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Hall of Fame College Football Coach Daniel Earle McGUGIN led Vanderbilt University's team recording a record of 197 wins, 55 loses and 19 ties, acquiring a .762 winning percentage over a period of thirty years. Born in Tingley, Ringgold County, Iowa, McGUGIN played his college ball at Drake University and the University of Michigan where he played guard in the first Rose Bowl game. He graduated from Michigan with a law degree. He coached the Commodores from 1904 to 1934 achieving three undefeated seasons and five seasons with only one loss, winning ten conference titles. He is credited with being the first coach to use the onside kick, and the first to use "pulling guards "to run interference on plays. He was known as a master motivator. His most memorable pre-game speech came in 1922 when his team was preparing to play heavily favored Michigan in the Commodores new stadium. Referring to a nearby military cemetery he said, "In that cemetery are your grandfathers, and on that football field are the grandsons of the Yankees who put them there." It is assumed that his players did not know that the coach's father was an officer for the Union Army. The game ended in a scoreless tie. He served as President of the American Football Coaches Association and was inducted into the National College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.

The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture
Tennessee Historical Society, Nashville, Tennessee, 1998


1879 - 1936

The most successful coach in Vanderbilt University football history, Daniel E. McGUGIN was born on July 29, 1879, in Tingley, Iowa, the son of Benjamin Franklin and Melissa A. (CRUTCHFIELD) (sic) McGUGIN. McGUGIN graduated from Drake University in Des Moines in 1901 after playing varsity football for two years. He graduated from the law school at the University of Michigan in 1904 and was admitted to the Michigan bar.

While at Michigan, McGUGIN played guard for two years under coach Fielding Harris "Hurry Up" YOST, one of early football's greatest innovators. The 1901 team was one of Michigan's most successful, and McGUGIN played with his team at the first Rose Bowl in 1902. Although he had just entered law practice, McGUGIN accepted the position of head coach at Vanderbilt University for the 1904 season. That year his team went undefeated, a feat the Commodores repeated in 1921. For five years McGUGIN coached Vanderbilt football in the fall and returned to his Michigan law office for the rest of the year. In 1909 he moved to Nashville and established a corporate law office.

From 1904 to 1923 McGUGIN's Vanderbilt teams won ten conference championships in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the Southern Conference. His career record was 197-55-19 for regular season play. Maintaining his private law practice, he taught and coached at Vanderbilt until his retirement in 1934, when he became the school's athletic director. In 1920 McGUGIN was elected for one term in the Tennessee Senate on the Democratic ticket. He also served as a trustee for Fisk University and was president of the American Football Coaches Association in 1933. In 1951 McGUGIN was inducted into the National College Football Hall of Fame for his exceptional career as a coach.

McGUGIN married Virginia Louise FITE in 1905, and YOST served as best man. The colleagues had even closer ties after Yost later married FITE's sister. McGUGIN died on January 19, 1936, and is buried in Nashville's Mount Olivet Cemetery.


Dan McGUGIN was a favorite of Michigan coaching legend Fielding YOST. Not only did McGUGIN star at guard for YOST during his playing days for the "Point-a-Minute" Michigan teams of 1901 and '02, McGUGIN ended up marrying his coach's sister and asking YOST to serve as the best man in his wedding. One of the lightest men on the team, McGUGIN's speed and quickness more than made up for his lack of bulk. Following his playing days, McGUGIN served as YOST's assistant in 1903, then got the head coaching job at Vanderbilt. For the next 31 years, the "Colonel" dominated Southern football, compiling a record of 197-55-19 as the Commodores' leader. One of his proudest accomplishments was in holding Michigan to a 0-0 tie in 1922 when that team was coached by his old mentor and brother-in-law. McGUGIN later became athletic director at Vanderbilt. He died following a heart attack in 1936 at the age of 56.

University of Michigan at 1st Rose Bowl Tournament Game
courtesy of Bentley Library at University of Michigan

Standing, L-R: *Everett SWEELEY RE, *Bruce SHORTS RT, trainer Keene FITZPATRICK, gradute manager Charles BAIRD, *William HERNSTEIN RH, *George GREGORY C, *Dan McGUGIN LG, James FOREST substitute, *Hugh WHITE Captain & LT, *Curtis REDDEN LE, coach Fielding H. YOST, *Neil SNOW FB, student manager Harry CRAFTS

Kneeling L-R: *Ebin WILSON RG, Herbert GRAVER substitute, *Harrison WEEKS QB, Ben SOUTHWORTH substitute

FRONT ROW, L-R: *Willian HESTON LH, Art REDNER substitute

* indicates 11 players who played the entire game

SOURCE:  MADEU, Bruce. MICHIGAN: Champions of the WEST   p. 23. Sports Publishing LLC. 1997.
September 29, 2004

Commodore History Corner:
Vanderbilt Celebrates A Century of Dan McGUGIN

In this week's edition of the Commodore History Corner, Nashville historian Bill TRAUGHBER commemorates the 100-year anniversary of Coach Dan McGUGIN's arrival at Vanderbilt.

Almost 100 years to the day this week, Mississippi State played at Vanderbilt and was thrashed by the Commodores, 61-0. That day was October 1, 1904 and the first game at Vanderbilt for legendary coach Dan McGUGIN.

McGUGIN would spend the next 30 years leading the Commodore football program and acquiring an amazing record of 197-55-19. He served one year (1918) in World War I. At Vanderbilt, he was a part-time coach and in the interim McGUGIN was a corporate lawyer.

McGUGIN was born in Tingley, Iowa on July 29, 1879. He played one year of football at Drake University and three years at Michigan. McGUGIN was a guard on the Michigan team that played in the first Rose Bowl (Michigan 49-0 over Stanford) January 1, 1902. McGUGIN earned his law degree from Michigan.

After his graduation from Michigan, Wolverine head football coach Fielding YOST was asked by Vanderbilt to recommend a football coach. While not having any head coaching experience, YOST saw something in McGUGIN to recommend him to Vanderbilt. McGUGIN was an assistant to YOST.

In his latter years, McGUGIN told the story about how he came to Vanderbilt:

"I wrote Vanderbilt, cautiously offering my services, but received no response. One day while the J-Hop was going on in Ann Arbor, I had a telegram from Western Reserve at Cleveland offering me the job there and asking for an immediate reply. I went to the telegraph office and wired acceptance, and when I walked back to the Delta Upsilon house, I found a telegram from Vanderbilt definitely offering me that place.

"Vanderbilt offered $850.00 and Western Reserve $1000.00, but I wanted to come South and see and know the people. I decided that if I could recall the telegram to Cleveland before its delivery, I would go to Vanderbilt. Otherwise I would go to Western Reserve. The telegram was recalled before delivery by three minutes."

Shortly after arriving in Nashville, McGUGIN married Virginia FITE with YOST serving as best man. YOST met FITES's sister and he later married her. Now the close friends were related by marriage.

For a number of years the couple lived at 310 25th Avenue South and their home was open to players and friends of Vanderbilt. McGUGIN was a disciplinarian that demanded respect, and it was said he never used "rough" language nor berated a player publicly.

In his first season at Vanderbilt his 1904 club was 9-0-0, the only undefeated, untied team in Commodore history. Eight of those games were shutouts with the only opponent able to score was Missouri Mines (29-4). They outscored their opponents 452-4 and led the nation in scoring that year.

His most memorable football game was the October 14, 1922 game in Nashville against his friend and brother-in-law YOST and Michigan. The Wolverines were heavy favorites to win the game. The game was the first at the new Dudley Field and ended, 0-0.

It was reported that before the Michigan game McGUGIN said to his squad before the game, "You are going against Yankees, some of whose grandfathers killed your grandfathers in the Civil War." It was not known if the players knew that McGUGIN's father was an officer in the Union army.

McGUGIN recorded three seasons (1910, 1921, 1922) with no defeats and one tie. In five seasons (1905, 1906, 1911, 1915, 1926) his teams only lost one game on its schedule. He was 13-8-3 all-time against Tennessee, with most of those losses occurring near his retirement.

McGUGIN was known as a brilliant strategist with the ability to motivate his men. One method of motivation was privately demonstrated before a big game. Former Vanderbilt All-American Pete GRACEY told this story about his coach. The quote appeared in Fred RUSSELL's book Bury Me in An Old Pressbox:

"In my first varsity year, the night before we played Georgia Tech, Coach McGUGIN casually walked up to me in the lobby of our hotel, put his arm around my soldier and sorta whispered, 'I was with some Atlanta newspapermen this afternoon and I told them you were the finest sophomore center I had ever coached. I hope that I haven't made it embarrassing for you.'

"We beat Tech, 49 to 7. Afterward I talked to seven other players and you know, Coach McGUGIN told them all the same thing he told me."

McGUGIN is credited with being the first coach to use the on-side kick effectively when the rules were changed and using guards to pull to lead interference. Under McGUGIN's guidance, Vanderbilt became the first Southern team to play intersectional games.

Legendary sports writer Grantland RICE began his writing career in Nashville and was a long-time personal friend of McGUGIN. RICE gave this tribute to his friend:

"I have known a long parade of football coaches through the past forty years, but I have never met one who combined more of the qualities needed to make a great coach than Dan McGUGIN carried.

"In the first place Dan knew the fundamentals and knew how to teach them. In the second place he knew plays that a team needs for its scoring record. Above all he was a fine inspirational, one who always had the complete affection and respect of his players. I don't believe many people know the amazing job Dan McGUGIN did along this latter time. I have heard any number of old Vanderbilt players tell how much he had meant to their lives after college days were over.

"Dan had a keen sense of humor that is a big factor in bringing about periods of relaxation which every football squad must have. Few coaches ever had better ability at keying up the team, for Dan had a psychology of his own which seemed to fit changing occasions.

"His thirty year record at Vanderbilt will stand as one of the finest things in football, when you take into consideration his success as a coach, and his greater success as a builder of character."

McGUGIN retired from coaching after the 1934 season. His last four teams were 5-4, 6-1-2, 4-3-3 and 6-3. He continued to practice law while also serving as Vanderbilt's athletics director. At the time of McGUGIN's retirement, he was the oldest coach in America as far as service with one institution.

As a Nashville citizen McGUGIN gave himself to the community. He was a Trustee of Fisk University, member of the Vine Street Christian Church, Belle Meade Club member and active in the Boy Scouts organization.

McGUGIN died on January 19, 1936 at the home of his law partner. He was 56 and remains the winningest football coach in Vanderbilt history. When McGUGIN died, his office wall revealed photographs of his heroes. Even though he was from the North and his father a Union soldier, his wall displayed portraits of Confederate General Robert E. LEE, Abraham LINCOLN and Irby "Rabbit" CURRY. CURRY was a Vanderbilt player (1913-16) who was killed in World War I. CURRY was an All-Southern quarterback at Vanderbilt. McGUGIN was a student of the Civil War and like reading biographies. Ironically, McGUGIN died on the birthday of LEE, who was born on January 19, 1807.

McGUGIN's great-grandson, Dan McGUGIN IV, is in his first year as head football coach at Nashville's Franklin Road Academy.

McGUGIN was a president of the American Football Coaches Association, member of the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame, and posthumously, the National College Football Hall of Fame.

Dan McGUGIN is buried in Nashville's Mount Olivet Cemetery.
September 6, 2008


He was a lawyer first and a ball coach second. He was a practical joker who was beloved in Nashville social and business circles. He was an innovator and a motivator.

So why does Dan McGUGIN still cast such a huge shadow upon Vanderbilt athletics 72 years after his death?

"My grandfather's record of success was simply remarkable," says George McGUGIN, himself a Vanderbilt graduate, lawyer and football letterman. "He was regarded as a first-rate attorney, one of the finest in town, and his success as a coach has not been matched. He was a charter member of the College Football Hall of Fame."

Indeed, McGUGIN's 30-year record of 197-55-19 still ranks among the NCAA's Top 25 best winning percentages. Four of his teams were undefeated and 11 more lost just one game. His Commodore teams played the toughest of schedules, criss-crossing the country by train to do so.

George McGUGIN was not born when his grandfather died of heart failure in 1936, just two years after hanging up his coaching whistle, so his recollections come from his father, Dan McGUGIN, Jr., family records and the stories of a legion of former players, fans and other admirers.

"As soon as I was old enough to remember," George says, "I began to understand how my grandfather's former players and coaches revered him. There is a photo hanging at the Belle Meade Country Club with my grandfather, Grantland RICE and two others. The caption reads "...and beloved Vanderbilt Coach Dan McGUGIN" in its identification. The word beloved is significant."

Something else that George and many others feel significant about is the fact that Dan McGUGIN coached his entire career at Vanderbilt.

"He didn't jump around to attractive new jobs like many other leading coaches such as John HEISMAN did," George says with pride. "Even in those days, Vanderbilt was not an easy place to win. When he retired, he was the dean of college football coaches with tenure at one school."

Dan McGUGIN was one of the first collegiate coaches to promote intersectional rivalries, the first coach to pull guards in the interference, the first to successfully work the onside kick and one of the first to emphasize the forward pass.

In 1922, after 18 years as head coach, Vanderbilt built and dedicated Dudley Field, an impressive stadium with a capacity of 22,000 that was the largest in the South.

RICE, America's most influential sportswriter of the 20th Century and a 1901 Vanderbilt graduate, once reminisced that "I didn't have anything to write about in Nashville until Dan McGUGIN came to town."

It was common knowledge that the University of Tennessee hired General Robert NEYLAND with one primary directive: "Beat Dan McGUGIN".

A native of Iowa and a graduate of the University of Michigan, he and Wolverine coaching legend Fielding YOST married twin sisters from Nashville and lived as neighbors near the Vanderbilt campus during the off-season.

The McGUGIN family still produces success. George McGUGIN's twin sons Bill and Daniel were tennis stars at Vanderbilt and Daniel, pictured at right, is now the head football coach at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville. MBA won a state championship under McGUGIN in 2007.

 Compiled by Sharon R. Becker


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