Forgotten Area College Football History, Part 1: A Nebraska Coach With East Tennessee Ties

Friday, December 23, 2016 - by John Shearer

When 1966 Red Bank High School graduate David Barger was the longtime athletic director at Carson-Newman University near Knoxville, a family of a former graduate stopped at the school.
 
“The relatives came through and wanted to see the college,” Mr. Barger recalled.
 
This happens often at numerous schools around the country, but these family members did not have a typical relative. Their kin was the late Dana X. Bible, who is still known to college football followers over a certain age as one of the most successful coaches of the first half of the 20th century.
 
He took such schools as Nebraska and Texas to national prominence in football, much as Gen.
Robert Neyland did at Tennessee, even though he never won an elusive national championship like Coach Neyland did.
 
Coach Bible also earlier coached LSU and even came up with the now-famous 12th man concept while successfully serving at Texas A&M.  
 
“He was Carson-Newman’s first inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame,” Mr. Barger proudly said.
 
As the Tennessee Vols get ready to play Coach Bible’s former team of Nebraska on Dec. 30 in the Music City Bowl in Nashville, a look at his life shows a man who was respected on and off the field.
 
“The word gentleman always comes to mind when I think of Mr. Bible,” said longtime former University of Texas sports information director Bill Little, who talked to him several times during the coach’s retirement. “ ‘Tennessee Gentleman’ truly fit him.”
 
Dana Xenophon Bible was born in Jefferson City, Tenn., where Carson-Newman is located, on Oct. 8, 1891, the son of Jonathan and Cleopatra Bible. Jonathan Bible, a native of Cocke County in Northeast Tennessee, was a college professor at Carson-Newman who, according to one online source, was a Bible, Greek and Latin scholar.
 
Mr. Barger said he learned that the Bible family lived on some farmland in the area of Flat Gap Road just outside Jefferson City.
 
Coach Bible graduated from Jefferson City High School in 1908 and then enrolled at Carson-Newman and played football. Mr. Barger said one of his teammates suffered a tragic injury and Carson-Newman apparently suspended its football program for a period while Coach Bible was there, although information on the exact time period does not seem to be readily available.
 
Carson-Newman did not play any teams like Tennessee or the University of Chattanooga during his time there, although the Eagles did play the Vols for several years not long after he graduated in 1912. The school also played UC some.
 
While at Carson-Newman, he was also reportedly a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.
 
Interested in teaching and coaching, he secured a job coaching at the now-closed Brandon Training School, which that year had relocated from Wartrace, Tenn., to a site in nearby Shelbyville, where East Side Elementary now sits.
  
The next year, 1913, he moved to Clinton, Miss., to become the head coach of Mississippi College, which, like Carson-Newman, was a Baptist-affiliated school. During his three years there he produced records of 6-3, 4-3-1, and 3-3-1.
 
The Mississippi College Choctaws played the University of Chattanooga a number of times over the decades, but not those three seasons. Coach Bible did play competitively against LSU in both 1914 and ’15 in 14-0 losses, and that must have contributed to his being hired as coach of the Baton Rouge school for 1916.
 
Actually, Coach Bible began coaching at LSU after originally planning to be a part of the staff at Texas A&M. Late in the season, he was named head coach, replacing Irving Pray. The team that year finished 7-1-2, with the only loss to then-strong Sewanee in New Orleans by a score of 7-0. 

In 1917, he began his first year as head coach at Texas A&M.
 
After taking off a year in 1918 – during which time he was reportedly a World War I pilot – he returned to coach Texas A&M from 1919-28, compiling a 72-19-9 overall record.
 
One familiar foe during that time – besides of course Texas and the other Southwest Conference teams – was Sewanee, which he played every year from 1923-28, always in Dallas. The Aggies won every year except one – 1925 -- when the Sewanee Tigers tied them, 6-6. Sewanee also played competitively in three other games at a time when the Monteagle Mountain school northwest of Chattanooga was still considered a major college football team.
 
Coach Bible’s record against Texas while he was the Texas A&M coach was 5-5-1, and he won five Southwest Conference titles during his tenure in College Station.
 
But perhaps his most lasting contribution to the Aggie football program occurred off the field, not directly on it. And it came about somewhat unintentionally.
 
In the Dixie Classic post-season game held on Jan. 2, 1922, at Fair Park stadium in Dallas against then-competitive Centre College from Kentucky, Coach Bible’s team was running short of players due to injuries and having a small overall squad.
 
Coach Bible remembered that practice player E. King Gill was up in the press box helping reporters identify Aggie players, so he sent word for him to dress out in an injured player’s uniform because he might be needed. Mr. Gill did that and stood the entire game on the sidelines waiting to go into the game immediately if called upon.
 
He ended up not being needed in the Aggies’ 22-14 win, but the incident inspired the Texas A&M students to soon begin the 12th man tradition of standing during entire football and basketball games. Other traditions of walk-on players joining the team have also become part of the lore.
 
But after the 1928 season and a 5-4-1 record and disappointing 19-0 loss to rival Texas, Coach Bible stood ready to head off for his own new challenge.
 
This one came north at Nebraska, which had done well under the previous two coaches dating back to 1921. Coach Bible continued the success, enjoying a solid 50-15-7 record in Lincoln and winning six Big Six conference championships in eight years.
 
Nebraska did not play Tennessee during his time there, but he did have a memorable 28-7 win over the University of Chicago to open the 1935 season. Chicago’s star player was Jay Berwanger, the winner of the first Heisman Trophy that year.
 
Among Coach Bible’s own standout Cornhusker players were fullbacks George Sauer and Sam Francis, both of whom were inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He was also the athletic director and coached the golf team at Nebraska.
 
In January 1937, he accepted a job at Texas as coach and athletic director. As Bobby Hawthorne wrote in his book, “Longhorn Football: An Illustrated History,” Coach Bible was not looking to leave Nebraska, where he was well liked and had enjoyed success. But the Texas opportunity seemed important.
 
Evidently, the eyes of Texas fans had literally been upon him since they had seen his success at Texas A&M.
 
After getting through the snags of the hire, in which the Texas president H.Y. Benedict was given a raise after some people pointed out that Coach Bible would be making more than the school president, he went to work in Austin.
 
He instituted what was called the Bible Plan, which included getting back in the good graces of the high school coaches, recruiting mostly the state of Texas where more loyal players would likely be, dividing the state into recruiting districts in which alumni helped recruit, and offering financial assistance within the rules. He also pioneered concepts of helping the players get jobs to pay for tuition.
 
According to former Texas SID Mr. Little, he would keep students on scholarship, even if they were injured and unable to continue playing.
 
After perhaps the two most challenging years of his career when he had to rebuild the program in Austin upon his arrival before the 1937 season, he would go on to lose only 17 games over the remaining eight seasons. His overall record at Texas was 63-31-3 before his retirement after the 1946 season. Included in that were three Southwest Conference championships.
 
He was known for having good scouting information on opponents and training his scouts well in the days before game film or tape was readily available. He also was considered a good tactician whose game plans were conservative and not fancy.
 
Off the field or in the locker room, he showed a little more compelling side, though. Mr. Hawthorne in his book on Texas football described Coach Bible as outgoing and likable, and as being a motivator.
 
Mr. Little worked with him some a number of years after the coach retired as athletic director in 1956 and said everyone appreciated him at Texas and elsewhere.
 
“He was one of the most respected men in all of college football,” he said. “He stood for all the right things in college football. And he was very likable. His players all referred to him as Mr. Bible.”
 
He added that Coach Bible had an obvious desire to win, but that his fair manner definitely stood out the most. It was a manner that was likely influenced by his Carson-Newman upbringing.
 
As an example, Mr. Little told a story of the 1941 season, when a number of headshots of Texas players graced the cover of the then-popular Life magazine after his team was No. 1.
 
The Longhorns ended up with an upset loss late in the year to TCU, but still had an opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl if he canceled his team’s last game of the season on Dec. 6 against Oregon. However, he refused to for integrity’s sake, and missed out on the Rose Bowl.
 
But Mr. Little said that because the attack on Pearl Harbor took place the next day, he is not even sure Texas would have gone, as a number of players left for the service soon afterward. And the Rose Bowl that season was switched to Duke University for national security reasons.
 
Among the players playing for Coach Bible near the end of his tenure at Texas were future NFL great Bobby Layne and future Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry, whose college career was just getting started after World War II service.
 
Mr. Landry came to speak at Carson-Newman in the 1990s, Mr. Barger said, and talked about being recruited to Texas by Coach Bible.
 
Coach Bible also continued to influence Carson-Newman long after he had left. Mr. Barger pointed out that early 1970s’ Eagle coach Dal Shealy said he wanted to come to Carson-Newman as a player in the late 1950s because he had read Coach Bible’s 1947 book, “Championship Football: A Guide for Player, Coach and Fan.”
 
After retiring as coach after 1946, Coach Bible stayed on at Texas as athletic director and had a role in the selection of Darrell Royal as the successful football coach of the Longhorns before the 1957 season.
 
Coach Bible also continued to live in the Austin area with his family. After his first wife, Rowena, with whom he raised two children, died in 1942, he remarried Agnes Stacy, but it ended in divorce in 1950. After marrying his third wife, Dorothy Gilstrap, in 1952, they ran a summer camp for girls for a number of years.
 
Coach Bible died on Jan. 19, 1980, at the age of 88 and was buried at Austin Memorial Park Cemetery in Texas.
 
This expert in x’s and o’s ended up far from his home in Tennessee where he had learned his abc’s and how to mind his p’s and q’s.
 
But the numerous decades have not erased his memory, particularly in the East Tennessee community of Jefferson City. Here, Carson-Newman still proudly claims him along with other noted coaches like former LSU football coach and SEC commissioner Bernie Moore and the recently retired Eagle mentor Ken Sparks.
 
“When you think of some of the coaches that have come out of Carson-Newman, it’s pretty impressive,” Mr. Barger said, putting Coach Bible near the top.   
 
Jcshearer2@comcast.net

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