Vaughn Mancha Was One Of Tide's Best

Word came last week that Vaughn Mancha, who had been ill for some time, had died in Tallahassee, Florida. He was best known as an FSU athletics director who got the Seminoles on the road to sports respectability. Before that, though, among other things he was one of Alabama's all-time great football players.

Vaughn Mancha started every game for four years at Alabama (1944-47) and was a consensus All-America in 1945. He is a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and was selected to the Alabama Team of the Century. He was inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1990.

Several years ago I was asked to do a book, "What It Means To Be Crimson Tide," featuring some 62 former Bama players sharing their memories of being a part of Alabama football. Here is the segment I did with Vaughn Mancha:

I fell in love with The University of Alabama at an early age, when I was playing football at Ramsay High School in Birmingham. There were so many things I appreciated about the opportunity I had. I was a poor kid, but I was lucky enough to have the skills to play for Alabama, which meant I was going to get three meals a day and not have to sleep with my big brother any more. And I was lucky enough to have a coach, Frank Thomas, who stressed education.

And everything about it I appreciate even more today. My career in athletics and education has been mostly at Florida State, but my heart has always been at Alabama.

When I was growing up, The University of Alabama was a favorite destination for a lot of Ramsay High School graduates. And I used to go to Legion Field and watch Alabama play. I had such great admiration for guys like Dixie Howell and Don Hutson. And because I was a center, I really loved to watch Carey Cox. I tried to emulate him.

I've tried to apply the lessons I learned from Coach Thomas throughout my life as a player, coach, administrator, and professor. Coach Thomas wanted every player to earn his degree. If you needed aid after your playing days, he would make sure you got it. I actually finished the work for my undergraduate degree just before my final game at Alabama. Coach Red Drew was our coach that last year after Coach Thomas became so ill.

I signed a professional football contract with the Boston Yanks, who are now the Indianapolis Colts. I was a number-one draft choice and signed for $7,500 plus a $2,500 signing bonus. In those days that made you a rich man.

I tore up my knee and ended my playing career, but I was able to take advantage of the deal for academic aid at Alabama and went back and got my master's degree in 1950. I actually got a little beyond the master's degree, which would prove important.

That's how I got my first job in athletics. Livingston needed a coach, but you also had to be a professor and be beyond the master's level.

I enjoyed my time at Livingston. I particularly remember a game when we were going to play Florida State in Selma. I thought Cliff Harper, who was the best high school official in Alabama, was going to call the game, but there was a mix-up and no one ever contacted him. So we were ready to play and didn't have an officiating crew. We pulled some people out of the stands to officiate. We beat Florida State and I told them later that three of the officials had been my teammates at Alabama. And actually, one of them had been.

That may have led to me getting a coaching job at Florida State under Tom Nugent. I was defensive coordinator and also served as a professor for six years. I went to Columbia in 1957 and was defensive coordinator and a professor while working on my doctorate.

I went back to Florida State in 1959 as athletics director. I left athletics in 1971, but stayed on as a professor until I retired in 1990. One of the highlights of my career as athletics director was when we opened the season in Birmingham against Alabama. Alabama had won national championships in 1964 and 1965 and gone undefeated in 1966, giving up just 37 points all year. It was quite a night in Birmingham. The scoreboard went out and when the game ended it was a 37-37 tie.

One of my classmates at Alabama was Claude Kirk. Later, when I was athletics director at FSU, Claude Kirk was elected governor of Florida. We got a lot of things done here in those days.

My career in athletics has enabled me to know some great people. I loved going to the coaches conventions and being able to visit with Coach Bryant and people like that. Tom Landry was on the Texas team that beat us in the Sugar Bowl in my last game at Alabama, and I enjoyed knowing him when he was coach of the Dallas Cowboys. And I coached some guys who did pretty well, like Lee Corso of ESPN, who was a great running back; and (actor) Burt Reynolds, who wasn't as good a player; and at Columbia I coached (actor) Brian Denehey. He said he couldn't understand a redneck like me, but he understood a kick in the butt.

But my fondest memories are of my playing days at Alabama. I actually signed with Alabama in 1941, but because of World War II I?didn't get there until 1944. When I was six years old we were playing bow and arrow and I got an eye put out, but I still had to do something. I joined the Merchant Navy and was in the Pacific for a couple of years. And somehow I got out in time to get to The University for the 1944 season.

Those were wonderful times with wonderful people. We went to two Sugar Bowls and one Rose Bowl. The first one was one of the great games ever against a powerful Duke team in the Sugar Bowl, and we came within a shoestring tackle of winning that game.

After the 1945 season we went to the Rose Bowl. We got up 27-0 on Southern Cal and won easily, 34-14, to finish undefeated. That was the last time Alabama went to the Rose Bowl. After that game the Rose Bowl signed a contract with the Big Ten to be the visiting team.

One of the great things about playing then as opposed to now is the time factor. Today you get on a jet, go to the game, and after the game get back on a jet and go home. I think it must have taken us about half a month to go to California and back for that Rose Bowl game. They took professors with us to tutor us. The train would stop every few hundred miles for us to practice and to meet fans.

When we got to California, we got to go to Johnny Mack Brown's ranch. He had been a great player at Alabama and was a famous movie star. We met Erroll Flynn on the set. He was making "Robin Hood." He was about 6-5 and really built and wearing those tights. We wanted to dress him out.

And over the years I kept up with my teammates. But now I look at a picture of that last Rose Bowl team and see so many who are no longer with us. My time as a player at Alabama was very special. I have a lot of great memories of the thrills we had.

I've been awfully fortunate to have honors come my way. When I was inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame, one of my students was Deion Sanders. He was impressed. He said, "I didn't know you were bad." I told him I had been 228 pounds with Deion speed.

You never know how Alabama football is going to help you. When I was at Columbia I got pulled over for speeding. The policeman was from Alabama and recognized my name from my playing days and let me off with a warning.

I make trips to Alabama as often as I can. Unfortunately, some of them are for funerals of old friends. But my son graduated from the Alabama medical school and is a doctor in Montgomery. I wish I could have spent more time in Alabama following the Crimson Tide, but I was always tied up at another school. Now we're active in the Alabama alumni association in Tallahassee.

I've had a great life. I think working in athletics helped keep me young. And I owe it all to The University of Alabama.

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