1924- Uncle Charlie Resigns
As 1923 ended, and the students began to scatter home for the Christmas vacation, all looked well in Danville. The situation involving the Southern Association of Colleges had been at least somewhat defused. The schedule for 1924 was beginning to be mapped out. It looked like the players that were returning and those moving up from the freshman team were going to keep the Centre College football machine humming along smoothly.
Centre felt that it had accomplished a lot in 1923 as 1924 began. It had claimed the "Southern Championship," dedicated a new state-of-the-art stadium, and was confident that it had a great future with Uncle Charlie at the helm who was considered one of the best coaches in the country.
A cartoon drawn by the New York "Sun's" Frederic "Feg" Murray of two of most famous and successful football coaches of the era.
When we came back on campus after Christmas, everything seemed just fine with the school and the football program. We all felt that we'd have a wonderful year in 1924.
And then everything just got turned upside down when we heard that Uncle Charlie had resigned! No one could believe it. Centre football was Uncle Charlie. The Chief was loved and he was a wonderful man, the man we knew had gotten everything started. But Uncle Charlie made it all happen on the field, and he was leaving. We all took it mighty hard, and we didn't understand.
I talked to a lot of the players, and they just didn't know what had happened. All they knew was that he was going to Bucknell.
Where in the world was Bucknell?
Not only didn't the players understand, no one did. Certainly the popular and successful coach hadn't been fired. He'd signed a 5- year contract and had 4 years left on it. Centre had felt he'd coach the Colonels until he decided to retire, hopefully years into the future.
Walter Camp, the "Father of College Football," tried to explain the situation in a bylined story out of New York.
Was it the accusations thrown at Centre in Richmond? Perhaps. But Centre had refuted the charges effectively, and it was felt that nothing drastic would happen to the detriment of the college and football program when the Southern Association met in Memphis the next year.
Years later, family members related what they had been told by Uncle Charlie about his leaving Centre. There was never any definite proof, but Uncle Charlie had friends everywhere, especially in the college football world, and he told his wife Pearl that he felt there was a campaign going on which was designed to get him out of Danville.
( Ann Moran McCurry, Tom Moran's daughter and Uncle Charlie's granddaughter, told me this story in 2007 when I visited her while researching "The Wonder Team." )
Centre had literally owned the University of Kentucky since Uncle Charlie arrived at Centre. His record against the Wildcats was 6-0, and his teams had outscored U.K. by an incredible 200-3. In 24 quarters, 360 minutes of football, Kentucky had managed exactly one field goal!
Kentucky was the state university. It was the largest school in the Commonwealth. The flagship state university should dominate, not be dominated within the boundaries of Kentucky, or so went the feelings amongst the alumni of the school.
Uncle Charlie felt that pressure was being exerted after the Southern Association meeting in Richmond by Kentucky's supporters, in a backdoor manner, and the goal was to force him out as Centre's coach. He remembered well what had happened at Texas A&M. Texas had severed relations with A&M after Uncle Charlie's teams started beating the Longhorns, and wouldn't play the Aggies again until Uncle Charlie left the school.
He was now hearing rumors coming out of Lexington that Kentucky was going to do the same, to sever relations, if he remained at the helm, and the Kentucky supporters were trying to use the meeting in Richmond as ammunition even though Centre and the team had not been formally charged with doing anything wrong. There were also rumors that other Southern Conference football members were making noise about not scheduling Centre in the future if Uncle Charlie continued at the helm.
Uncle Charlie was in the prime of his life at age 44. He was a successful National League umpire. He and Pearl had their farm, their cattle, their tobacco, their dairy. He had proven himself at Texas A&M, having a record of 38-8-4, and was 52-6-1 at Centre for an overall record of 90-14-5. His winning percentage, excluding ties, was a remarkable 86.5.
One of Uncle Charlie's major goals was to get a stadium built. It was completed. He had originally come to Danville because his son Tom was at Centre and on the team.
Tom was gone. The program was in excellent shape. Bucknell had made a good offer.
Uncle Charlie's family felt that with the campaign being started in Lexington and elsewhere, he simply reasoned, "Who needs the aggravation?" It was as simple as that and he resigned, writing Dr. Allen a cordial letter and leaving a program that he had put on the map nationally.
But it wasn't so simple in Danville, Kentucky.
You know, sometimes you feel that things are never going to change. Your old church was there long before you were born and you felt it would always be there. And then it burns down, and you can't believe what you had so taken for granted suddenly isn't there anymore. It's just gone.
It was like that with Uncle Charlie. From the first time that Howard and I started following Centre's football team, Uncle Charlie Moran was the coach. When Howard enrolled in 1920, Uncle Charlie was there. He was the coach during the 3 seasons I'd been on campus starting in 1921.
Like everybody said, Centre football was Uncle Charlie, and Uncle Charlie was Centre football. It was like we lost our father and teacher, our role model and our cornerstone. We just couldn't believe he wasn't going to be part of Centre, and everyone wondered what would become of our football program.
Would the players come back? Would they follow Uncle Charlie? Would they just transfer to another school?
Uncle Charlie's leaving was all that anybody talked about.
Centre's administration and a search team immediately began to look for a new coach. They were sensitive about the Richmond, Virginia meeting. If they offered too high a salary, the college may be criticized by the Southern Association. But at the same time, if they offered too little, they may not be able to land a coach of significance.
Alumni and a group of citizens in Danville along with the students started lobbying for Centre to hire Bo. In 1921, he had been one of the most famous athletes in the country, right there with Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth, and he still had huge name recognition everywhere. No matter where you were, people knew who you were talking about if you just said, "Bo."
In Danville, and throughout Kentucky, it was, "Bo can keep the program going. We'll be ok if we can get Bo."
But, Bo had another year on his contract with Centenary. Plus, certain members of the Southern Association of Colleges had expressed concern about Bo's salary demands if he left Centenary for Centre. Some even made it known that if Centre hired Bo, they'd seriously consider not scheduling the Colonels just has they threatened regarding Uncle Charlie.
Despite the concerns about Bo, things got so serious about trying to attract him that the people of Danville put signs in all of the downtown businesses supporting Bo, and pin-on buttons with "BO!" were worn by nearly everybody. Bo actually came to Danville to discuss the possibility of coaching the team, but he was firm about the salary he requested and he wanted to be able to honor his contract with Centenary and come to Centre the following year. The committee felt it could work out the salary situation but wouldn't consent to the stipulation that his hiring be put off until the next season, and when Bo got back to Louisiana, he announced he was staying put.
Centre Board's minutes indicating that Bo wasn't going to be offered the job
Meetings were held throughout the next week after it became apparent that Bo wasn't coming. No decision was forthcoming and a Centre 1907 graduate who happened to be a fellow classmate of Chief Myers, and was a member of the search committee, got busy after it was finally accepted that Bo wasn't going to be coming to Danville.
Albert C. Dick was an attorney from Louisville who had left his law practice in 1915 and joined the Bussey Insurance Company there. He reached out to Texas A&M and telegraphed a proposal to D.X. Bible, the well-known coach who had led his Aggies to the upset of Centre in the January 2, 1922 Dallas Classic.
However, in a February 21 letter to Centre addressed to Dr. Montgomery, Dick revealed that his efforts had been unsuccessful as Coach Bible had no intention of leaving Texas and taking over the Centre coaching position and replacing Uncle Charlie.
Letter addressed to Dr. Montgomery regarding D.X. Bible's decision
Two days later, on February 23, Dr. Montgomery replied to Dick that Chief Myers, "who is in intimate touch with the boys and has their confidence," had volunteered to coach the team in 1924 and that the information should be sent to Emmet O'Neal, also a search committee member and another Centre graduate of 1907.
It looked like it was going to be Chief Myers who had been in contact with members of the team and was going to be recommended for the coaching position.
( Emmet O'Neal ( 1887-1967 ) lettered in 3 sports, football, basketball and baseball, and was captain of all three plus won the Centre tennis championship in 1906. He was a Kentucky member of the United States House of Representatives from 1934-46 and was the Ambassador to the Philippines from 1947-49. He was made a member of Centre's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006.)
I guess that only in a small school like Centre would the choice of a new coach be of such importance. Certainly it was forefront in everybody's mind.
Then something unexpected happened. Some of my fraternity brothers who were on the team let me in on the fact that the players had an idea about who they wanted to be coach.
There were seven juniors who had been on the team the past three years. All had played regularly, and they'd be the main strength of the 1924 squad. Except for Lynch, they'd been part of the team that went to Harvard in 1921 when we beat Harvard. They knew what glory had come to the college, and they had been a big part of the building of Centre's reputation. They wanted to go out the same way they'd come in- as winners. They worried that bringing in a new coach who didn't understand the Centre spirit and system of play would hamper their last year.
The seven were Herb Covington, Ed Kubale, Hennie Lemon, Minos Gordy, Frank Rubarth, Case Thomasson and Howard Lynch. They got the team together and came up with a petition which they took to the committee, and then met with Dr. Montgomery.
There had been some concern from both the administration and within the team about which players would return. None of them would be going to Bucknell. Uncle Charlie had done the honorable thing and announced that he wasn't going to accept any transfers from Centre. He didn't want to harm the program he had worked so hard to build.
But would they transfer somewhere else? Would they come back but not play football?
The seven juniors, who'd "been in intimate touch" with the Chief, came up with the idea that everyone would make a pledge that they'd be back and play if they could have a say in naming the new coach.
Thirty-three players, including the freshmen, signed a simple typed statement.