Imagine a Head Football Coach driven by the relentless pursuit of perfection amassing a better than 66% win percentage. Imagine this coach taking an also-ran team to national prominence, being written about in the major periodicals of the day. A coach criticized by some for abuse to his players, defended by others with equal passion.
Imagine this head coach taking the cast-offs, the overlooked, and the seconds from the major colleges of the day and turning those that chose to believe into teams that all colleges feared, and most regretted playing.
From wide open passing attack that operated from any yard line, to record setting offenses that led the nation in scoring, to his ability to make the name “Red Raiders’ a nationwide household name, this coach spent every waking moment trying to make the program a success.
Now imagine this coach being “asked” to leave by the administration. Sound familiar? Well it ought to.
This is a story of Texas Tech Coach Pete Cawthon. “Coacher” came to Texas Tech in 1930 as the Head Coach of the Matadors after a two year, self imposed hiatus from Austin College. At the time, Texas Tech was a rag-tag bunch with very little discipline, a large dose of apathy, no real identity, and certainly not much of a fan base.
In a period of eleven years, Coach Cawthon transformed the Matadors into the feared “Red Raiders”. He took a program that was not making money and made it the most prosperous program on campus. He took the average and undisciplined and transformed them into hard hitting, winners, and gentlemen.
During this same period, he made Texas Tech into a coaches “Mecca” by hosting summer clinics attended by thousands. Big name coaches such as Knute Rockne and “Pop” Warner attended and participated. With the publicity and the stats to back it up, the Matadors were at one point rated #5 in the nation. Traveling coast to coast, the Matadors, in their distinctive red satin uniforms became known as the Red Raiders.
Coach Cawthon was civic minded as well, forming a summer “camp” for kids in Lubbock known as the “Knothole Gang” to teach kids right from wrong through sports. He also spent tireless hours planting trees on the bare Texas Tech campus, building tennis courts and baseball fields.
An innovator, “Coacher” once solicited the aid of a dance teacher on campus to teach agility to his players. Another time he beat Notre Dame’s JV with their own offensive scheme 39-0.
With all of this success surrounding him, one has to ask, then why did the administration of the day wish to dismiss him?
It came down to money. Those that had hired Coach Cawthon had done so to “grow the program”, increase revenue, become respectable, and instill discipline”. Previous to his arrival, the Matadors had been satisfied to play the likes of a teachers college in the panhandle of Texas as well as other local schools. Pete, with is drive for perfection, upped the competition level to play the likes of Texas A&M, Rice, Oklahoma, Notre Dame (b-team), TCU, Miami, Loyola; all the most formidable teams of the day. Of course this did not come free. It meant traveling from coast to coast and the administration did not want to spend the money. (Incidentally they liked the fame, just did not want to fork over the green)
As a result, in the words of Dean Stangel (yes, like the dorm), “We are not firing Pete”, he stated, “We are asking him to resign. Resign he did and a firestorm of opinions erupted on the South Plains. The assistant coaches to Pete were then asked to run the team and they refused until Pete asked them again.
Coach Cawthon then went on to coach the Brooklyn Dodgers football club, the Detroit Lions, and become Athletic Director at the University of Alabama.
I write this only as a small history lesson. As I read the research materials, I got the feeling that we were “this close” to true national prominence and blew it. They say history repeats itself and those that choose not to understand history are doomed to repeat it.
A true Red Raider fan needs to know all they can about the program he or she supports. I welcome all of you to find a copy of the book from which the majority of this information was taken. “Tender Tyrant, the Legend of Pete Cawthon” by Etta Lynch. One should also read “The Red Raiders” by Ralph L. Sellmeyer and James E. Davidson.
“Fearless champions ever be, long live the Matador”