Life Has treated Robert E. Lee Dodd, the gentleman with the cautious smile on the opposite page, rather handsomely. Only last year, the alumni of Georgia Institute of Technology, where Dodd is head football coach and athletic director, bought him a $50,000 home. It is his as long as he remains athletic director, a job which carries a lifetime tenure if Dodd wants it. Also, Dodd gets a new car every year, thanks to the alumni, simply because they like him personally and appreciate his value as the caretaker of Georgia Tech's long and extraordinarily successful football tradition, of which the Institute is justifiably proud.
In the past 25 years Georgia Tech has won 169 games. Only three major teams have won more in this period. Bobby Dodd was at Tech every one of those years—the first 13 of them as an assistant to W. A. (Bill) Alexander. Since becoming the third head coach in Tech's history in 1945, Dodd has won 102, lost 28, tied four.
"Practice this week in preparation for the Tigers will be the same as for any other game," says Dodd. "We'll throw some passes, run some plays, kick the ball around and have some fun. Low pressure all the way. And on Saturday the kids will be ready."
The "kids" are one of the real anomalies in big-time college football. Because of Tech's high academic standards their football players must be scholars in fact as well as name. This keeps many of the beefy tackle types away from Tech and has forced Dodd to replace size with speed. Yet Dodd makes his system work in one of the toughest conferences in the country—the Southeastern.
Even this year, while Dodd is rebuilding after losing nine starters from last year's Gator Bowl champions, his Yellow Jackets are again a team to be feared as much as any in the South. Their record so far would not bear this out, as their only win has been over weak Kentucky, followed by a tie with SMU and last Saturday's stunning 20-13 loss to Louisiana State. On Saturday, Tech tangles with the undefeated Auburn Tigers, recent victors over Tennessee, and the form says that Auburn is bound to win this, its last serious obstacle on the road to its first Southeastern title. However, the form can be grievously wrong when it comes to sizing up the quick, smart, opportunistic teams that year after year are machined on the lathe of Bobby Dodd. For he is full of surprises as well as contradictions.
Without football Dodd would probably have wound up just another guy from Kingsport, Tennessee. So it was surprising to hear him warn the other day that he might lead a movement to put an end to intercollegiate football; cut off the hand that feeds him.
"Recruiting has gotten too far out of hand," he explained. He sat, feet propped up on his glass-topped desk, surrounded by a battery of cream-colored telephones. Occasionally one of the instruments would ring and Bobby would briskly dispatch instructions or note information.
"Illegal recruiting," he continued, "I mean the kind where a coach will go out and offer a kid the world with a fence around it—it's going to ruin football. It's bad enough now, and if it gets any worse I'll have to stand up and say, 'Let's get rid of intercollegiate football. Let's play on an intramural basis. But let's play it honest.' "
Nevertheless, a great deal of Dodd's success as a coach stems from his ability to recruit football players; to get outstanding high school stars to come to Tech. "Sure," he admits, "we recruit here. But I can't think of one instance where we ever got a boy using unethical tactics. We offer them what the Southeastern Conference allows. A kid comes here, he gets his tuition, books, meals, a place to sleep and a little laundry money, and if he spends the money on laundry he doesn't have anything left over at the end of the month.
"Now, there are some schools in this conference," said Dodd, "and other conferences, too, that go beyond the rules. They'll offer a boy money; they'll help his parents with the mortgage; they'll buy him fancy clothes even when he's still in high school. Actually what these coaches are doing is offering kids bribes. They teach a ballplayer while he's still young and fairly impressionable to be 'on the take.' So what happens? The kid starts going around with his hand out all the time. And, normally, he'll remember this lesson better than anything else he'll learn in college. Take, take, take. Don't give anything for nothing. There are enough schools out recruiting with good hard cash to make me think that if we can't stop illegal recruiting maybe we ought to stop football."