William Anderson Alexander

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William Anderson Alexander

William Anderson Alexander (June 6,1889 -April 23,1950) served as the head coach of Georgia Institute of Technology's football team from 1920 to 1944. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1950. Prior to his coaching career at Georgia Tech, William Alexander was a student at Georgia Tech. Being a student and an assistant coach, William Alexander was recognized by John Heisman, who was his predecessor, and set forth a pathway for other successors who would bring acclaim to Georgia Institute of Technology athletics. As head coach of Georgia Tech football, he led the team to three Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association titles (1920,1921,1922) and a national championship title in 1928.

Contents

Childhood

William Anderson Alexander was born June 6, 1889 in Mud River, Kentucky. His father invested in a coal mining operation that later was abandoned due to many unfortunate circumstances. Before William Alexander ever had a chance to mature into an adult, his father died from tuberculosis, and his mother was left to take care of him and his sister. His mother was a respected educator who moved from school to school to make a living for the family. Due to the struggling familial situation, William Alexander did not have a strong background in education. He always had the inspiration and determination to become a doctor, but he gave it up so that his mother would not have to incur the financial stress of medical school. He decided to become an engineer in order to have a higher chance of an income-producing job right after he graduated.[1]

College Years

William Anderson Alexander in his football uniform

At age 16, William Anderson Alexander went to the Office of Registrar to enroll into the Georgia Institute of Technology.[2] His enrollment as an apprentice student was only due to the fact that he lacked a proper high school background; however, he graduated at the top of his class as valedictorian with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering, although he did not pass elementary algebra and plane geometry during his prior schooling.[3] He was also a brother of the Kappa Sigma fraternity.

During his college career, Alexander was not good enough to play for the varsity football team of the Georgia Institute of Technology, but Coach John Heisman appointed him the captain of the scrub team during his collegiate education.

After graduation, he was hired as the assistant coach of Georgia Tech’s football team under the direction of Coach Heisman.

Post-College

William Anderson Alexander in an army suit

At the same time that John Heisman was inducted in the Georgia Institute of Technology Alumni, Alexander was drafted and sent off to World War I in Saumur, France in 1918. Alexander’s job consisted of teaching soldiers the mechanics of field artillery. After the war ended, the demobilization of the army was slow. Alexander was appointed to organize athletic activities such as basketball, baseball, tennis, handball, and football to occupy the soldiers' time. [4]

On his return from the war, he was named the head coach of the football team for Georgia Institute of Technology. He was also involved academically at Georgia Tech as he taught mathematics during the school semesters. Alexander became the coach of the basketball team for four seasons, and was well respected by athletes as well as faculty members. Although he was seen as a tough coach, Alexander was always there for the athletes in times of emergency. He managed to buy homes for players who could not afford one at the time. While he was a respected member of Georgia Tech's faculty, he was a quiet strategist who accentuated on the football team’s strength to win games. To coordinate each football play, he would draw out the route for each player to avoid confusion when handling the football. This type of communication tactic with the football players allowed Alexander to keep enthusiasm when the team lost. Rather than resorting to harsh criticism after a game, Coach Alexander formulated a strategy that allowed the team to learn from mistakes, and most of all, he kept hope within his players.

Coach Alexander kneeling

During the year of 1928, the football season started well for the Georgia Tech football team. This was the only year in which Georgia Tech football beat Notre Dame during Alexander’s reign. Alexander enacted the “Plan” which was a decisive strategy and training session meant to allow the Georgia Tech football team to win the next three games and ultimately beat the University of Georgia's football team. To ensure that the team was going to go through with the “Plan”, the team was asked by Alexander to beat the football giant, Vanderbilt. However, when facing Vanderbilt, the team lost. The Georgia Tech football team was in silence in the locker room after that game. However, Coach Alexander separated the team into two groups and started enacting the “Plan”. The first group was to face the next three games and the second group was to play the last game. All four of the games were won including the rivalry game against the University of Georgia. The Georgia Tech football team earned the title as National Champions that year.[5]

In mid season 1930, Alexander sent out his line coach as a scout for a future opponent. Through an unfortunate circumstance, the line coach never made it in time for the game that he was originally supposed to scout. However, the line coach came back to Alexander to say that an analysis from Bobby Dodd was more valuable than any other report of that game. After reading of Robert Lee Dodd (Bobby Dodd) in the newspaper, Coach Alexander recruited Dodd as an assistant football coach. [6]

Life away from Coaching

His life outside of football was as an independent bachelor. When Christmas Eve came, he would climb onto the “Dixie Flyer” train to Chicago to enjoy the day. Instead of accepting the gracious invitation from his close friends to spend Christmas Eve, William Alexander preferred serene conversation with the dining car steward, who happened to be a close friend of Alexander. Since most people spent their Christmas Eve at their homes, the train ride was spent peacefully and lazily. The next day, they would ride the train back down to Atlanta in the alleviated calmness of conversation.[7]

Retirement

William Anderson Alexander retired from coaching in 1944 and took the position as Athletic Director until his death in 1950. During his football coaching career, he took the Georgia Tech team to four football bowls. Alexander’s record was 134 wins, 95 losses, 8 ties. However, his successor, Robert Lee Dodd (Bobby Dodd) had a better winning streak than Coach Alexander. Closer to Alexander's death, he worked on fund-raising money to build a physical fitness building to lessen the number of boys who could not pass the minimum fitness requirements to join the Army. He created a varsity team competition to go along with the completion of the new building. His new passion to create healthier students was carried on after his death by people who came together to complete the project. [8]

Alexander Memorial Coliseum

William Anderson Alexander was inducted posthumously into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1950.

The Alexander Memorial Coliseum was built in 1956 is named after Coach Alexander. Although Coach Alexander is noted more for the accomplishments in Georgia Tech football, the Alexander Memorial Coliseum was used to host basketball games and practice sessions for the Atlanta Hawks. [9]

Sources

References

  1. "The Scenes of His Childhood". William Anderson Alexander Papers. Box 1 Series 1. Retrieved on October 8, 2010.
  2. William Anderson Alexander Biography. In Georgia Tech Official Athletic Site. Retrieved on October 8, 2010 from http://ramblinwreck.cstv.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/alexander_william00.html
  3. "As the Twig is Bent". William Anderson Alexander Papers. Box 1 Series 1. Retrieved on October 8, 2010.
  4. "Assistant Coach then Off to War". William Anderson Alexander Papers. Box 1 Series 1. Retrieved on October 8, 2010.
  5. "The Great Game and How It Was Won". William Anderson Alexander Papers. Box 1 Series 1. Retrieved on October 8, 2010
  6. William Anderson Alexander Biography. In Georgia Tech Official Athletic Site. Retrieved on October 8, 2010 from http://ramblinwreck.cstv.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/alexander_william00.html
  7. William Anderson Alexander Biography. In Georgia Tech Official Athletic Site. Retrieved on October 8, 2010 from http://ramblinwreck.cstv.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/alexander_william00.html
  8. "Now It's Our Turn To Carry The Ball for Georgia Tech and Coach Alexander 1950". Alexander Memorial Coliseum Campaign Records. Box 1 Series 1. Retrieved on October 7, 2010
  9. Alexander Memorial Colieum. (October 20, 2010). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved on October 8, 2010 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Memorial_Coliseum
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