Today’s post comes from contributor Jack Hilliard.
When Larry Fedora and the 2012 Tar Heels take the field at Kenan Stadium on September 1st, expectations will be high. The Tar Heel faithful will be looking to Fedora to bring UNC football back to that special place where Carl Snavely had the team in 1948 and where Jim Tatum was headed in 1959. It won’t be easy, but Fedora is not the first UNC head football coach to face this kind of situation.
The Cotton Bowl played in Dallas on January 2, 1950 marked the final game of UNC’s “Charlie Justice Era.” The following season, head coach Carl Snavely was left with a “just average” Carolina football team. In ’50 and ’51 his teams were able to win only five games and lost to Duke twice. In the spring of ’52 he brought in George Barclay, head coach at Washington and Lee, as an assistant. Tar Heel fans will remember Barclay as UNC’s first All America player in 1934, coached by Snavely.
The ’52 season wasn’t any better with only two wins, including another loss to Duke. Following the season, the UNC Athletic Council made a coaching change; on December 2nd, head coach Carl Snavely submitted his resignation.
The Athletic Council took its time in naming Snavely’s successor. Several names were rumored to be in the mix, including Jim Tatum. Tatum had been the head coach in 1942, but since 1947 had been building a powerhouse at Maryland. Finally on January 23, 1953 the Athletic Council, with the backing of the Board of Trustees and Chancellor Robert B. House, named Snavely assistant George Thomas Barclay the new coach and gave him a three year contract. Much was expected from the Tar Heel alumnus.
Barclay hit the ground running, winning his first three games during the ’53 season, but when Maryland came to town on October 17th the wheels came off and the Heels lost the next five games—and then lost the final game of the season to Duke. The result was not much better than the final seasons under Snavely. 1954 and ’55 produced only seven wins and two more losses to Duke. A coaching change was in the wind again and this time they got Jim Tatum. Tatum brought in Jim Hickey, head coach at Hampden-Sydney as an assistant. Tatum was well on his way to bringing the program back when he suddenly died on July 23, 1959.
The Athletic Council took only four days to select Tatum’s successor. At 5:40 PM on July 27, 1959, Chancellor William B. Aycock with Athletic Director Charles (Chuck) Erickson at his side, made the announcement that Tatum assistant, 39-year-old James (Jim) Hickey would be the new Tar Heel Coach with a three year contract. In accepting the position, Hickey told a large group of newsmen gathered at The Pines Restaurant, “I appreciate this opportunity. It is one I have always wanted. My only regret is the circumstances under which it had to come about.”
Hickey was able to lead the Tar Heels to five wins in his first season, but the thing most Tar Heels like to remember about the ’59 season is that 50 to 0 win at Duke on Thanksgiving Day on national television. The seasons 1960 through ’62 produced only eleven wins, but Hickey’s high water mark came in 1963 when he led the Heels to nine regular season wins including a 16 to 14 win over Duke and UNC’s first Atlantic Coast Conference championship. The season was capped with a 35 to 0 win over Air Force in the Gator Bowl. The bowl win was another first for the Tar Heels. Hickey continued as Carolina’s head coach through the 1966 season, but was never able to top the heroics of 1963.
Today in 2012, the UNC football program is at another crossroad and Larry Fedora has been selected to carry forward a program steeped in tradition. The shoes are there to be filled.