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June 30, 2009

Georgia's 14th Head Coach


Scan through Georgia's yearly football results and something peculiar may catch your eye--the fact UGA had two head coaches in 1909--co-coaches James Coulter and Frank Dobson (image--RichmondSpiders.com).
In the early days of collegiate football, it was quite common for a head coach to stay at a southern school, in particular, for only a short period of time. Among the reasons for the short coaching stints were lack of pay and prestige as the ultimate football coaching positions were located at universities of the northeast. Such was the case with the University of Georgia as the Red and Black had a remarkable 14 head coaches in just their first 18 seasons (1892-1909) of playing football.
The 1909 campaign in Athens began with James Coulter, a Brown University alumnus, as UGA's head football coach. However, following just one win in Georgia's first five games where the Red and Black were shut out on four occasions and scored only three total points, Frank Dobson was brought in to spark a stagnant offense.
Coach Dobson, a native of Roanoke, Virginia, was an assistant coach at Georgia Tech under the great John Heisman in 1908. Prior to the 1909 football season, he was selected as the athletic director of the "University school at Stone Mountain," where he would also coach the football squad. Between heading up Stone Mountain's athletic program and coaching football, Dobson apparently found time to also play on the gridiron. As mentioned in an earlier post, he was the star quarterback for the "Olympians," a club team in Atlanta, who faced Georgia on October 2 in Athens. Two weeks later, according to the Atlanta Constitution, Dobson refereed Georgia's 0-0 tie with Davidson and later a 14-0 loss to Alabama on October 30. Note: Back then, former collegiate players only years removed from playing would often officiate games, including contests involving their alma maters. Two days after officiating the Georgia-Alabama game, Dobson's Stone Mountain team appeared in the prep school championship of Georgia, losing to Gainesville's Riverside, 12-8.
At some point in early November, Dobson left Stone Mountain to help Coach Coulter coach the struggling Georgia squad. On November 20, the Red and Black lost to Georgia Tech for the fifth consecutive occasion, however, Dobson was given credit for "Georgia's wonderful showing" in a 12-6 defeat. It was quite a shock that Tech was held to only 12 points while Georgia scored its only touchdown in the first six games of the season on a one-yard plunge by left halfback Arthur Maddox. It was reported Dobson had formulated some trick plays the offense ran with success and "he taught [the team] more football in two weeks he was with them than they knew all the rest of the season. It is regrettable that they did not have him sooner."
Leading up to the season finale against Auburn, Georgia was thought to be much improved primarily because of the arrival of Coach Dobson. On Thanksgiving Day in Montgomery, AL, the Red and Black were defeated 16-5, only scoring on a 15-yard return of a blocked punt. The next day there was no mention of Dobson coaching the team in defeat, only Coach Coulter's name appeared. James Coulter would never coach again in college football, compiling just a 1-4-2 record in his lone season at Georgia.
Frank Dobson would also leave the University of Georgia following the 1909 season. After being rumored to become Tennessee's head football coach for the 1910 campaign, Dobson accepted the same position at Clemson College in late February. As Clemson's first paid football coach, Dobson would also eventually coach its baseball team and was the school's first basketball coach.
By 1910, led by the great Bob McWhorter and coached by Alex Cunningham, Georgia football had suddenly transformed into one of the better programs in the South. Late in the season, the heavily-favored Red and Black were "defeated" by a Dobson-coached Clemson team in a scoreless tie at Augusta's State Fairgrounds. Clemson's Dobson would face his previous team on two more occasions, 1911 and 1912, losing both games by a combined 50 to 5 score.
From 1913-1917 and 1919-1933, Dobson compiled a 79-78-18 record at Richmond (He curiously departed for South Carolina to coach the 1918 season but returned to Richmond the following year.) and remains, after 75 years since leaving the school, the Spiders' all-time leader in coaching victories. Following a two-season hiatus from coaching football, Dobson left for Maryland in 1936, guiding the Terrapins for four seasons through the 1939 season. In 28 seasons as a head coach at four institutions, he recorded a 110-112-20 overall record.
Frank Dobson is likely Georgia's least-heralded head football coach of the 25 in the school's history, merely co-coaching for just one, possibly two games during the 1909 season. However, he is one of the most intriguing stories in the annals of college football. For two different teams, he coached against Georgia in the seasons before (1908 Georgia Tech) and after (1910 Clemson) coaching for the Red and Black (1909). In addition and even more compelling, during the same season he coached at Georgia, he played against the Red and Black, officiated at least two games featuring Georgia, and, all the while coaching a prep school to the championship game of the state of Georgia.

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