Josh Cody: The Other Side Of The Coin
The story of Vanderbilt’s Irby “Rabbit” Curry was and is the saddest of stories – inspiring, yes, but also rooted in the pain of knowing that just a short while (weeks) after his death, World War I came to an end. All deaths hurt the same and count the same, but those right before the end of a prolonged and punishing conflict carry an extra sting. Curry’s life was cut short within that context, adding to the weight of his absence in the decades that followed. However, for every scenario such as the one in which Curry’s life ended, there are other, happier scenarios in which lives escape the hell of mortal combat and are able to blossom, enriching countless lives.
One very real example – not just from Vanderbilt University, but from a contemporary of Rabbit Curry – is Josh Cody, a teammate on the great VU teams of 1915 and 1916.
As legendary a player as Curry was, Cody belonged in the same breath, every ounce the powerhouse Curry proved to be on the gridiron. Playing tackle on both offense and defense while also being able to perform spot duties at quarterback, running back, and placekicker, Cody filled so many gaps for the Commodores, and moreover, he did so at the highest levels of performance. He remains, to this day, the only Vanderbilt athlete to be named a three-time All-American (1914, 1915, and 1919). He exists on the short list of the greatest players in the first 50 years of college football history, from 1869 to 1919.
You’ll note, though, that Cody’s second and third All-America seasons were separated by a few years. He played in 1916 (and didn’t snag an All-American honor), but in 1917 and 1918, he served as a lieutenant in World War I. That brutal conflict – violent with technology just primitive enough to extend the length of combat – worked against the notion that a young man could pull off a two-year stint. Yet, Cody was able to get through two years, and after that third All-America season in 1919, he was able to continue to enjoy a career in athletics, one which prominently featured Vanderbilt itself but included more ties to VU at other schools.
Cody wasn’t just a football man. He played basketball, baseball and track, collecting a total of thirteen letters during his collegiate playing career. His experiences in basketball led him into a prolonged coaching career which accompanied a football coaching career as well. He was a basketball head coach at VU, and he was also a football assistant under Dan McGugin, the Commodore icon who coached him as a player, for nine seasons in two separate tenures, the first one in the mid-1920s. After a stay at Clemson in the late 1920s and into 1930, Cody was lured back by McGugin in 1931 with the expectation that when McGugin stepped down, Cody would get the head coaching position. When McGugin did retire in 1934, though, a faction prevented him from ascending to the top spot. Ray Morrison – a successful and nomadic coach who had also played for McGugin (several years before Cody) – became VU’s head coach. In a fascinating intersection of fate and opportunity, Morrison and Cody teamed up several years down the line in 1940. Morrison, then at Temple, hired Cody as his line coach. Cody, who won the 1927 Southern Conference basketball championship at Vanderbilt, became Temple’s head basketball coach when he wasn’t working on Morrison’s football staff. Under Cody, Temple made the Elite Eight in the 1944 NCAA Basketball Tournament. Cody completed his long career in collegiate athletics by serving as Temple’s athletic director, a post he held from 1952 through 1959.
(You realize what this means, then: In the 1993 Sweet 16 in Seattle, the Temple-Vanderbilt clash inside the Kingdome was basically the Josh Cody Game. One wonders if any sportswriters referred to the game in such a manner at the time.)
All in all, Cody coached at five different schools, one which he played for and one which he led from an administrative position. He coached four of those schools in both football and basketball. He didn’t live long enough to see the day, but he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1970, an honor he fully deserved. Though his career began and took root entirely in the South, his move to Temple enabled him to leave a positive mark on a community in a different corner of the country for nearly two full decades.
That’s a full and enriching life, one that was able to see its 69th birthday. Cody died six days after that birthday on June 17, 1961.
Vanderbilt athletes in the 1920s and 1930s were able to benefit from receiving Cody’s hard-won wisdom. It’s a wisdom that wouldn’t have been able to be shared if Cody had been cut down in combat in 1917 and 1918. War isn’t happy, but Josh Cody survived it, and collegiate athletics in the first half of the 20th century were improved on many levels and in many places as a result.
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