Tampa Spartans football

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Tampa Spartans
First season 1933
Last season 1974
Stadium Tampa Stadium
(Capacity: 46,481)
Field surface Bermuda grass
Location Tampa, Florida
NCAA division Division I
Conference Independent
All-time record 201–160–12 (.555)
Bowl record 3–0 (1.000)
Colors Black, Red, and Gold[1]
Website TampaSpartans.com

The Tampa Spartans football program was an intercollegiate American football team for the University of Tampa located in Tampa, Florida. The team competed in the NCAA Division I as an independent. The school's first football team was fielded in 1933. The football program was discontinued at the conclusion of the 1974 season.[2]


The University of Tampa football team was founded in 1933 and remained for thirty-three seasons until 1974. Their first game was played on October 12, 1933 in LaGrange, Georgia, a 28-0 win for the team in their inaugural game of their inaugural season. The University of Tampa football team played against three of the top football schools in the state of Florida at their time. University of Tampa played Florida State University for nine years straight starting in 1951. They won 14-6 in 1951 and 39-6 in 1952 before losing the next seven to Florida State University. In 1963, the head coach at the time, Fred Pancoast, encouraged the team be moved up to play Division 1 football. They officially joined Division 1 in 1971. On November 11, 1974, in front of a crowd of 21,564 fans, the University of Tampa played their final football game, a 35-10 win over Florida A&M University. The team finished with an all-time record of 201-160-12.

Although playing a Division I schedule, the school itself had only about 2,000 students during the 1970s. Among the reasons cited when the program was pulled under president B.D. Owens were that it was too expensive for the college and there were fears about whether competition with a new NFL franchise would further erode attendance. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were organized in 1974 and their first season was 1976.[3]


Plant Field was the first stadium the team used. Named after Henry B. Plant, the stadium hosted the first ever Major League Baseball game in the Tampa Bay area. At the stadium, is a plaque to commemorate 4,300 fans who attended the game and saw Babe Ruth hit the longest home run. The University of Tampa football team used Plant Field from 1933–1936.

Phillips Field opened on October 4, 1937 and was the home to University of Tampa football for thirty years. The stadium had wooden seating, in a horseshoe and was on the banks of the Hillsborough River.

Tampa Stadium was built in 1967 and the team would play here until they closed down the football program. The first game that the University of Tampa played in this stadium was a 38-0 loss against the third ranked team in the country, Tennessee Volunteers. This stadium was host to two Super Bowls, an Outback Bowl, and the first ever University of South Florida football game. In 1998, after Raymond James Stadium was built, Tampa Stadium was torn down.

Nickname and Uniforms[edit]

When nicknames for the sports teams at the University of Tampa were being decided, St. Petersburg Junior College was expected to be their archrival. Their nickname was the Trojans, so the University of Tampa went with Spartans, a selection inspired from the ancient Greek Trojan/Spartan wars. Nash Higgins, the first head football coach for the University of Tampa selected the colors for the school's uniforms. Since most of their high school athletes came from Hillsborough High School, who wore red and black, and Plant High School, who wore gold and black, Higgins decided on combining the colors, and the University of Tampa Spartans would wear red and gold.


Nash Higgins was the first head coach at the University of Tampa. He coached the team from 1933–1940 to a record of 36-39-5.

Frank Sinkwich, a Heisman trophy winner, coached two seasons at University of Tampa to a record of 12-7-1. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Marcelino "Chelo" Huerta was the head coach from 1952 to 1961. In those ten seasons he went 63-37-2. Huerta was somewhat of a legend and there were rumors of him suiting up for road games. He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. Fred Pancoast was a four-year starter at safety from 1949 to 1952. He was named head coach ten years later in 1962. In two seasons as a coach, his record was 7-9.

Sam Bailey, before coaching the football team from 1964 to 1967, coached the basketball team at the University of Tampa from 1950 to 1955 to a 45-66 record. As a football coach his record was 16-20. Today, the baseball field at the university is known as Sam Bailey field.

Fran Curci, the first coach of the Arena Football League's Tampa Bay Storm, coached the Spartans from 1968 to 1970 to an impressive 25-6 record. In 1970, after a 10-1 season and an Orange Bowl win over the Miami Hurricanes, he left to coach at Miami.

Bill Fulcher only coached the team for one season in 1971, leading them to a 6-5 record. Fulcher left for Georgia Tech after the season, succeeding Bud Carson.

Earle Bruce also only coached the team for one season, going 10-2 including a win in the Tangerine Bowl. Bruce was then hired by Iowa State to succeed Johnny Majors, who had been named coach at Pittsburgh.

Dennis Fryzel was the final coach of the University of Tampa football team. He coached for two seasons going 8-3 in 1973 and then 6-5 in 1974, the team's final season.

Notable former players[edit]

Freddie Solomon, known as ‘Fabulous Freddie’ finished his University of Tampa career with 5,803 total yards and a then quarterback record of 3,299 rushing yards along with 39 touchdowns. In the 1974 season, he rushed for a then NCAA quarterback record 1,300 yards and 19 touchdowns to go along with it. That season, he finished 12th in Heisman voting. In 1975, Solomon was selected in the second round by the Miami Dolphins. During his career he played wide receiver, running back, quarterback, and returned kicks for the Dolphins and the San Francisco 49ers, winning two Super Bowls with the 49ers.

John Matuszak was a defensive end for the Tampa Spartans and an All-American in 1972. He was selected first overall in the National Football League draft by the Houston Oilers. He played 123 career games with Houston, Kansas City, and Oakland. As an actor, Matuszak antagonized opposite Ringo Starr in the comedy Caveman and played "Sloth" in the 1985 comedy The Goonies.

Darryl Carlton was an offensive tackle at University of Tampa. He was drafted in the first round, twenty-third overall to the Miami Dolphins. He played a total of 71 NFL games.

Noah Jackson was a three-year started at defensive tackle before leaving before his senior seasons to play in the Canadian Football League where he converted to offensive tackle and was an all star. In 1974, he was drafted in the seventh round by the Baltimore Colts and in 1975 he was named to the NFL All-Rookie team. He played a total of 131 NFL games.

Leon McQuay, a running back, was the first black athlete to receive a scholarship at the University of Tampa. In his three seasons as the running back for the team he was named a two time small college All-American. In 1971, he skipped his senior year to sign and play in the Canadian Football League where he was an award winning all star for the Toronto Argonauts. He is remembered for his untimely fumble in the 59th Grey Cup championship game. In 1973, he was drafted in the fifth round by the New York Giants. He played thirty games for the Giants, New England Patriots, and New Orleans Saints.

Paul Orndorff, was a fullback at the University of Tampa who was drafted in the twelfth round by the New Orleans Saints. He later became famous as a professional wrestler known by the nickname, ‘Mr. Wonderful’.

Other notable players from the University of Tampa to play professional football are quarterback Jim Del Gaizo, linebacker Ted Greene, tight end M.L. Harris, running back Don Herndon, running back Morris LaGrand, offensive lineman John Mooring, defensive back J.C. Wilson, linebacker Mike Woods.

Bowl game appearances[edit]

Season Date Bowl W/L Opponent PF PA Coach Notes
1952 December 13, 1952 Cigar Bowl W Lenoir–Rhyne 21 12 Marcelino Huerta notes
1954 December 17, 1954 Cigar Bowl W Charleston 21 0 Marcelino Huerta notes
1972 December 29, 1972 Tangerine Bowl W Kent State 21 18 Earle Bruce notes
Total 3 bowl games 3–0 63 30

Collapse of the program[edit]

In 1975, the President of the University of Tampa, B.D. Owens reported that the school had to take $755,000 (equal to $3,360,380 today) from endowment to fund the program that was operating at a loss. Around this time, the National Football League Tampa Bay Buccaneers were awarded to the city and the school predicted that support for their football program would decrease. On February 20, 1975 by a majority vote of 16-9, the University of Tampa Board of Directors voted to drop the program immediately.