The emergence of
Prothro as a topflight football man is surprising to his father, who had raised
his son in baseball. Born July 20, 1920 in Dyersburg, Tenn., where his father
had gone to practice dentistry, Tommy hit the road with his parents when he was
only 2. A semipro, Doc got an offer to play third base for the Washington
Senators. He accepted, even though it meant he would be a 26-year-old rookie.
Doc later played for Cincinnati and did a hitch in the minors, winding up in
1939 as manager of the Phillies. Released after the '41 season, he returned to
Memphis to purchase the local ball club, after which he obtained working
agreements with teams in Gadsen, Ala., Greenwood, Miss, and Fulton, Tenn.
attended Duke University, where he was a pitcher in his freshman year and later
a blocking back for Wallace Wade. Graduated in 1942, he served as an officer in
After the war,
Doc was resolved to teach his son the baseball business. At one stage Tommy
held the dual job at Gadsden of pitcher and business manager. However, when Red
Sanders, then coaching at Vanderbilt, invited Prothro to handle the freshman
team in 1946, Tommy left baseball for good.
Sanders moved to
UCLA in 1949, and Prothro went along as backfield coach. He also was chief of
recruiting. In the field of recruiting Prothro gives himself only ordinary
"I don't feel
it's important that I be great," he says, "because recruiting is the
most overrated phase of our game. It is my guess that 90% of the talent has a
preconceived notion of where it wants to go, and it picks the schools it wants.
And no romancing or persuasion will change the minds of those boys. The coach
who spends his time organizing, teaching and building morale will do far better
than the one who devotes himself to grabbing what he can of the floating
Asked if he would
describe Prothro's enthusiasm for recruiting as just average, a USC bird dog
laughed. " UCLA makes the same speech in basketball," he said. "I'm
sure it got Lew Alcindor by running an ad in
The New York Times
It has been said
that Prothro learned most of his football from Sanders, but Prothro denies
this. "My teacher was Wallace Wade," he says. "What I learned from
Sanders was how to maintain a relationship with players and assistant coaches.
Red could make anyone he worked with produce at a higher capacity than any
person I've known."
Prothro some rough moments, always by design. "To illustrate," says
Prothro, "I had a blocking back named Leo Hershman, who was a solid player.
Red was trying to improve our running game. He didn't say to me, 'Try to get
Hershman to put out even more than he is.' He said, 'Hershman is through. Get
him off the field. I never want to see him again.'
protested. I told him Hershman was the best blocker we had. He answered
grudgingly, 'All right, I'll give you one more week with him.' Now the boy had
to prove himself to me, and I had to prove myself to Sanders. The kid and I
worked like dogs, and I must admit that he got better.
"This is the
way Red handled his people. When you got satisfied he would bother you. And
when you got discouraged he would pick you up. He never let you get all the way
satisfied or all the way discouraged."