By Dr. Ken


Many football fans born after 1970 certainly, and some born prior to that, forget that the Georgia Institute Of Technology had been a member of the Southeastern Conference. Formed on December 8th and 9th, 1932, Georgia Tech was in fact one of its founding members and remained a vital part of the conference until announcing its intent to separate from the conference on January 24, 1964. Unlike most university programs that decide to leave a conference, the decision was not made due to an inability to compete well or a loss of revenue. Having had a total of but three head coaches since the inception of their program spoke well of their consistency on the field. The immortal John Heisman’s (yes, that Heisman!) sixteen year run was completed with a 102 – 29 – 7 mark, William Alexander followed and lasted a full twenty-five years winning close to sixty percent of his games, and then came Robert Lee “Bobby” Dodd. It was said that he brought a “different approach” to coaching football, one that allowed his assistants to do much of the coaching which placed him far ahead of his peers in what would become “the modern way” to do things. He is revered as the best of the sideline or game day coaches that any level of football has known and his players loved him, in part for his paternal demeanor and in part because he felt that a coach should not run his charges into the ground during the week but stress execution over physical warfare. He was demanding and not easy but his games were not left on the practice field.


As an All American quarterback that led General Robert Neyland’s great Tennessee teams of 1928 – 1930 to an incredible 27 – 1 – 2 record, Dodd’s on the field brilliance at UT and his coaching success at Georgia Tech found him honored by both schools at the September 4, 2017 Chik-fil-a Kickoff Game in Atlanta
That approach gave him a winning margin in excess of seventy-one percent of his Tech outings and even when other Southeastern Conference teams cycled their way to prominence, Georgia Tech was a consistently good team. Tennessee won the National Championship in 1951 with a 10 – 1 record but Tech was 11 – 0 – 1; they were ranked number two in the nation in ’52 with a 12 – 0 mark. When Ole Miss, Auburn, and LSU began runs to the national championship and top ten rankings on a consistent basis in the mid to late-1950s, Tech was still turning out winning seasons, and a usual Top Twenty ranking with a number of nine and ten victory years of their own. While the tail end of the ‘50’s and early 1960s weren’t quite the 1952 through 1956 seasons when Tech won six consecutive major bowl games, enjoyed a thirty-one game unbeaten streak, and defeated rival Georgia eight consecutive years, the program remained strong and positive in all aspects. Thus, it wasn’t failure on the field or at the turnstiles that forced the decision to leave the SEC but instead, a philosophical stance based upon what was called the 140 Rule. This allowed the twelve Southeastern Conference schools, with Tulane still a member, to offer up to forty-five football scholarships per year and to carry a total of 140 football and basketball scholarship athletes during any single year. Former Tech captain Taz Anderson who had a good pro career with the Cardinals and Falcons before becoming a highly successful entrepreneur, explained that unlike other coaches, Coach Dodd would not cut a player who just wasn’t good enough to contribute in order to keep the scholarship and utilize it with another player. Dodd had said that “it is not the recruit’s fault for not making the squad, it was the coaches’ fault for misjudging their talents” and he maintained the scholarships of non-participating players until they graduated. Dodd said he would live with 10, 20, 30, 40, or even 50 recruits per year as long as he did not have to chase any of his players off. Former Tech star and NFL standout Bill Curry who returned to Tech as head coach from 1980 through ’86 and then spent another twenty-five years as head man at Alabama, Kentucky, and Georgia State gave the opinion that protecting his players’ scholarships “was an obsession with coach Dodd. I didn’t play very much my first two seasons. I was one of those he could have run off.”





Charles “Chick” Graning had been a prep standout at The Baylor School in Chattanooga, TN and was one of Georgia Tech’s captains of the 1961 squad. Despite his horrific injuries suffered against Alabama he graduated with a degree as an Economics and Industrial Management major, and was a draft choice of both the NFL’s Cardinals and AFL’s Broncos. He instead served in the U.S. Military and upon his discharge played the 1965 season with the Atlanta/Columbus (GA) Mustangs of the Southern Football League as a punter, place kicker, and defensive back and then moved to the Canadian Football League. In 1966 and ’67 Graning intercepted five passes and was the BC Lions punter. He later enjoyed success as a businessman and insurance executive   

Although Dodd was considered a bit of an elitist by some of the other SEC coaches, in part because he wouldn’t take his teams to Mississippi to play and held aspirations that Georgia Tech would be “the Notre Dame of the South,” leaving the SEC was a cataclysmic move and no doubt had multiple contributing causes. Many pointed to the ill will that developed after the 1961 game between Tech and Alabama. The incident involving Alabama linebacker Darwin Holt and Tech back Chick Graning was described by Sports Illustrated a year later after Tech’s September 17th stirring 7 – 6 victory over the Crimson Tide, during the 1961 contest:
“Darwin Holt, had smashed Georgia Tech's Chick Graning in the face with his left elbow and forearm, in an unnecessary block when an Alabama teammate signaled for a fair catch on a punt. After the catch, though possibly before the referee's whistle had sounded. Holt hit Graning, rising off his feet as he drove his arm up under the taller Tech player's face guard. Graning was helped off the field with injuries diagnosed later as 1) fracture of the alveolar process (facial bones), 2) five missing upper front teeth, 3) fracture of the nasal bone, 4) fracture of the right maxillary sinus and the sinus filled with blood, 5) fracture of the right zygomatic process (bone beneath the right eye), 6) cerebral concussion and 7) possible fracture of the base of the skull.
The injury to Graning, an extremely popular boy who has been described as "basically too gentle to be a truly great football player," infuriated Georgia Tech fans, faculty and alumni, who argued that it was the result of a deliberate and brutal foul. More significantly, it was called characteristic of Alabama football—and just about the last straw.
The annual game between Tech and Alabama had become extremely rough and difficult, and it was common knowledge that Coach Bobby Dodd had been wanting for some time to drop Alabama from the Georgia Tech schedule. The Holt-Graning incident brought things to a head, and in January it was announced that the two schools were severing football relations when the current contract runs out after the 1964 game.”
No matter what the true motivation for leaving the SEC was, at the January 1964 conference meeting, Georgia Tech did announce its intention to leave the SEC effective June 30, 1964. Dodd retired as head coach after the 1966 season with his College Football Hall of Fame record of 165 – 64 – 8 and the Yellow Jackets, although not tumbling to the description of “terrible,” certainly took a step down playing as an Independent. Dodd remained as athletic director to ’76, having devoted forty-six years to the Yellow Jackets, fifty-seven years if one includes the additional time spent as an Alumni Association Consultant and fund raiser until his death. His records and legacy were incredibly impressive with the little known fact that he was the first of the known southern coaches amenable to playing integrated teams as early as 1953 when Tech squared off against Notre Dame who fielded an African American player. In a public showdown against Georgia’s vociferously racist Governor Marvin Griffin, Dodd also insisted on playing an integrated Pitt squad that featured two-way back Bobby Grier in the 1956 Sugar Bowl.    


A ground-breaking day in the South; Pitt’s Bobby Grier rushes against Georgia Tech in the 1956 Sugar Bowl

It was rather easy for Tech fans to feel a vacuum in on-the-field leadership with Dodd’s retirement. The programs history of so few head coaches, Dodd’s outstanding record and the expectation of victory approaching almost every game, and “The Dodd Way” of doing things had if nothing else, both established Georgia Tech as one of the consistently top programs in the nation and gave whomever would be “the man that follows the man” an almost impossibly difficult role to fulfill. Although The Bobby Dodd Coach Of The Year Award was not established until his retirement in 1976, there would obviously be a lot of pressure placed upon any coach stepping in to replace a legend whose namesake award was given to a team that “represented quality on and off the field, that enjoys a successful season while stressing the importance of academic excellence and sense of duty to return something to their community.” The man selected to carry on the Yellow Jackets legacy would be Leon “Bud” Carson, later to gain fame with the Steel Curtain Steelers but to this day, perhaps unfairly perceived by many as a “dismal failure” when the truth is closer to a .500 mark and two bowl game appearances in his five years as head coach.
Part Three To Follow