John Shearer: Former Brainerd/MTSU Quarterback Fred Rohrdanz Reflects Fondly On Sports Career And Life

Thursday, December 19, 2019 - by John Shearer

Fred Rohrdanz said his wife, Suan, can always tell if someone first knew him as a youth or adult by whether they call him Fred or Freddy.

 

“My wife says that is always a tell-tale sign of how long someone has known me,” he said with a laugh over the telephone from his Florida home, adding that he kindly answers to either name, although he has gone by Fred as a working adult.

 

This son of a former coach and Alabama Crimson Tide football standout has also tried to answer the call as well of trying to make a positive difference, whether as a clutch quarterback, a military officer, a working adult, and now as a grandfather looking to retirement in the near future.

 

In connection with the 50th anniversary of his time as a Brainerd High School senior football star and class leader, Mr.

Rohrdanz recently took time to look back on his life from his office and home in the Central Florida community of Eustis.

 

As he chatted, he was getting ready to go and watch his first Army-Navy game in Philadelphia the next day.

 

Although it was his first time to see the classic and iconic game, which this year was attended by President Donald Trump, he has been used to watching the serious side of life with which serving in the military is a prime example. A former Army officer, he is a veteran as well of other confrontations, from overcoming a serious neck injury as a college player to being a student at Brainerd when some racially related conflicts that made big local news occurred. 

 

This fall, I had written an eight-part series on the conflicts and lessons learned from the Brainerd High crisis of 1969-70, when disturbances from two sides resulted after some black students began protesting the school’s Confederate-related symbols and the fight song, “Dixie.”

 

I had intended to talk to Mr. Rohrdanz at the time, but I ended up finishing the series before I had a chance. But I was recently able to catch up with him about his mostly positive life he has enjoyed.

 

This man who often covered plenty of ground as a running and passing quarterback now covers a large territory in the sales field as the account executive for the entire state of Florida for Essential Ingredients Inc. According to Mr. Rohrdanz, the company sells to manufacturers chemicals that can be used to make personal care products to rub on one’s skin or hair.

 

The former Chattem Inc. (now Sanofi) firm in Chattanooga has been a large client of the company, he said.

 

He ended up in Florida due to his wife, who had gone to MTSU from the Sunshine State, and he ended up in Chattanooga as a result of his father. Clarence “Rudy” Rohrdanz had come to Chattanooga with his wife Evelyn and young son Freddy to become coach at Chattanooga “City” High in 1959.

 

While not a lot seems to have been written about coach Rohrdanz over the years like with some other coaches or former star players with Chattanooga connections, he had been a standout back on some championship Alabama Crimson Tide teams of the mid-1930s.

 

Among his teammates were future NFL star receiver Don Hutson and a future coach by the name of Paul “Bear” Bryant. Freddy Rohrdanz would later become acquainted as well with coach Bryant in an unusual way.

 

Rudy Rohrdanz had started out as a coach in Selma, Al., and then moved to Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett in Northeast Tennessee. After two successful seasons there, he began serving as head coach of the Jefferson High Magicians in Roanoke, Va., in 1941.

 

Located in a historic school building that looked very much like Chattanooga High on Third Street, Jefferson won multiple state championships during coach Rohrdanz’s time there, including in 1957. With a break to serve in the Navy during World War II, he had an overall record there of 118-38-5.

 

This was the sports world to which a very young Freddy was first exposed.

 

Joining Rudy Rohrdanz on the City High coaching staff were initially such coaches as future Notre Dame school head Jim Phifer, future successful UT swim coach Ray Bussard, a young Pete Potter, and Billy Von Schaaf.

 

Coaches Potter and Von Schaaf would later find their ways to Brainerd in varying roles when Freddy Rohrdanz was in school there.

 

Despite coach Rohrdanz’s success at his other stops, he found that City High – while a top academic school -- was not an easy place to win in football at that time. Central and Baylor were dominant programs and were on the City schedule some at that time, and Brainerd was developing into a solid program in the 1960s as were other schools.

 

Coach Rohrdanz’s records during that time, according to some old City High yearbooks at the Chattanooga Public Library, were 6-4 in 1959, 4-5 in 1960, 6-4-1 in 1961, 0-9-1 in 1962, 4-4-2 in 1963, and 2-9 in 1964 before Don Shockley took the helm in 1965.

 

Coach Rohrdanz had coached such players as future Tennessee player Ken Honea and such future local civic leaders as Mickey McCamish and Richard Casavant, among many others, and had also been there during the school’s move to North Chattanooga in 1963.

 

He later went on to work in youth-related programs, at one point holding the position of Neighborhood Youth Corps supervisor before later becoming the youth employment director for the city prior to his retirement and later death on Oct. 19, 1995, at the age of 82. He was also active at Central Baptist Church of Woodmore and later Covenant Baptist Church.

 

Freddy’s mother, Evelyn, died in 2007, and both his parents are buried in New Live Oak Cemetery in Selma. The couple had married in 1938 during his stint in Alabama.

 

After arriving in Chattanooga, the family had moved into a residence at 4413 Shawhan Road in Brainerd by the current Dalewood Middle School, a home in which they would live for decades. As a result, Brainerd was the area of town with which a school-age Freddy became familiar. He grew up attending Woodmore Elementary, Dalewood Junior High and Brainerd High, and sports was always a big part of his life, he said.

 

“A bunch of us would get on our bikes and end up at someone’s house playing ball,” he said, adding they would sometimes ride quite a distance.

 

He continued to play multiple sports at Brainerd as he moved on into high school. As mentioned, his head football coach ended up being Pete Potter. He jokingly said he had to talk coach Potter into throwing the ball, but he loved playing for him.

 

“He was a conservative football coach but a complete football coach, a no-nonsense and wonderful man,” Mr. Rohrdanz said. “The opportunity to play for coach Potter was awesome. He was a great motivator and good at the x’s and o’s.”

 

He also remembered current McCallie coach Ralph Potter as a coach’s young kid running around, much as Freddy was a few years earlier, and was glad to hear of coach Potter’s state championship earlier this month. In fact, he wanted to pass along his congratulations.

 

Mr. Rohrdanz remembered that he went through the school system when the schools were starting to integrate, but he recalled the sports teams at Brainerd having no problems, That included the football team, which in 1969 had about 7 or 8 black players.

 

“We had a wonderful group of kids, white and black. It didn’t matter,” he said.

 

As a result, he admitted to being taken aback as a white student when conflicts started at the school outside the sports teams regarding the wishes by the school’s growing black population that “Dixie” quit being played as a fight song, and Confederate symbols be removed.

 

This had all started because Brainerd at the time had the Rebels’ nickname.

 

“It really took me by surprise,” he said. “I didn’t realize the flag and song were a potential for dividing people.”

 

He remembers the situation blowing up with protests and fights, and it caused the school to be the center of attention during a multi-day crisis at a time when blacks and others were still trying to get full rights and respect, and some whites and others did not want change.

 

“When it happened, outside interests used it as a target for good and bad,” Mr. Rohrdanz remembered, adding that he recalled appearing on a talk show on Channel 9 during that time as one of the school leaders.

 

But amid all that turmoil, he remembered one uplifting moment when the team tried to take the high road and set an example of racial unity. “We had multiple guys in line for college scholarships, and I remember we were sitting in the locker room with Coach Potter and we said we are not going to let any of this divide us as ballplayers,” Mr. Rohrdanz recalled.

 

Despite all the distractions, the talented team did remain focused and went on to finish 10-0 and beat perennial power Central, a challenging task with which his father was no doubt familiar.

 

And Freddy Rohrdanz – an obvious big man on campus -- went on to become Mr. Brainerd High in the Class of 1970.

 

Naturally a big fan of the Alabama Crimson Tide, which in 1969 was on a rare down cycle under Coach Bryant, he had been recruited by then-Alabama assistant Steve Sloan and had also talked with Coach Bryant. But at under 6 feet tall and only about 160 pounds, he was considered a little small for major college football, so they encouraged him to go to Tennessee Military Institute for a semester.

 

After that, Coach Bryant still thought he was a little small for Alabama, but Middle Tennessee State University was interested. However, he also had an opportunity over the Christmas break to visit Virginia Tech, which had a new coach named Charlie Coffey.

 

He was shown around the campus by a quarterback who was tall, and the Virginia Tech coaching staff seemed interested in Mr. Rohrdanz. But the Brainerd grad seemed concerned about this other quarterback, although the coach tried to assure Freddy the other player was slow, that he was an upperclassman and that Mr. Rohrdanz might eventually play.

 

As it turned out, that other quarterback was Don Strock, who went on to enjoy a lengthy NFL career, so Mr. Rohrdanz was glad he went to MTSU.

 

While Middle Tennessee in the early-to-mid-1970s was not quite the program record wise it would later become under Boots Donnelly and current coach Rick Stockstill, it still had some memorable wins under coach Bill Peck while he was there.

 

And Mr. Rohrdanz was responsible for a few of them. And as fate would have it, one of them came against the hometown UTC Mocs on Sept. 30, 1972. UTC under quarterback Mickey Brokas had gone out to a 13-3 halftime lead and the Blue Raiders had struggled with Southern Miss transfer Fayne Limbo as the starting quarterback.

 

So sophomore Fred Rohrdanz was inserted in front of the crowd of 9,000 at Chamberlain Field, and magic ensued. He was able to help lead the team to a 17-13 advantage late, and they hung on for victory with the help of a Moc drive that stalled at the MTSU 4-yard line late in the game.

 

It was a great moment for him, as several old Brainerd friends who were on hand congratulated him after the game.

 

As Gary Davenport wrote in the next day’s Chattanooga News-Free Press, “Little Freddy Rohrdanz, who did his Boy Scout training across town at Brainerd High, came into the contest, lit the then-cold coals and sparked the Blue Raiders to a resounding 17-13 victory.”

 

His coach told the media, “Freddy’s a winner.”

 

Mr. Rohrdanz over the phone recalled the moment fondly. “It was the first time I had significant playing time at quarterback, and I had a lot of friends in the stands,” he said.

 

His ability to help pull out the clutch wins was shown a few weeks later on Nov. 4. With Western Kentucky enjoying a 17-0 halftime lead on its homecoming day, the future looked bleak for MTSU and Mr. Rohrdanz.

 

However, again he starred in a clutch way, throwing two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to lead his team to a comeback 21-17 win.

 

Just as Mr. Rohrdanz had a checkered experience at Brainerd of playing when the school felt collectively injured in an emotional sense due to the seemingly futile efforts of school officials to make everyone happy, he experienced disruption at MTSU in the form of a physical injury.

 

In his junior year at Western Carolina on Sept. 29, 1973, he was injured but did not realize he had anything other than a sore neck. However, a check with the doctor – whom Mr. Rohrdanz still remembers as a Dr. Alex Heffington – revealed he had a small broken bone in his neck and was done for the season.

 

His girlfriend at the time, Suan, was a cheerleader who had broken her arm during the Morehead State game, and she was wearing a cast while he wore a neck brace.

 

“We looked like we had been in a car accident together,” he recalled.

 

Despite the broken bones, they did not have any broken hearts, as they were later married and went on to raise three “wonderful kids,” he said, and are now blessed with eight grandchildren.

 

As a senior, Mr. Rohrdanz was able to come back and rush for 131 yards and pass for 485 yards to put a positive finish on his football career. According to the MTSU media guide records section, he had passed for 981 yards as a sophomore.

 

The former Brainerd standout said he had played under three different offensive coordinators while at MTSU, but enjoyed the experience overall.

 

 “The OVC (Ohio Valley Conference) then was an overall excellent football conference,” he said, adding that longtime Chattanooga broadcaster Randy Smith was involved with the MTSU radio broadcast during that time.

 

He also had an opportunity to play against such future NFL stars as Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Waymond Bryant and Wally Chambers, and his roommate was the late Ray Oldham, who went on to enjoy an NFL career and received some media coverage after he moved to Chattanooga.

 

Mr. Rohrdanz, who was named after his paternal grandfather, said he wore No. 12 at MTSU after wearing No. 11 at Brainerd due to his admiration for quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Joe Namath, who each wore No. 12. He actually had a chance to meet and throw with Mr. Namath after his high school days while down in Tuscaloosa.

 

But it was perhaps a phone caller instead of a signal caller who stands out the most among well-known people he rubbed shoulders with as a football player. Somehow Coach Bryant, his father’s old teammate and friend, kept up with his exploits at MTSU and would periodically call Freddy on the phone.

 

“Two or three times a year on a Tuesday night, he might give me a call and say, ‘I heard you had a good ballgame Saturday,’ ” Mr. Rohrdanz recalled. “It was like talking to God. It was a real honor to talk to him.”

 

After finishing at MTSU and getting married his senior year, he spent three years as part of an Army commitment working in the medical services corps at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.

 

“I supported all the doctors and nurses,” he said of that time just after America had withdrawn from Vietnam. “We then moved to Florida and I spent another three years in the Army National Guard. It was interesting but I did not want to do it all my life.”

 

He had looked at getting in the same profession his father had been in, but instead decided to work in the business world.

“I certainly considered coaching, but saw the politics involved in how some coaches were treated and wanted more security for my family, but I will say that I would have loved to coach at the collegiate level,” he said.

 

After enjoying a longtime working career in sales, he is looking at retirement in the not-too-distant future, and he plans to attend his Brainerd Class of 1970’s 50-year reunion next year. Despite all the bumps and bruises his class and other Brainerd classes experienced at that time as the school and larger Chattanooga community were trying to be made racially and socially whole, he would not change the experiences for anything.

 

“I am grateful and proud,” he said in looking back on his high school days. “Any of the group we grew up with, we were just grateful to have as many role models as we had. We were very proud of the coaches and the teams.

 

“It was a great time to be a Brainerd Rebel. Back then that was something special.”

 

He counts his blessings about life in general, too.

 

“God is good,” he said. “He has been with us the whole way, and I give all the credit to Him.”

 

* * * * *

 

To see the last entry on the series on the events at Brainerd High in 1969-70, and which can take a reader back to previous segments, read here.

https://www.chattanoogan.com/2019/10/11/397818/John-Shearer-The-Brainerd-High-Crisis.aspx

 

* * * * *

 

Jcshearer2@comcast.net


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