribes. They teach a ballplayer while he's still young and fairly impressionable to be 'on the take.' So what happens? The kid starts going around with his hand out all the time. And, normally, he'll remember this lesson better than anything else he'll learn in college. Take, take, take. Don't give anything for nothing. There are enough schools out recruiting with good hard cash to make me think that if we can't stop illegal recruiting maybe we ought to stop football."
Dodd screwed up his deeply lined face and chewed thoughtfully on an unlit cigar. "You know, if the football people don't start cleaning on their own, they're going to be in trouble," he went on. "College presidents and alumni, people like that aren't going to stand for any more scandals. Why I was shocked myself this morning just going over the NCAA list of schools on probation for illegal practices. There must be at least 10. [Of the 10 schools on NCAA probation, eight are there for illegal recruiting.] Down here in the Southeastern Conference we have a recruiting deadline. We can't sign a boy to a scholarship until midnight, December 7. You know what some of the coaches do to get a kid? They'll take them off to the mountains on a fishing trip and hide them out for a few days before the deadline. Then they sign them right at midnight and the fishing trip is over. It almost amounts to kidnapping. We've never done that here at Tech. In fact, it has been rare that we've signed anybody right on the deadline. I think I signed one boy at midnight this year and that was because he asked me to. He said it would save him from being pestered all night by other schools.
"Some schools go all over the country to get players. Here at Tech, we try to get the local boy. I believe if you have local boys you will have a better team. Me, for instance, I can talk to a boy from this area in my language and he'll understand me. We have something in common. A kid from up North—well, it's just not the same. I can take a boy from the Southeast and fire him up so he'll play 110% of what he's capable. Now I don't know why it should be that way, but it is.
"Another funny thing. Generally, a southern boy hasn't got the physical size that kids from Pennsylvania or Texas or the Midwest have. But they've got this unbelievable spirit and willingness. I think you get a bunch together from the same region and they're going to play better together because they have this common background—a common understanding—that makes for better teamwork. Anyhow, we try to get the local boy.
"We rely on Tech's scholastic and football records as the persuader. And, of course, public relations. A coach, he's got to be a public relations man, a salesman. You have a product to sell—in this case, Georgia Tech—and you go out and sell it the best way you know how. Technical education is a big help. We turn out engineers. Everyone wants to hire engineers. The kids, they get jobs a year before they get out of school and they make good money. And you've got to realize that our football tradition helps, too. We've been in six bowls the last six years. Won every one of them. Been in eight bowls since I became head coach 12 years ago. I think kids like a winner."
ON TO TENNESSEE
Bobby's liking to be a winner developed after he went from Kingsport High to the University of Tennessee, where General Robert Neyland, then the dean of southern football, was glad to have him. With Dodd, a slight 155-pounder, as quarterback, Tennessee was undefeated in 1928 and 1929, although tied each season by Kentucky, and in 1930 they lost only to Alabama. Bobby was chosen as All-America in 1930. The next season he went to Tech as assistant to Coach Alexander.
From Neyland, Dodd learned precision. "The General," said Bobby, "was the greatest planner I ever met in football. I remember in 1929 he wanted to put in a trick play for the Vanderbilt game. I was to fake a handoff, back into the line with the ball hidden in my lap and then, just as soon as I saw daylight, turn and run fast as I could. I argued with the General about how far I could run without being caught. I said 50 yards. He said 20. During the game I didn't call the play until we were right on Vandy's 20. It worked and I got loose. They tackled me right on the goal line. The General had it figured to the yard, and just sort of winked at me after the game was over."
Always one step ahead of his opposition as a strategist, Dodd believes that the multiple offense soon will replace the T as the standard college offense. "Multiple offense is the coming thing," he said. "We're beginning to use unbalanced lines left and right with flankers and split ends. Sort of like the pro offense. Of course, you can never get as wide-open as the pros with college rules. The pros, they can play platoon football. They can afford to have the guy who can throw the running pass but can't tackle. They can have the end with the great hands who couldn't bust up a sweep if it came right at him. In college where you have to have boys who can play both ways—offense and defense—and be good at both, well, you can't develop the degree of skill that is absolutely necessary for a wide-open game. But I do think that the T or split-T as a basic college formation is a thing of the past. I think you'll find more and more college teams turning to some form of multiple next year," he said.
"Vanderbilt, now. Vanderbilt runs something they call the variegated T," he went on. "It's just their own name for it. We run practically the same thing but we call it the multiple T. I think Vandy and Tech are the only two teams playing out of a multiple in the South this year, but next year you'll see a lot more of the same thing. The T and the split-T have been defensed almost to the saturation point, so you've got to change your offense to keep the defense guessing. The multiple T accomplished this."
Dodd, in other words, tends to regard football strategy in terms of the well-known military axiom that the balance of power continually swings from offense to defense and then back again. As one of the most distinguished football strategists, he illustrated this with his own experience at Tech. "Anything new, like the belly series we started a few years ago, turns into a monster on you after a while," he pointed out. "And one day we'll come up against a team that will have developed a defense for the multiple and they'll probably rack us up. But we'll still be ahead of the game because the next week we'll be able to look at the movies of the game, see how we were defensed and we'll have the answer right quick without having to waste all that time experimenting on how to stop the multiple. You let the other team do the work for you and you always stay ahead of them."
Like most head coaches today, Dodd does very little actual coaching himself. "Most of the coaching I do is with my staff," says Dodd. "We get together for planning sessions in the morning and we go over what I want them to do with the team that day. The method is mine. The technique is mine. But the actual teaching, that's something else. Oh, I'll get out there and show a boy how to punt or how to quarterback. These are the things I'm best at. But how to throw a brush block, or how to block downfield or how to tackle—I've got specialists on my staff to teach these things, and they teach them better than I ever possibly could. Coaching nowadays is a complicated proposition. When I played at Tennessee, General Neyland had two assistants and that was it. Times have changed since then. I've got anywhere from 16 to 19 coaches out working with the squad every day. You have to have offensive specialists and defensive specialists. Sort of two-platoon coaching. The head coach—he spends most of his time talking to quarterback clubs, answering phone calls from alumni, making personal appearances, talking to reporters. Sometimes I feel lucky to get out on the field on a Saturday afternoon."
Though Dodd is only 48, there are always rumors that he will give up coaching and become full-time athletic director, yielding the Tech eleven to Assistant Head Coach Ray Graves.
"There's always stories about me going to quit," laughs Dodd. "I'm only 48 and I've got a lot of years left. But I'll tell you this. I've been in this game too long to have to start taking a lot of guff from people because we've had a bad season. The day the complaints start coming in about Bobby Dodd, that's the day I quit. I figure it takes about two bad seasons to get people down on you. Then they start yelling and calling you names. Well, just as soon as that starts happening, I'm through. I'll just step down and let Ray Graves take over. But as long as things are going right—and they seem to be—I'm going to coach football. Hell, it's fun. And I like it."
Dodd rubbed the bridge of his battered nose tenderly. It had been broken years ago when he was an undergraduate at Tennessee. Oddly enough, the injury was not suffered in football, but in basketball. "Vance Maree," Dodd laughed. "That old son of a gun Vance Maree busted my nose. We come down to Atlanta to play Tech in basketball. I was a guard. Vance—now he was a great football player, a tackle on Tech's Rose Bowl team—but at basketball he was nothin' at all. Well, he come up and whopped me on the nose with his elbow or something, and I went off on queer street for a minute or two. One of the trainers plugged my nose with cotton and we went on with the game. We beat Tech—I forget what the score was—but we beat 'em anyhow. My nose was hurting a little after the game and I think I decided to give it a good blow. Well, sir, a piece of bone that seemed like the size of a walrus tusk comes plunking out and my nose just caved in on one side and it's been like this ever since. There wasn't any way you could put that bone back up in there. And I never got hurt a lick playing football."
Bobby was never much of a student at Tennessee. He never did graduate, a fact he regrets to this day. Consequently, Dodd has a near obsession about the importance of a diploma and he insists that his players complete their studies and graduate. Because of this he keeps his athletes on scholarship long after their athletic eligibility has expired. For it often takes five years for a boy to receive a diploma at the tough engineering school.
Asked if he had any special plans for the game with Auburn on Saturday, Dodd grinned impishly and replied:
"Oh, maybe we'll brush up on the Kingsport pass play a bit. It works pretty good against Auburn. We used it against them four years ago and scored four times. The quarterback fakes, hides the ball, then throws to one of his ends. You never saw men so free as our ends were against Auburn. I call it the Kingsport play because I picked it up from my old high school coach Ed Sprankle at Kingsport. I guess we must have scored 40 touchdowns with it at Tech."
Across the state border in Auburn, Alabama, a couple of days later, Coach Ralph (Shug) Jordan of the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, gritted his teeth when reminded of how Tech fooled him with the Kingsport pass. "That damn old wobbly little pass liked to killed us that day," he recalled. "But I learned my lesson."
Auburn's offense is relatively simple. Jordan drills five or six plays to perfection, and this is his attack. Against Tennessee, he used only five plays, but the execution was magnificent.
Dodd, on the other hand, will be mixing it up, trying to baffle the Auburn defense with unbalanced lines, split ends and flankers.
The game, a sellout since last summer, is one of the most torrid rivalries in the South and brings together two of the most rabid sets of alumni anywhere. Friendly brawls are commonplace in the stands. Strangely enough, the aftermath of the game is apt to be peaceful only if Auburn loses. Dodd explains it this way:
"Those Auburn people, they're fine losers. Don't come any better. But when they win, watch out. They want to tear the place apart."
25-YEAR FOOTBALL SCOREBOARD
Here is a list of the 15 winningest college football teams of the past 25 years. Georgia Tech ranks 12th in won-lost percentage, but the Engineers' victory total ties that of Duke for fourth place.