The 1970 season marked a change from the grind-it-out style of JT King as Tech’s new Head Football Coach; Jim Carlen began one of the most successful five years in the history of the program. A stern disciplinarian, Carlen had played linebacker for Georgia Tech in 1953 and 1954 and later began his coaching career there as a graduate assistant, freshman coach and finally coaching the defense. In 1966 he took the helm of West Virginia before coming to Tech in 1970.
Joe Barnes (MVP of the 1973 Gator Bowl) described him as a “good guy, not necessarily a player’s coach, but more like a father figure….just a good guy”.
It didn’t take long for the 36 year old coach to make is mark on the South Plains. “Basically, we have three rules…that we discuss with each player and parents before we ever sign them…. Rule 1: Get to church every Sunday, the church of your choice. Rule 2: No smoking or drinking and this is a 12 month rule Rule 3: No class cuts. None at all”
The underground newspaper on campus at the time labeled Carlin, “Morality Fats”, while others about town called him “Saint James”. You have to keep in mind that this was 1970, which by Tech time was about 2 years behind the east and west coasts, but Carlen also demanded haircuts of his players. Another Carlen special rule was curfew. He demanded that his players be home by 11pm.
Spring practices for Carlen were different also; there was no traditional drill sergeant tactics, but more on-the-field praise and enthusiasm. Even his assistant coaches were quick to single out individuals for a job well done. Yes, Carlen had been hired to do one thing and one thing only…win games. He was for sure going to do it his way.
Prior to Carlen, the press conference and Red Raider club meeting questions were pre-screened. Not on Carlen’s watch. He made sure that any question that came up would be addressed and answered on the spot.
The new look Red Raiders went 8-4 in the first year under their new coach…much better than was expected. Wins over TAMU and Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl highlighted the year. The following year was one of disappointment as Carlen’s record fell to 4-7. Due in part to injuries in several key positions, Carlen shouldered the responsibility and promised that 1972 would be decisively better.
With Joe Barnes at the helm, the Raiders won their first two games that year by a total score of 86-18 and were aching to face the Teasips as they came to town. After one of the most exciting games in a long time in Lubbock the Longhorns pulled away with a 25-20 win. However, the backfield of Barnes, McCutchen, Mosely, Smith and Carmichael had given it their all. The Raiders piled up more wins than loses that year, but lost three home games. They ended up playing North Carolina in the Sun Bowl, but lost 30-28. Nose guard Ecomet Burley became the first freshman to be named outstanding player in a bowl game.
1973 was THE SEASON. Losing only to Texas, Carlen and the Raiders went 11-1 by defeating Tennessee in the Gator Bowl. Standout players that year on offense were Barnes, Andre Tillman, Larry Isaac and Lawrence Williams, while the defense was anchored by Burley.
Carlen’s final season, 1974 did not end quite as well the previous year as their record fell to 6-4-1. However, Tommy Duniven, Lawrence Williams, Larry Isaac and Ecomet Burley whipped a very good Texas team 24-3 at Jones Stadium in Lubbock.
Carlen desired to become the Athletic Director at Tech and be in charge of his own program, but felt he would never get that opportunity as JT King was firmly entrenched. Some say a good deal of friction resulted from these desires, but in any event, Carlen resigned at the end of 1974 to become Head Coach and ultimately Athletic Director of the University of South Carolina.
James A Carlen, born in Cookeville, Tennessee in 1933, was reported to be one of six original members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. As we know today, the FCA has snowballed into the largest Christian organization in the world for athletes from all sports. In his own words, “When I hired a coach I always took a close look at his spiritual life, when you have God on your side, you don’t have to worry.” In 2008, Carlen was inducted into the Texas Tech Hall of Honor.
He passed away in 2012 in Hilton Head, South Carolina with a career record as a Head Coach of 107-69-6