This year, for the first time in 68 years, a McGugin will pace the Dudley Field sidelines for Vanderbilt football games.
Not as head coach, mind you. Not as an assistant coach. Not even as a graduate assistant. You could hardly hold a lower position on the football staff than Bill McGugin's-- his official position is listed in the media guide as "Intern, Athletic Dept. - Football".
But on college football teams, no job, as coaches like to say, is unimportant-- and the young McGugin has already begun to prove his worth to Bobby Johnson's 2002 coaching staff.
Anyone who knows Vanderbilt football history is familiar with the name Dan McGugin. The Hall of Fame coach guided the Commodores to 197 wins between 1904 and 1934, making him easily the winningest coach in school history. His era is remembered as the golden era of Vanderbilt football. McGugin Center is named after him.
During the McGugin years, the mere name "Vanderbilt" inspired fear on gridirons across the South. (No, I'm not making any of this up. You youngsters can look it up.)
Dan McGugin died in 1937, and Vanderbilt football essentially hasn't been the same since. But late last year, Senior Associate Athletic Director Brad Bates offered McGugin's great-grandson Bill a job as an intern with the football support staff. It wasn't a job with a lot of glory or high pay.
But it was too much for the Nashville native to pass up.
"I'm just the low man on the totem pole," says McGugin, "and I kind of play a servant role. I just do whatever they need me to do."
In time, it might lead the 20-ish intern into a career path in college coaching. But for the time being, no job is too small for him. He fills a myriad of roles to assist the new coaching staff.
A former member of Vanderbilt's tennis team, McGugin collected his Economics degree in 2000 and parlayed it into an entry-level position in investment banking for a year after his graduation. But inside he yearned for an opportunity to get back to the gridiron.
"I had played football at MBA, and my brother and father both coached football at MBA," said McGugin. "My father coached here a long time ago, and he's coached over at MBA for years in addition to his law practice. My brother is a running backs coach at MBA.
"My great-grandfather of course coached here, and my grandfather played football here too. So football's been in my blood, and I felt like it was time to give it a shot.
"Believe me, I would not have left my job with the investment bank if I had not had a strong passion for it. It's what I love to do."
While an undergraduate at Vanderbilt, McGugin moonlighted as an assistant football coach at nearby MBA and gained valuable coaching experience under the highly respected Ricky Bowers. After graduation he stayed in communication with Bates regarding his desire to work at McGugin Center. Bates gave him his big opportunity after Coach Woody Widenhofer resigned last November.
Initially McGugin was asked to help with the recruiting transition, and it didn't take long for him to prove himself invaluable to the new staff. With his extensive knowledge of both the high schools and the football coaches in Middle Tennessee, McGugin was of tremendous value in helping the new staff assemble a recruiting class in the hectic six weeks between Coach Johnson's hire and national signing day.
NCAA regulations prevent McGugin from contacting players in person-- only coaches can do that. But McGugin called high schools, drove the coaches to appointments, and introduced them to the unfamiliar Tennessee recruiting landscape.
"Coach Johnson allowed me to stay on," says McGugin gratefully. "Since then I've just done whatever they needed me to do. I came here to learn as much football as I could, and I couldn't have ended up with a better staff. Not only are they incredible football coaches, but they treat people like me so well."
In Bobby Johnson's highly regimented practice sessions, every member of the support staff has a role. McGugin's is to assist running backs coach Charlie Fisher-- he holds dummies, chases down balls, whatever Fisher needs. As an intern he is not allowed to actually "coach" players. But he listens carefully, participates in the drills, and soaks up all the football he can. In scrimmages he stands near offensive coordinator Ted Cain and carefully listens as Cain directs the offense.
In Vanderbilt's recruiting effort, which goes on virtually 365 days a year, McGugin helps compose letters to prospects, and assists graduate assistants Ryan McSwain and Andrew Kerr with their duties. McGugin and the graduate assistants, to hear some insiders tell it, have played a key role in helping Vandy already land several noteworthy blue-chip commitments for the 2003 class.
McGugin is justifiably proud of his family tree. He's pleased to be able to say he's the great-grandson and namesake of the winningest coach in Vanderbilt history-- though he quickly adds, "It wouldn't bother me at all if Coach Johnson took over that record."
The stories and legends about his great-grandfather Dan have filtered down to Bill through the generations.
"I was always told that he [Dan] was not only a great coach, but a great people person," says Bill. "He had a great sense of humor and a great way of communicating with the players. He was able to pull one aside and make him feel like he was talking just to that boy-- and then do the exact same thing with another player.
"He just had a great relationship with the players, and they liked him and wanted to play for him."
The year 2004 will mark 100 years since Dan McGugin, a protégé of legendary Michigan coach Fielding Yost, came south to coach the Commodores and lead them to an era of unparalleled glory.
Whether Bobby Johnson can restore Vanderbilt football to the glory it enjoyed during the Dan McGugin era remains to be seen. But it's hard to see how having a McGugin on the sideline could hurt.