With a largely
southern coaching staff brought to Los Angeles with him from Vanderbilt in
Tennessee, Sanders played more Negroes than almost any university in the entire
country, certainly more than his principal coast rivals. It has been claimed
that this was because UCLA, a state university, enrolled more, but this
argument is invalid. Football players are not selected from the student body at
large in this day and age of big-time college football. They are selected as
carefully as members of the Union League Club, and it is perfectly possible to
find a topnotch football squad of one or many colors and one or many creeds.
Red Sanders saw only football players, not minorities.
The bare bones of
Sanders' record are evidence enough of his prowess as a coach. His career
totals were 102 wins, 41 losses, 3 ties. His UCLA totals were 66 wins, 19
losses, 1 tie. His 1954 team was generally (but not universally) recognized as
the national champion—at least co-national champion. Sanders was Coach of the
Year, an achievement in which he took great pride.
It was part of
Sanders' coaching technique to be aloof. It was an attitude he carried over
into private life, and some hangers-on at the UCLA practice field have been
known to puff with pride if "Coach" acknowledged their presence with
even a cordial "Hello." When he wanted to, Red Sanders could be
captivating. He had the intelligent man's unfailing sense of humor, but the
jokes had to be wry and, on the whole, sophisticated.
He would drive
recalcitrant players with sarcasm, but a sarcasm which sometimes even drew a
laugh from the victim. "O'Farro," he would yell from his practice-field
tower, "you ran up to that man like you were trying to borrow money from
He told his
linemen on occasion that "you guys are running through there like a bunch
of Easter bunnies." He advised his teams to "hitch up your guts."
He dealt always in superlatives and sprinkled them liberally through his
mimeographed memos which led off his scouting reports distributed to the team
on game weeks. " UCLA now has its best offensive in history...."
" UCLA has the finest first team in its history...." And so on.
polite, Sanders nevertheless never let people come too close. He was a shy man.
He was an excellent public speaker, but suffered horribly from stage fright. It
is probable he had fewer close friends than any celebrated man in America. He
seemed always to be nursing some private disillusionment for which he bore no
grudge but which precluded his ever leading with his heart with anyone.
To those who
didn't know him, he could seem sometimes selfish and grasping. He was actually
generous. He had many admirers but he inspired awe along with affection. The
personality was so electric, one hesitated to touch it. Impatient with
amenities, Sanders was a man whose friends even hesitated to claim friendship.
"I have covered Red for nine years and I think I know him better than
anyone," one sportswriter confesses. "But at the end of that time I
don't think I knew him a lot better than the first time I met him."
This had been a
busy week for Red Sanders. Fall practice was to open on September first and Red
welcomed the invigoration a new football season always brought. On Wednesday
night, he journeyed with a gay group of hundreds of students and sports fans
out to the International Airport to welcome home one of UCLA's greatest
athletes, Rafer Johnson, who, along with Kenny Washington and Jackie
Robinson—and Red Sanders—has insured that UCLA's athletic reputation will
endure as long as games are played anywhere.
Sanders was in a
festive mood as he posed cheerfully with Rafer (above) and Rafer's family after
waiting nearly four hours for a plane that did not arrive until well past
midnight, delayed by a bomb scare in New York.