He looks younger than 69, with the suntanned face, hard eyes and soft drawl one would expect of a tough Texan who has spent countless afternoons on hot practice fields in towns like Texarkana, Abilene, Tucson and Las Cruces. Dry, dusty places full of gunfighters' ghosts and blue-jeaned boys with initials for first names. He went north long ago and studied the T formation under Knute Rockne. Maybe what has preserved him so well is more than 37 seasons of total immersion in his sport. His name is Warren Brooks Woodson and he has more wins than any coach in college football.
Hey, says somebody in Tuscaloosa, time out. Surely Bear Bryant of Alabama, with 212, must have more. Nope, it's Woodson. Head man at Trinity U., the little Presbyterian school in San Antonio that is better known for tennis. When the Trinity Tigers beat Southwestern Louisiana 13-10 last Saturday night, it was Woodson's 241st victory. Only 73 more and he'll be tied with the late Amos Alonzo Stagg.
However, winning football games for Trinity is not easy. Big schools like Ohio State and Oklahoma have special coaches for left halfbacks, coaches for pompon girls and coaches for coaches—even Southwestern Louisiana has a six-man staff—but Woodson has to get by with one full-time assistant. That man is usually away on scouting trips, so Woodson must handle most games with the aid of two graduate students. Nobody mans the press-box phones.
"He is going to run things his way anyway," says a friend who knows Woodson's stubborn manner, "so there is no need to have anybody else around."
Even Woodson needs good athletes, though, and not many find their way to Trinity. The university, tired of losing $200,000 a year on football, has abolished athletic grants-in-aid except in tennis. There are still 42 players on scholarship, but when they finish their eligibility Woodson might have to limit his recruiting to walking along the registration line each fall looking for muscles.
San Antonio's interest in Trinity football is practically nonexistent. Crowds seldom exceed 5,000 and the two local sports editors understandably prefer to travel 80 miles up to Austin to cover the Texas Longhorns. One of them, in his weekly gridiron predictions, tabbed Trinity to win last weekend—over the wrong opponent. The school band has seldom numbered more than 15 or 20 and this year there were not enough musicians available to have a band.
So, struggling for support and victories in the backwaters of Texas, Woodson has come full circle. His career began at Texarkana JC in 1927, when Darrell Royal was three years old, and in eight seasons he compiled a 52-21-6 record. Then he moved on to Arkansas State Teachers (Conway) (40-8-3), Hardin-Simmons (58-24-6), Arizona (26-22-2) and New Mexico State (63-36-3).
The first time Hardin-Simmons ever beat a Southwest Conference team, 13-6 over Baylor in 1942, Woodson was the coach. He was the mastermind when Arizona, a two-touchdown underdog, beat Arizona State 35-0 and allowed ASU to cross midfield only once. And it was he who directed New Mexico State to its first win over New Mexico in 22 years. All the while he annoyed opposing coaches still more by calmly taking a 30-minute nap each game day.
Perhaps that oft-repeated feat was what got him in the Helms College Football Hall of Fame, but more likely he was voted the honor as a result of his 1954 speech to the downtown Tucson booster club. He told the members to shut up, mind their own business and let him run the team. They responded with a standing ovation.
During those years there was always a kid with a catchy name who popped out from behind a cactus somewhere in the Southwest and led the nation in some statistic or other. Their exploits are sprinkled all over the NCAA record book and it seems as though everyone of them played for Woodson, as if he could conjure them up in his game-day dreams. John (Model T) Ford of Hardin-Simmons led the nation in passing offense. At the same school Rudolph (Doc) Mobley, only 5'8", 155 pounds, twice led the nation in rushing and never fumbled in a play from scrimmage. There were Art Luppino at Arizona and Pervis Atkins, Bob Gaiters and Jim (Preacher) Pilot at New Mexico State.
Woodson developed a reputation as an offensive wizard and/or glutton because of such games as New Mexico State's 90-0 annihilation of Northern Arizona at Flagstaff.
"You get interested in a game and don't notice the score," he said.
Woodson was content at New Mexico State. The Las Cruces Laundry was contributing $1,500 a year to his program, he was whipping New Mexico regularly and the entrance requirements were not high. But in February 1968, when he reached 65, the school president forced him to retire, despite his complaints that "I'm too young to quit coaching."
Trinity hired him as athletic director and two years ago he also took over the football team. Assistant Gene Of-field had the title of head coach, but it was merely a ploy so that Woodson could pay him more money. Trinity's 13 wins in those two seasons did not go on Woodson's record, but he was doing what he loved to do and doing it as well as ever. Last season Trinity had an 8-2 record and tied for the Southland Conference championship.
But midway through the successful season the board of trustees voted unanimously to de-emphasize. Several San Antonio businessmen volunteered to dig up money for grants if the new plan was voided, but University President Dr. Duncan Wimpress refused. Then came one of the strangest manifestations of de-emphasis ever seen: the school put the bite on local millionaire E. M. Stevens for a new $100,000 football stadium which, of course, has his name painted in big letters on the scoreboard and both sides of the press box. E. M. Stevens Stadium seats 6,272 and it is unlikely to be strained very often. Fewer than a thousand fans turned out for Saturday night's game, while a few miles away 8,000 braved a drizzle to watch a high school contest.
"It is up to me to carry it on as well as I can," says Woodson. "This is all new to me. I'm interested in learning how it will turn out." In the meantime he is doing what he loves most, doodling with plays on pieces of paper and losing himself in the rectangular world bound by chalked lines.
A Trinity fan walked into Woodson's office one day before last week's game and found him talking with his quarterback, Charlie Bump.
"Hi, Charlie," said the fan. "How's it going?"
"Fine," said Bump.
"What do you mean, fine?" growled Woodson. "We lost a football game Saturday night."
"Well, everything's fine but football."
"What else is there but football?" asked Woodson.