The Wolfpacker

July 2013 Football Preview

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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■ pack past Earle Edwards Helped Save NC State Football By Tim Peeler t may be an odd anniversary to remember, but this year marks an important part of NC State's athletics history: Sixty years ago, the school held serious discussions about dropping intercollegiate football as a varsity sport. Chancellor John W. Harrelson, in a letter dated February 1953, told NC State fans that unless there was some miracle solution to generate more income to pay off debts and reduce the athletics department's deficit spending, he must "decide on the future of football." The chancellor knew even the remote possibility of getting rid of the sport would set off a firestorm among students, alumni and boosters. But he was inclined, at the very least, to de-emphasize the sport and was willing to eliminate it all together if it meant stabilizing the dire financial situation created by the athletics department and the Wolfpack Club running up huge unpaid bills at the university dining hall and at Johnson-Lambe Sporting Goods. Those two entities were owed nearly $90,000 in 1950s money, an outrageous sum for a department that spent only $94,000 a year in total scholarships during that era. "The program must fit the income, and the income must cover the expenses," Harrelson wrote. For too long, that hadn't been the case. The athletics department and the students squabbled over the use of newly opened Reynolds Coliseum, and the finances of the athletics department were questioned by multiple entities on and off campus. Some claimed that the profligate spending was even against state law. "Frankly the intercollegiate athletic program is out of money with slim hope of any appreciable financial income before September, 1953," Harrelson said. "It is now imperative that plans be made to finance intercollegiate athletics until the opening of school in next September and to decide on the future of football." Athletics director Roy Clogston, who had arrived in 1948 from a small college in New York, had already instituted multiple austerity measures. He had cut the entire athletics budget to the bone. He had demoted head football coach Beattie Feathers to freshman football coach, slashed his salary and eliminated two of his assistant coach positions. He elevated freshman coach Horace Hendrickson to head football coach. Nothing seemed to work, however, and I Edwards, who was recently elected as part of the second class of the NC State Athletic Hall of Fame, built a winning program, secured a new home for Wolfpack football and stabilized the finances of the athletics department. photo courtesy nc state media relations the program, which had won only one league championship (the 1927 Southern Conference title) and played in one postseason game (the 1947 Gator Bowl) in its first 61 seasons of varsity competition, continued to founder. The faculty was in favor of getting rid of the sport because they had never really warmed to Feathers, Hendrickson or the ruffian recruits they brought in from out of state. Harrelson's call to action had some impact. Boosters stepped forward to donate or loan the money needed to pay off the athletics department and Wolfpack Club debts. Still, scholarships had to be cut in all sports, leaving football with a meager total of 15, down from 35 full grants and 72 total awards in previous years. And those 15 scholarships were only good for the fall semester, not the following spring. The athletics department even cashed in some war bonds worth about $7,000 to pay the football coaches' salaries. Every sport had its travel and recruiting budgets slashed, though legendary basketball coach Everett Case had already exceeded his recruiting budget by $5,000. Basketball, with its great success, was not the problem. By the end of the 1953 football season — when the Wolfpack went 1-9 and generated barely $40,000 in gate receipts at the woefully inadequate 19,000-seat Riddick Stadium — Clogston had to let Hendrickson and his staff go so he didn't have to pay their salaries. With all of that, the athletics department was still about $20,000 short of its annual budget. A confluence of multiple events — including the formation of the Atlantic Coast Conference in the summer of 1953 — helped fix the finances in NC State athletics. Among all others, however, the person who should get the majority of the credit for saving NC State football was Earle Larue Edwards, the Michigan State assistant and Penn State graduate who was hired, amid all the difficult circumstances, to be the Wolfpack's football coach in February 1954. Edwards, recently elected as part of the second class of the NC State Athletic Hall of Fame, was a wry, soft-spoken giant who built a winning program, secured a new home for Wolfpack football and stabilized the finances of the athletics department. "Some people said there was no way NC State could have a competitive major college team," Edwards said during his 1974 induction into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. "We had to come to grips with the school's 'step-sister' status, especially where football was concerned. There was a severe dearth of money and facilities. Riddick Stadium did not lend a proper atmosphere for football, and we only had 13 scholarships that first year. "Not many North Carolina boys even wanted to visit campus. And we couldn't afford to pay the plane fares for out-of-state prospects to visit. We had to drive them down from Pennsylvania." The Greensburg, Pa., native brought with him defensive coordinator Al Michaels and line coach Bill Smaltz, who were both Pennsylvania natives, Penn State grads and former Nittany Lions assistants, and he kept them with him throughout his tenure. "It was discouraging at first," Edwards said of his tenure at NC State. "It was awfully hard for us to interest players here in the state. We had to go outside." It was a remarkable turnaround from the days when the sport was nearly eliminated. "Earle Edwards is the best thing that ever happened to athletics at NC State College," said Harry Stewart, the director of the Wolfpack Club when Edwards was hired. "He brought a staff with him that all graduated from Penn State and had been up in Michigan. They could sit and talk with the faculty. Their wives played bridge with our wives. 152  ■  the wolfpacker 152,154.Pack Past.indd 152 7/1/13 10:38 AM

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