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Monday December 11, 2006Norm Carlson Looks Back... - Bob Woodruff

Gainesville, FL

The modern era of football at the University of Florida started in l950 when Bob Woodruff was hired as head football coach and director of athletics with the authority to reshape the program on the field and off.

Woodruff was hired on Jan. 6, 1950 at a Board of Control meeting on the campus of FSU in Tallahassee. He was given a seven-year contract at $17,000 to leave his post as head coach at Baylor and join the Gators.

He inherited a program that had won only two Southeastern Conference games in the previous four years and was 18-57-6 in its 17 years in the league. Sewanee, which dropped out of the SEC after 37 consecutive losses in eight years, was the only league school with a worse record.

Woodruff produced a 29-32-2 SEC record from l950-59, putting the football program on firm footing and the athletic program in far better condition than he found it.

His contributions included:

1. Setting up a schedule policy to play SEC opponents on a home and home basis, with Gator home games played in Gainesville, and the Georgia game to remain in Jacksonville. Florida had traditionally played many home games at neutral sites, and faced some conference opponents on the road without a return game from them.

2. Reorganizing Gator Boosters to help fund the athletic scholarship program for all sports. Florida became one of the first schools in the country to require a per-seat contribution system as a priority in the purchase of season football tickets.

3. Creating a separate Department of Athletics, housed in the stadium, with the athletic director reporting directly to the president of the university.  Intercollegiate athletics had been housed in the physical education department and reported the dean of that college.

4. Borrowed funds to add over 11,000 west stand seats and a new press box at Florida Field, bringing capacity to over 40,000.

His teams featured outstanding linemen, defensive toughness and a solid kicking game. Scores of 7-6 and 10-7 became normal for Gator games, as did very conservative play calling on offense. In 1958, for example, in succession the Gators tied Vanderbilt 6-6, lost to eventual national champion LSU 10-7 in Baton Rouge, lost to defending national champion and then fourth-ranked Auburn 6-5, and beat Georgia 7-6.
Woodruff’s teams produced three players who were named first-team All-America. All of them were linemen who earned their plaudits primarily on the defensive side of the ball. Charlie LaPradd (l952), John Barrow (l956) and Vel Heckman (l958) also played in the offensive line, but they were notable as interior defensive linemen.

Prior to l950 the Gators were 5-21-1 against Georgia. Woodruff’s teams finished 6-4 against the Bulldogs, setting the stage for a huge turn around in the series. From 1950 forward, Florida’s record against Georgia is 31-24-1.

The signature victory in the Woodruff years came in the l952 Georgia game. The underdog Gators dominated the Bulldogs to win 30-0, the largest margin for Florida in the series. Rick Casares, one of the finest all- around athletes in Florida history, carried 27 times for 108 yards, scored one touchdown, kicked three extra points and a field goal. Buford Long ran 77 yards for another TD.

The win put Florida in its first bowl game, a contest against Tulsa in the Gator Bowl Classic.

That 1952 team featured tackle Charlie LaPradd, the first All-America interior lineman at Florida. LaPradd was a World War II paratrooper who was not only a great football player; he was a tough and smart team leader who played on both sides of the ball during his Gator career.

The backfield was one of the best in Gator history.  Casares, Long and J. (Poppa) Hall were all outstanding athletes with size, speed and ability. Doug Dickey was an unselfish, intelligent quarterback who made those around him better players.

Steve DeLaTorre lettered from l952-55 as a center-linebacker and was first team All-SEC at both positions during his career. He was co-captain of the l955 team, and a commander in the student ROTC program. An honor student, DeLaTorre was one of the finest players of the Woodruff era.

Jackie Simpson (l953-56), Jimmy Dunn (l956-58) and Jimmy Rountree (l955-57) were other great all around backs that played offensive, defense and returned punts and kickoffs. Their teammates included the best two kickers in school history---Don Chandler and Bobby Joe Green—both of whom went on to become All-Pro in the NFL.

Woodruff’s philosophy of conservative offense, concentrating on defense and the kicking game to keep games close, was coupled with years regarded by fans as sub par in l958 and 1959. When his 1959 team finished 5-4-1, including a 13-13 tie against lowly Rice –the Gators punted on third down from near midfield late in the game—it set off a spin downward with four consecutive defeats.

The Woodruff period from l950-59 produced a vast improvement in Florida football, but it was time to move on to a more dynamic gridiron leadership.

Norm Carlson recently retired from the University Athletic Association after 40 years of service. Carlson serves as historian for Gator athletics and will contribute a regular column to gatorzone.com.

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