The History of Vanderbilt Football: Part One (1890-1934)

Rick GillispieCorrespondent IIJuly 5, 2009

Vanderbilt University started playing football in 1890, when they played the University of Nashville.

This was the first college football game played in the state of Tennessee. Vanderbilt won the game 40-0 and was coached by Elliott H. Jones. Coach Jones would coach the Commodores for two more years, going 8-5 in his three years as coach. W.J. Keller would take over as coach of the Commodores in 1893 and he would finish 6-1 in his first season as the coach.

Vanderbilt was one of the founding members of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1894. Along with Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and the University of the South (Sewanee), these teams were the first members of the SIAA Conference.

In 1897, Vanderbilt would win their first SIAA Championship going 6-0-1. Vanderbilt did not let an opponent score that year. The coach at the time was R.G. Acton. Acton started at Vandy in 1896 and would coach for three seasons. Acton’s record was 10-7-3.

Vanderbilt would not get another championship until 1901 when Coach W.H. Watkins would lead Vandy to their second SIAA title. Vandy went 6-1-1 that year losing to Washington (MO) 12-11. That was the total points Vandy gave up in eight contests. Vandy would go 8-1 the following year under coach Watkins, but missed out on the SIAA title by losing to Sewanee 11-5.

1903 brought a new coach to Vandy and another championship. Coach James H. “Jimmy” Henry would lead the team to a 6-1-1 mark. Vanderbilt was co-champions that year.

In 1904, Vanderbilt changed coaches again.

However, this time he would stick around for a while. Coach Dan McGugin would coach the Commodores from 1904-1934 (except in 1918 when McGugin was serving in WWI). McGugin's record as coach was 197-55-19.

Vanderbilt won eight SIAA Championships and two Southern Conference Championships. Some people will recognize Vanderbilt as having two National titles in 1906 and 1911. According to various Web sites, Vandy won the Billingsley National title in those years. Other Web sites have Princeton as the Champion named by Billingsley.

Vanderbilt joined the Southern Conference in 1922 and would be a member until 1932, when Vandy joined the Southeastern Conference.

Vanderbilt has never won a Southeastern Conference Championship in Football.

After the 1934 season, McGugin was no longer coach.

From 1890-1934, in the 45 years Vanderbilt played football, their record was 278-83-26 with 11 SIAC Championships, two Southern Championships and two National Championships (this is depending on which champion is recognized). Vandy had a total of 41 winning seasons out of 45.

Four Commodores that played during this time have been elected to the College Football Hall-of-Fame:

John J. Tigert: Fullback, 1901-1903

Josh Cody: Tackle, 1914-1916,1919

Lynn Bomar: End, 1922-1924

William Spears: Quarterback, 1925-1927

Vanderbilt also had a total of 12 All-Americans during that time.

This was Part One of the story of the History of Vanderbilt Football.


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