From his green-walled, air-conditioned office on the Georgia Tech campus at Atlanta it is only a couple of rebel yells and a long punt to the launching sites at North Carolina, Clemson, Auburn, Mississippi U. and Louisiana State, whence the football powers of the South will shortly go into orbit.
Pondering the view from Atlanta, a tall, tanned, grizzled Robert Lee Dodd hefted a red-and-white fishing plug. Starting his 29th season at Tech—his 15th as head coach—Dodd had something to say about football in Dixie, most particularly his own tough Southeastern Conference. Bobby Dodd is a man worth hearing:
"Our conference, the Big Ten and the Southwest play the best football in the U.S. today. Everybody argues over which is the toughest, but I think all three are on a par; all of them play really fine football. Oldtimers brag that their teams could beat the teams of today, but they're way off base. Modern football is far superior to what we used to play. Today's players can punt better, they can block better, they can pass the ball better. They're better all-round athletes. The coaches are better, too, and so is the equipment. Just as track and swimming records go down every year, so football improves.
"The trend in our section is more and more toward defense, even though coaches know that the public would rather see good offensive football. Under present rules, defense can win more games than offense. If we played as the pros do, with free substitutions, the thinking would probably change. But the better teams these days are coached by men who stress defense and kicking, which, after all, is a part of defense. Just look at last year's bowl games. Three of them were great defensive battles—0-0, 7-3 and 7-0. As long as the rules are the way they are, that's the way college football should be played. Evenly matched teams should make no more than one touchdown apiece.
"I have begged, pleaded and argued since 1953 for free substitution and for the goal posts to be on the goal line. Every year they make some concessions, but they don't go all the way. They don't want it to appear that the pros are right and college ball is wrong. This year they've given us that lone substitute [the so-called wild-card player] but until they give us free substitution you'll never see great passing games again. Sure, there are college teams that put on great passing shows, but they usually get beaten by three touchdowns.
"General Neyland, my old coach at Tennessee, has had more influence on the game in the last 30 years than any other man. First, Neyland believed in the elastic defense. He'd let you catch a short pass for six or eight yards but no long touchdown passes. You can't march 60 or 70 yards to a touchdown against that kind of defense. Sooner or later you'll either fumble or have your passes bounce up into the air to be intercepted or you'll get a penalty that kills the drive.
"Neyland believed more in ball position than ball control. Those of us who learned under him rely on position. We'd rather let you have the ball on your 10 than take it ourselves on our 30. Eventually you're going to make a mistake. Neyland always realized the value of the kicking game. Bud Wilkinson over at Oklahoma learned that from us, and we learned it from Neyland.
"On offense you'll see a lot of flankers this year. The lonesome end will be out, or more likely the halfback. You'll see a lot of wing T, where you use the halfback as you would in a single wing. The reason for this is that LSU used the wing T last year; when a team does well, a lot of people copy it.
"You know, there used to be a time when you could find men here and there that you could outcoach. Not any more. Coaching today is about the same at all the big schools. Everybody does a good job.
"Recruiting in the Southeast today, happily, is at a high level. The greatest thing that ever happened along that line was when we adopted grants-in-aid and the signing date. We're not allowed to sign up any high school senior before a given date—December 7. Once we sign somebody, he's committed to us. There's no more fighting off other schools the rest of the year."