Henry Russell Sanders
Sanders, circa 1955
May 7, 1905|
Asheville, North Carolina
|Died||August 14, 1958
Los Angeles, California
|Coaching career (HC unless noted)|
|Administrative career (AD unless noted)|
|Head coaching record|
|Accomplishments and honors|
|1 National (1954)
3 PCC (1953–1955)
|AFCA Coach of the Year (1954)|
|College Football Hall of Fame
Inducted in 1996 (profile)
Henry Russell "Red" Sanders (May 7, 1905 – August 14, 1958) was an American football player and coach. He was head coach at Vanderbilt University (1940–1942, 1946–1948) and the University of California at Los Angeles (1949–1957), compiling a career college football record of 102–41–3 (.709). Sanders' 1954 UCLA team was named national champions by the Coaches Poll and the Football Writers Association of America. Sanders was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1996.
Known for being witty and hard driving, Sanders used the single-wing formation at Vanderbilt and UCLA. He is widely credited with coining the saying, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing". When asked about the UCLA–USC rivalry, Sanders said "it's not a matter of life and death, it's more important than that!"
Born in Asheville, North Carolina, Sanders spent most of his youth in Nashville, Tennessee. One of his best boyhood friends and classmate at Duncan was renowned sports writer Fred Russell, with whom he would remain close friends his entire life.
Sanders attended college at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He was a four-year letterman both in football and baseball. Sanders was captain of the baseball team in his senior year and the quarterback on the football team. His football coach, Dan McGugin, said of him, "Red Sanders has one of the best football minds I have ever known."
He also had a successful stint as head coach at Vanderbilt, compiling a 36–22–2 (.617) record, the best mark by a coach while the school has been a member of the Southeastern Conference. Highlights included
- A stunning upset of #7 ranked Alabama on November 22, 1941, in a driving rainstorm in Nashville; up to that time, only the second time in Commodore history where they defeated a ranked team.
- The first top-20 ranking in the school history in 1947, where the team was ranked #10 after opening the season with two wins. The team defended its ranking with a defeat of #18 Mississippi, the first time Vanderbilt played a ranked school while ranked.
- An eight-game winning string to end the 1948 season, including a ranking in the final poll and a defeat of arch rival Tennessee. This still stands as the second longest single-season win streak in Vanderbilt football history.
Sanders coached the UCLA Bruins from 1949 through 1957. He was arguably the best coach in school history, with an overall record of 66–19–1 (.773) at UCLA and earned the school its only national championship in football in 1954. As head coach of the Bruins, Sanders led them to three Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) titles, two Rose Bowls (1953 and 1955 seasons) and to a 6–3 record over arch-rival USC.
Sanders instituted the distinctive football uniforms worn by the Bruins when he replaced the navy blue jerseys with "powderkeg blue," added the shoulder stripe to give the impression of motion, and changed the number style from block to clarendon. Sanders said these changes were made to make it easier to see his Bruins on the grainy black and white game films of the time.
The 1954 Bruins compiled a 9–0 record and climbed to the top of the Coaches Poll, sharing the national championship with Ohio State, winner of the AP Poll's title. Due to the PCC's early "no repeat" rule, the undefeated Bruins were unable to compete in the Rose Bowl that season despite being the PCC champion. Second-place USC, who the Bruins defeated 34–0, played in the 1955 Rose Bowl instead and lost to Big Ten Conference champion and eventual co-national champion Ohio State, 20–7.
Shortly before the 1958 season, Sanders died suddenly of a heart attack in a Los Angeles hotel room with a convicted prostitute on August 14. His assistant coach George W. Dickerson rushed in on an interim basis to take his place for the first three games, suffered a nervous breakdown, and was replaced by William F. Barnes.
Winning isn't every thing, it's the only thing
Sanders actually spoke two different versions of the quote. In 1950, at a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo physical education workshop, Sanders told his group: "Men, I'll be honest. Winning isn't everything. (Long pause.) Men, it's the only thing!" In 1955, in a Sports Illustrated article preceding the 1956 Rose Bowl, he was quoted as saying "Sure, winning isn't every thing, It's the only thing." The quote has since been erroneously attributed to Vince Lombardi as the originator.
Beating 'SC is not a matter of life or death, It's more important than that
- 1946 Blue-Gray Game, Montgomery, Alabama, Coach
- 1951 East-West Shrine Game, San Francisco, California, Coach
- 1952 College All-Star Game, Chicago, Illinois, Coach
- 1952 North-South Shrine Game, Miami, Florida, Coach
- 1953, 1954, and 1957 Football Coach of the Year - Los Angeles Times National Sports Awards Dinner
- 1954 Coach of the Year - National Collegiate Football Coaches' Association and the Touchdown Club of Washington, D.C.
- 1984 UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame (Charter Member)
- 1996 College Football Hall of Fame
Head coaching record
|Vanderbilt Commodores (Southeastern Conference) (1940–1942)|
|Vanderbilt Commodores (Southeastern Conference) (1946–1948)|
|UCLA Bruins (Pacific Coast Conference) (1949–1957)|
|National championship Conference title Conference division title|
|#Rankings from final Coaches Poll.
°Rankings from final AP Poll.
- Sayre, Joe (December 26, 1955). "He flies on one wing". Sports Illustrated. p. 29.
- Alabama Crimson Tide 1941 Season Summary (PDF copy at www.rolltide.com)
- "'Athlete's heart' killed Sanders". Milwaukee Journal. Associated Press. August 16, 1958. p. 12.
- Murray, James (August 25, 1958). "Red Sanders". Sports Illustrated. p. 26.[dead link]
- Rosenbaum, Art - INDIANS FAR FROM BASHFUL AT CHOW, Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, Calif.: Oct 18, 1950. p. C3 (1 page)
- The Start of Something Big: USC vs. UCLA by Lonnie White, marking 75 years of the UCLA-USC rivalry
- Burke, Anne (Editor) - Summer 2004 Bruin Walk: Rah-rah Boo-hiss. UCLA Magazine, summer 2004
- Adam Karon, Red Scare, The Daily Bruin, January 20, 2000.
- Milestones, Time, August 25, 1958.
- University of California: In Memoriam: Henry Russell Sanders - University of California (System) Academic Senate. April 1960.
- UCLA Bruins football media guide (PDF copy available at www.uclabruins.com)
- Vanderbilt Commodores football media guide (PDF copy available at www.vucommodores.com)
- Rose, Adam - August 14, 1958: The saddest date in UCLA football history. Los Angeles Times Blogs, "What's Bruin?", August 13, 2007
- Henry Russell Sanders at the College Football Hall of Fame
- Henry Russell Sanders at the College Football Data Warehouse
- University of California Digital Library Henry Russell Sanders: Los Angeles
- Los Angeles Times August 2008