Alabama Legend: How Did Wallace Wade End Up at Duke?

Jonathan Fravel@jfravel135Senior Analyst ISeptember 17, 2010

Coach Wallace Wade
Coach Wallace Wade

This weekend, the Alabama football team will do what few teams have ever done in their respective programs history. They will visit a campus where a legendary coach of their program started a second legendary legacy at the campus they will visit. They will play in a visitor stadium named after their own legendary coach.

Coach Wallace Wade (Alabama 1923-1930) guided the Alabama Crimson Tide to three national championships in seven years, finishing the 1925, 1926, and 1930 seasons with Rose Bowl victories, securing his legendary status at the Capstone.

At the end of the 1930 season, Wade shocked the sports world by announcing his intention to end his glorious career at Alabama to improve an upstart program at Duke University. Duke was not known for excellence in football, or any other sport at that time.

He finished his career at Alabama with 61 victories, 13 loses, and 3 ties.

Because of the success the football program had under Wallace Wade, Alabama was able collect enough funds to construct Denny Stadium. Wade also had a hand in selection of his successor, coach Frank Thomas.

At the time of his decision, Wallace Wade did not indicate why he felt the move was necessary. Not until later in life did he reveal his reason for leaving Tuscaloosa. Wade coached the Duke Blue Devils from 1931 through 1941. Then again, from 1946-1950. 

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In his last year, during his first tenure as head coach, the Blue Devils were 5-0 during the regular season and were named Southern Conference champions. His team was awarded the honor of playing in the 1942 Rose Bowl.

In a bizarre turn of events, because of the events at Pearl Harbor, the Rose Bowl game was played in Duke Stadium. Duke hosted the Pacific Coast conference champion Oregon State Beavers, losing the game to a well-coached team led by another college football legend, Lon Stiner.

Then Wallace Wade made another decision that shocked many in the college football world. At the age of 49, the legendary college football coach hung up his cleats and enlisted in the US Military to serve as a foot soldier. He was eventually promoted to lieutenant colonel and led the 272nd Field Artillery battalion in the Battle of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.

Wade was awarded the Bronze star, four battle stars and was honored by the French government with the Croix De Guerre "Cross of War," a metal received as a high honor for heroism.

While Wade was serving his country, coach Eddie Cameron (Cameron Arena) filled in as head football coach. After his adventures in the military, Wade returned home to Durham to resume his former life as head football coach. He coached the Blue Devils four more years, retiring as head coach in 1950 at the age of 58.

Wade amassed a record of 110-36-7 as head coach of Duke University. In 1938, his Duke Blue Devils went 9-0 while not allowing an opponent a single score in the entire regular season. His "Iron Dukes" lost a heartbreaking game to the Southern California Trojans, 7-3, in the Pasadena Rose Bowl.

With less than a minute left in the game, "Antelope" Al Kreuger caught a 19-yard pass from quarterback Doyle Nave and juked Duke's most athletic player, Eric "The Red" Tipton, for the only score against the Blue Devils in the entire season. Al Kreuger is inducted in the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

His career record as head coach, 171-49-10, recording three national championships (all at Alabama) and 10 Southern conference championships (three at Alabama, seven at Duke University).

While head coach at Duke University, Wade was involved in the racial integration of college football. While being a native southerner, and coaching in segregated college programs, he had no reservations about playing against integrated teams.

In fact, while at Brown University as a player, Wade played along side Fritz Pollard, one of the first African-American college players. They played together in the 1916 Rose Bowl.

As head coach at Duke, he led his 1938 team against Syracuse and insisted the Orangemen play their best players, regardless of their skin tone. He wanted his team to play against the best competition the opposition had to offer. Others had requested that Syracuse not allow their "dark skinned" players to take the field against their all-white teams.

Duke defeated Syracuse 21-0.

Wade also invited the integrated University of Pittsburgh team to play in Durham while others held back offers. They played their game in 1950 without incident.

From 1951 to 1960, Wallace Wade served as commissioner of the Southern Conference. In 1967, the Duke administration renamed Duke Stadium to Wallace Wade Stadium in honor of the living legend. Wallace died in Durham, NC in October, 1986, at the age of 94.

In an interview conducted after his retirement, Wallace Wade indicated that he left Alabama for the adventure of directing a total athletic program, not just football. His dream was to incorporate sports into the collegiate experience for all students, he involved himself with intramural sports while at Duke University.

It was his opinion, through his experience as an assistant at Vanderbilt and head coach at Alabama, that the private University allowed more freedom for the head coach to conduct his program as he wanted, without the pressures applied from the local and state government officials.

Wallace Wade, we salute you, and stand in awe of your life and your accomplishments. You were a man well ahead of your peers in personal accomplishment, social advancement, patriotic duty, and academic achievement. I only wish I could have met you, personally.