January 4, 1898|
|Died||April 9, 1983
|1917||Middle Tennessee State|
|Coaching career (HC unless noted)|
|Administrative career (AD unless noted)|
|1973||Vanderbilt (interim AD)|
|Head coaching record|
|Accomplishments and honors|
1 SIAA (as player) (1921)
2 Southern (as player) (1921, 1922)
4 SWC (1946, 1949, 1953, 1957)
|Amos Alonzo Stagg Award (1967)|
|College Football Hall of Fame
Inducted in 1971 (profile)
Jess Claiborne Neely (January 4, 1898 – April 9, 1983) was an American football player and coach of football and baseball. He served as the head football coach at Southwestern University—now Rhodes College (1924–1927), Clemson University (1931–1939), and Rice University (1940–1966), compiling a career college football record of 207–176–19. Neely was also the head baseball coach at the University of Alabama (1929–1930), Clemson (1932–1938), and Rice (1945, 1948), tallying a career college baseball mark of 109–108–5. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1971.
Jess was born January 4, 1898 in Smyrna, Tennessee to William Daniel Neely, Sr. and Mary Elizabeth Gooch. His father William died of sunstroke in 1900. His brother Bill Neely, Jr. was captain of the undefeated 1910 Vanderbilt football team and an All-Southern selection. The 1910 team tied defending national champion Yale.
Middle Tennessee State
The First Fifty Years: A History of Middle Tennessee State College speaks of Neely's days playing for Middle Tennessee State Normal School: "Jess Neely, a brilliant half-back and a handsome man on the campus, is remembered for his popularity among members of the opposite sex and for an incident that occurred just prior to a football game with Southern Presbyterian in Clarksville. Miles had done an exceptionally good job in mentally preparing his team for the game. He climaxed the pre-game, locker-room exhortation with a soaring call for courage and deathless allegiance to "dear Ol' Normal." Neely was greatly affected by the words of his coach for he leaped to his feet and, roaring like an angry bull, led the team in a rush to the doorway opening to the field. He misjudged the extremely low entrance, and his head received the full impact of the strip of wall above the doorway. He was revived shortly before the kickoff, but he never quite knew where he was, frequently huddling and aligning himself with the enemy." That team included Preston Vaughn Overall and Rupert Smith, who joined Neely again on the Vanderbilt team of 1921.
Neely played college football at Vanderbilt University from 1920 to 1922 under head coach Dan McGugin. He was captain and halfback of the undefeated 1922 team, and its best passer. Neely was a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity.
In the game against Tennessee, the Commodores were to expect a "hard game against the university rivals." The Commodores went on to upset the Volunteers by a score of 20 to 0. All three of Vandy's touchdowns were owed to passes from Neely to Gink Hendrick. A long pass from Neely in the first quarter hit Hendrick, who ran the extra 25 yards needed for the score. Hendrick ran to the 4-yard line on a pass from Neely in the second quarter. The first half came to a close with the ball in Vanderbilt's possession at Tennessee's one-foot line. Hendrick yet again caught another touchdown, this time a 30-yard pass from Neely, in the fourth quarter. Two weeks later the Commodores were defeated 56–6 by one of Auburn's greatest teams. It was then and for long afterwards the second worst defeat in school history; the worst since the 83–0 loss to Georgia Tech in 1917. The Commodores managed just one first down, and never had the ball beyond their 40-yard line. Neely was one of few stars for Vanderbilt. He blocked well, and tossed Vanderbilt's only score to Hendrick, who stood in the end zone. In a "thriller from the start," Alabama beat Vanderbilt for the first time on November 6, 1920 by a score of 14–7. A forward pass from Doc Kuhn to Neely got the one Commodore touchdown. "Doc Kuhn subbing for the injured Latham was the brilliant star of the day. Doc was practically unstoppable by the Alabamians and time after time threatened to lead the team to victory," reported the Atlanta Constitution. The following week, "expecting one of the greatest football games of the year," Vanderbilt had a hard schedule of practices before the coming game with the Virginia Cavaliers. Virginia and Vanderbilt battled to a 7–7 tie. Very near the start of the game Vanderbilt came out with a swift offensive attack. Again a pass from Neely to Hendrick got a touchdown, Hendrick receiving the pass in play and running across the goal line. This year Vanderbilt opponents gained less on punt returns than against any other team in the south, due to the covering of Percy Conyers and Neely.
The second week of play in 1921 saw the Commodores face the Mercer Baptists. The Commodores won easily, 42 to 0. Neely helped score one of four touchdowns in the second quarter, with a 55-yard touchdown pass to end Tot McCullough. Neely also had a decent punt return of 25 yards in the second half. The next game against the Kentucky Wildcats had the Wildcats score on the Commodores for the first time in its history. Vanderbilt won, 21 to 14. The start of Kentucky's second possession had Lavin fumble the return, recovered by Neely on the 10-yard line. On third down after very little on first and second, Frank Godchaux ran in a touchdown around end. Rupe Smith made the other two scores. The first of these was on a drive which was first set off by a 22-yard pass from Neely to captain Pink Wade, father of famed Vanderbilt quarterback Bill Wade. One Kentucky touchdown was got due to blocking a punt from Neely. Kentucky threatened to score late and tie the game, but turned the ball over on downs at the 2-yard line. Neely sealed the game by running the ball 34 yards to the 36-yard line.
In the sixth week of play, Vanderbilt beat the Alabama Crimson Tide 14 to 0 at Birmingham. The score reflected the 'dope,' as Vandy was favored by two touchdowns. Neely played a role in both scores. Early in the first quarter, Vanderbilt had the ball in the middle of the field after an Alabama punt. Two line bucks preceded Neely connecting with Tot McCullough for about a 30-yard pass play. Neely ran for some 17 yards more through left tackle, putting the ball on the 9-yard line. After a run by Godchaux, Lynn Bomar then bucked over the line for the score. Smith kicked goal. The second scoring drive started once Paul Stumb had intercepted a pass. In the second half, quarterback Doc Kuhn was sent in, invigorating the Commodores, after having not started the game due to injuries. Neely ran for 21 yards around right end. Kuhn then hit Tot McCullough on a 25-yard pass. Rupe Smith or Doc Kuhn then ran the remaining few yards for the touchdown.
For the seventh game of the year, Vanderbilt faced the defending SIAA champions Georgia Bulldogs at Curry Field. The game was the highlight of the year on Vandy's schedule, described by The New York Times as an "important clash," ultimately deciding the champion of the SIAA. Georgia had already scored in the first half. Soon after the start of the fourth quarter, Neely intercepted a pass, weaving for a return of 25 yards to Georgia's 40-yard line before being brought down by Jim Reynolds. Two long pass attempts failed, and Thomas Ryan lined up to punt. Rupert Smith snuck in behind Ryan, and rushed to recover the 25-yard onside kick, jumping up to get the ball off the bounce among a hoard of Bulldogs, after they had let it bounce, including the outstretched arms of the Bulldogs' Hartley, and raced for a 15-yard touchdown. The game ended as a tie. The teams thus shared the SIAA championship. Vanderbilt closed the season against Sewanee, "the muddiest game in its history" The Commodores were supposedly knee-deep in mud and water, with players unrecognizable. The game went scoreless until the fourth quarter, when Sewanee fumbled the snap on a punt and the punter was smothered by the Commodores' Neely, Godchaux, and Wade for a safety. Hek Wakefield later scored a touchdown and Vanderbilt won 9 to 0.
Neely was a member of the 1921 SIAA champion Vanderbilt baseball team. Vanderbilt's yearbook The Commodore states that in a 1921 game against Southwestern Presbyterian University, the team achieved a world record in scoring 13 runs in one inning, after two men were out. The Tennessean recalls the event: "Neely singled as did Kuhn; Neil fanned but Thomas got his third straight hit and both tallied. Big Tot got hit by a pitched ball and Smith was safe on a fielder's choice with one out. Woodruf flied out to right. Tyner slammed one to center which Jetty juggled and everybody advanced a pair of sacks. Ryan was safe on another error and two runs came over. Neely beat out his second hit of the inning and Kuhn walked. Neil walked. Thomas was safe on an error and Big Tot McCullough picked one over the right field fence, clearing the sacks--but oh, what's the use? Why continue?"
Neely was captain of the undefeated 1922 team. In the second week of play, Vanderbilt beat Henderson-Brown by a score of 33 to 0. Neely got a touchdown in the third quarter. Neely was a starter in the scoreless tie with Michigan at the dedication at Dudley Field. Neely had an injured left arm going into the game. The best chance to break the tie came early in the first quarter when Vanderbilt was forced to punt from its own 7-yard line. The Wolverines completed their first pass, Doug Roby to Paul Goebel, setting in motion the change in field position which led to their being poised to score inside the 5-yard line. The Commodore punt was partially blocked, giving Michigan the ball at Vanderbilt's 25-yard line. Two end runs, two line bucks, and a forward pass brought them there, first and goal. Some six minutes had gone by at this point. The Commodores' defense stiffened and repelled four attempts at a touchdown. Three runs straight up the middle were stopped before the goal line. Cappon made a yard, Kipke lost one, and Cappon then drove to within a foot of the goal. Neely was heard shouting 'Stop em!' On fourth down, Michigan faked a field goal and ran with Harry Kipke off tackle to the right. Kipke was stood up just inches from the end zone. One Vanderbilt player even pushed himself off of the goal post, in an attempt to generate a greater backwards push, as the crowd cheered. Vanderbilt's only noteworthy offensive play came soon after. Vanderbilt punted out of the shadow of its goal post after the goal line stand, and Jess Neely tackled Kipke, or Irwin Uteritz, hard on the punt return, causing a fumble which Neely recovered. Neely then connected on a 20 or 25-yard pass to Tot McCullough. This gave Vanderbilt the ball at Michigan's 20-yard line, but the subsequent plays for Vanderbilt saw runs stopped for little gain and a pass intercepted by Uteritz. It is said the tie was preserved when Neely recovered a fumble near the Commodore goal. Lynn Bomar and Jess Neely are often acknowledged as the players of the game for Vanderbilt. Captain Neely had tears of joy streaming down his face by game's end. Lynn Bomar spent much of his day tackling Michigan's runners for a loss, while Jess Neely was a battered and bruised captain playing so hard despite his injured frame. Franklin Cappon said after the game: "What sort of a crazy man is this Neely? He played like a fiend and when he tackled me I thought I was broken in two. When I got up he was crying and cussed me out. I was the one who should have been crying."
In the game at Texas State Fair in Dallas against the Texas Longhorns, an early surge saw Texas at Vanderbilt's 18-yard line. McGugin sent in his injured captain Neely. It worked to an extent, with Texas losing yards and ending up at the 17-yard line. It was from there that Franklin Stacy kicked a field goal. After a Vanderbilt touchdown, both offenses seemed lethargic for a while, exchanging punts. Neely then bucked the trend, running back a 30-yard punt return. The 60-yard drive that followed was capped by a 46-yard touchdown run by Gil Reese. In the fourth quarter, Neely hit Bomar on a long pass that went twenty-three yards in the air, with Bomar running for some twenty more and down close to the goal. Reese ran it in on the next play, and the try was good, putting Vanderbilt up 20–10. The game end with this score.
The game against the Tennessee Volunteers saw a Vanderbilt victory by a score of 14 to 6. Both touchdowns were passes from Neely. The first score came from Vanderbilt in the second quarter on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Neely to Doc Kuhn. In the fourth quarter, a 5-yard pass from Neely to Lynn Bomar got the touchdown. Neely to Bomar ranked among the best pass-receiver combinations in Vanderbilt history. During the game against the Georgia Bulldogs, Neely connected with Bomar on a long pass thrown from a few yards behind the line of scrimmage at the 45-yard line. Bomar caught it on about the 7-yard line, and was downed by Georgia halfback Loren Chester 'Teany' Randall after having run for five more, down to about the 3-yard line. The next series of downs saw a touchdown from Reese, on his second run at the left tackle. Neely was hurt in the second quarter and sat down. Vanderbilt went on to win 12 to 0. At the end of the season, Neely was placed on Walter Camp's list of all players worthy of mention. Vanderbilt posted an 8–0–1 record. The 1922 season was among the best in Vanderbilt and Southern football history. Many publications listed Vanderbilt's season as best in the South.
Bachelor of Ugliness
One of the highest honors that a student could achieve was the "Bachelor of Ugliness," a title given to the male undergraduate student believed to be most representative of ideal young manhood an the class's most popular member, devised by Professor William H. Dodd in 1885. In 1923, that honor was given to Neely.
After he was graduated from Vanderbilt with a law degree in 1924, he began his coaching career at Murfreesboro High School in Tennessee while running a farm-loan business. Neely began his college football coaching career at Rhodes College, then known as Southwestern University, where he had a 20–17–2 record from 1924 to 1927. He was an assistant football coach at Alabama from 1928 to 1930, and he also compiled a 28–15–2 record as the school's head baseball coach from 1929 to 1930. From 1931 to 1939, he coached at Clemson, and compiled a 43–35–7 record. From 1940 to 1966, he coached at Rice, and compiled a 144–124–10 record. This makes him by far the winningest coach in Rice history.
Neely won the first four bowl games he coached: 1940 Cotton Bowl (with Clemson), 1946 Orange Bowl, 1949 and 1953 Cotton Bowls (with Rice). With Rice he lost the last three bowl games he coached: 1957 Cotton Bowl, 1960 Sugar Bowl, and 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl.
After the 1966 season, he returned to Vanderbilt as athletic director. In 1967, he received the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award. In 1999, he was ranked number 39 in Sports Illustrated's list of the "50 Greatest Tennessee Sports Figures of the 20th Century".
Head coaching record
|Southwestern Lynx () (1924–1927)|
|Clemson Tigers (Southern Conference) (1931–1939)|
|Rice Owls (Southwest Conference) (1940–1966)|
|National championship Conference title Conference division title|
|#Rankings from final Coaches Poll.
°Rankings from final AP Poll.
- Virginia Gooch Watson (1979). "Goochland". Rutherford County Historical Society (12): 51.
- Homer Pittard. The First Fifty Years: A History of Middle Tennessee State College. p. 73.
- "Football Games on Many Fields". The State. October 9, 1920.
- "Vanderbilt Wins From Tennessee". Augusta Chronicle. October 10, 1920.
- "Vanderbilt Is Victor". The Lexington Herald. October 10, 1920.
- Russell, Fred, and Maxwell Edward Benson. Fifty Years of Vanderbilt Football. Nashville, TN, 1938, p. 38-41, 67
- Zipp Newman (October 24, 1920). "Donahue's Greatest Team Skirts Vandy Ends at Will". The Columbus Daily Enquirer.
- "Crippled Vanderbilt Team Finished With Fine Rally". Atlanta Constitution. November 29, 1920.
- "Vandy Works Hard For Virginia U". Times-Picayune. November 11, 1920.
- "Vandy's Eleven Tears Loose In Second Quarter". The Macon Daily Telegraph. October 9, 1921.
- Joe T. Lovett (October 16, 1921). "Pribble, Lavin First To Cross On Commodores". Lexington Herald.
- C.E. Baker (November 1, 1921). "Vanderbilt To Play Bama Eleven Saturday". Macon Telegraph.
- "Vanderbilt Wins Over Alabama U". Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana). November 6, 1921.
- "Vanderbilt Wins From Alabama". Augusta Chronicle. November 6, 1921.
- "Alabama - 1921 Football Recap" (PDF).
- "Vanderbilt Winner Over Alabama Team". Montgomery Advertiser. November 6, 1921.
- "Many Good Games On Schedule Today". New York Times. November 12, 1921.
- "Vanderbilt Ties With Bulldogs". The State (Columbia, SC). November 13, 1921.
- "Commodores Tie In Last Period". The Palm Beach Post. November 13, 1921.
- "Game With Vandy Is Tied As Novel Play Is Pulled Successful". The Red And Black. November 18, 1921.
- "Georgia and Vandy Battle to a Draw". The Columbus Enquirer. November 13, 1921.
- "Vanderbilt Wins From Sewanee In Final Quarter, 9-0". Augusta Chronicle. November 25, 1921.
- "Vanderbilt 9, Sewanee 0.". Morning Oregonian. November 25, 1921.
- "Final Period Rally Wins for Old Vandy". Charlotte Observer. November 25, 1921.
- Bill Traughber. "The Historic 1921 VU Baseball Team".
- "Vandy Defeats Arkansas Team." The Macon Daily Telegraph 8 Oct. 1922: 8.
- e.g. see "No Change Is Made In Lineup of Team." Ironwood Daily Globe 20 Oct. 1922: 10.
- Sam S. Greene (October 15, 1922). "Michigan and Vanderbilt play to Scoreless Tie In Commodores' Stadium: Southerns Spring Surprise on Rivals". Detroit Free Press.
- "Powerful Wolverine Eleven Held To Scoreless Tie By Commodores." Augusta Chronicle 1922 Oct. 15
- "Vanderbilt Christens Stadium By Tying Michigan, 0 to 0". The New York Times. October 15, 1922.
- Traughber, William L. Vanderbilt Football: Tales of Commodore Gridiron History. Charleston, SC: History, 2011, p.33 and p. 77-80
- 2012 Vanderbilt Football Fact Book, p. 119
- Bill Traughber. "The history of Vanderbilt Athletics part 1".
- "Vanderbilt Opens Its News Stadium with Tie." Charlotte Sunday Observer 15 Oct. 1922: 2.
- "Kipke Recalls Vandy Game". Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, South Carolina). October 5, 1933.
- "Vanderbilt Downs Texas Longhorns, Long Grid Rivals." Dallas Morning News 22 Oct. 1922
- "Commodores Win By Superior Play When Near Longhorns' Goal." Wichita Daily TImes[Wichita Falls, Texas] 22 Oct. 1922: 9.
- "Vanderbilt Wins From Volunteers." The State [Columbia, SC] 5 Nov. 1922: 11.
- The Volunteer Yearbook (1923) p. 110-111
- Christopher J. Walsh. Where Football Is King: A History of the SEC.
- Louis Henry Baker. Football:Facts and Figures. p. 85.
- "Vanderbilt Defeats the University of Georgia." Charlotte Sunday Observer 19 Nov. 1922: 2.
- Morgan Blake (November 23, 1922). "Aerial Attack By Vanderbilt Stars Won Game Saturday". The Red and Black (University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia).
- cf. Grantland Rice (November 30, 1922). "The Sportlight: Concluding Dope". Boston Daily Globe.
- Cummisky, Thomas L. "Picking Champ Grid Teams Is Not Easy Task Since So Many Have Just Claims." San Antonio Evening News 1 Dec. 1922: 18.
- Grantland Rice (November 24, 1922). "The Sportlight: Football Alphabet". The Boston Daily Globe.
- e.g. "Vanderbilt Team Only Undefeated Eleven In South". The Washington Post. December 2, 1922.; "Few Titles Changed Hands During 1922". The Washington Post. December 31, 1922.; "No Outstanding Football Eleven During The Year." New Castle News 27 Dec. 1922: 17.; Farrell, Henry. "Sports Kings That Kept Crown." Middletown Daily Herald 31 Dec. 1922: 6.
- "Jess Neely, Coached Football for 40 Years".
- "The 50 Greatest Sports Figures Tennessee". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved November 10, 2010.
- Jess Neely at the College Football Hall of Fame
- Jess Neely at the College Football Data Warehouse
- Jess Neely at Find a Grave