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Wade's Innovations, Professionalism Set Him Apart



By Scott Latta
UA Media Relations

He was known to his players affectionately as "The Bear." The street named in his honor runs alongside Alabama's home turf, and every Saturday for home games, fans of his school file into the stadium named in his honor.

His innovations in college football were unmatched in his era, as were his successes. In his honor, a bronze statue now sits in the Bryant-Denny Stadium plaza bearing the years of his three national championships.

But this "Bear" did not earn the nickname by wrestling a grizzly. He never wore houndstooth and wasn't known to lean against a goalpost.

For Wallace Wade, his teams did all the talking.

"He probably was to Alabama in the 1920s what Coach (Paul) Bryant was to Alabama in the 60s," said Taylor Watson, an employee at the Paul Bryant Museum. "In 1922, Coach Xen Scott had taken (Alabama) to play Penn, which was probably the first big game against a traditionally strong football team, but it was Wallace Wade who took (Alabama) to the Rose Bowl."

While at Alabama, Wade took the Crimson Tide to three Rose Bowls, and won each. The 1925, 1926 and 1930 national championships were the first of 12 for the University of Alabama, leading to a new era in college football. Having played in the game at Brown University in 1916, he was the first man to ever play and coach in a Rose Bowl.

Wade's innovations, both on and off the field, separate him from other coaches of his era, an era in which players often ran from team-to-team, playing for different schools, and when loyalty wasn't a factor.

"It certainly was Wallace Wade who came in and started recruiting players," Watson said. "Up until the teens they had mostly students, and they'd have a few ringers and guys that went around and played for different schools, and that pretty much ended by the teens and it was back to players, just students. You didn't really recruit."

"Starting with Wade here, he actually started going out and getting information on players, talking to high school coaches, finding out who the really good players were, not only in the state of Alabama but in the border states."

Known for his tenacity and nastiness on the field, Wade was the first "Bear" to walk the sidelines at the Capstone; a nickname bestowed upon him by his early players. He was hired by the University of Alabama in 1923, and coached the Crimson Tide for seven seasons, compiling a 61-13-3 record and a .812 winning percentage.

 "That first Rose Bowl in 1926 at the end of the Â`25 season may be the most important football game not only in Alabama football history but in Southern football history," Watson said. "It changed the way everybody looked at Southern football, it changed the way (Alabama) played the game and a lot of that has to do with Wallace Wade."

For all his accomplishments at the University of Alabama, though, Wade may not be primarily known around college football as the man who laid the groundwork for the Alabama tradition as much as he may be the man known for something elseÂ--the man who left that tradition at its peak for a much smaller, lesser-known school and its struggling football program.

The president of Duke University, William P. Few, contacted Wade in early 1930 about a confidential recommendation for a new football coach for the Blue Devils. In response, Wade recommended two men, but also said that if Few were to wait, that he himself might be interested in the job.

After leading Alabama to the 1930 Rose Bowl and earning the Tide's third national championship in seven years, Wade left the university and became head coach at Duke, a controversial move that left Tide fans, and college football fans nationwide, shaking their heads.

"He was having arguments with [University of Alabama president] Dr. [George] Denny over who actually ran the football program," Watson said. "Denny was a hands-on guy, he was at practice all the time putting his two cents in and I'm sure coach Wade didn't like that."

Wade's move from Alabama to Duke did nothing to change his coaching prowess. Upon arriving in Durham, it took three seasons to claim the Southern Conference championship, in 1933. Wade's 1938 "Iron Duke" team was unbeaten and unscored upon until it reached the Rose Bowl, where it lost 7-3 on a late Southern California touchdown.

It was also at Duke where Wade coached in the only Rose Bowl to not be played in Pasadena. Due to the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Rose Bowl officials were wary of playing such a large game so close to the attack. When the game was being prepared to be canceled, Wade volunteered to have it played on Duke's campus, where the Blue Devils fell to Oregon State 20-16.

After the loss, Wade joined the service and would not return to coaching until 1946. In his absence, the Blue Devils were led by coach Eddie Cameron, whose name now sits on Cameron Indoor Stadium, where Duke's basketball team plays.

In addition to being the head football coach, Wade was also an administrator and in charge of Duke's intramural program. His involvement with Duke students was on a close level that didn't exist at the football-crazy Alabama, and the move to North Carolina rejuvenated a school and football program that honored Wade for the rest of his life.

The stadium that stands in his honor sits on the west side of the Duke campus in honor of the man that compiled a 110-36-7 record for the prestigious university. Today the capacity of Wallace Wade Stadium is just over 33,000, and it was a tribute Wade never forgot.

"He was just very smart. He just understood the game at a time when people were learning it and figuring out how to do it, he was ahead of that curve," Watson said. "He was innovative. Some of the pass plays, they would throw the ball around and they were moving backs, he was very innovative.

"He was a great master on the field, maybe as good as Coach Bryant. He could just out-coach you. He had a habit of, especially with the good teams, he would start the second string first and after they'd whooped you for awhile, you'd be like, Â`Oh my god here comes the first team, what are they going to do?"

Wade coached at Duke until 1950, when he retired to be commissioner of the Southern Conference. In all, Wade coached 26 All-Americans at Duke, eight of whom joined him in the National College Football Hall of Fame, to which he was inducted in 1955.

While his accomplishments at Duke defined his career, his work at Alabama has never gone unnoticed. Today, the statue of Wade stands tall next to three of Alabama's other coaching legends in the Bryant-Denny Stadium plaza with its back to Wallace Wade Ave., which runs along the stadium's west side.

While Alabama fans may always remember a different "Bear," the accomplishments of Wade haven't faded over time.

 "With the nature of time, there's nobody here that played for him, the reporters and TV folks don't know him so they can't talk about him," Watson said. "Unfortunately, it's going to happen with Coach Bryant, certainly not in our generation, but that's just the nature of it."