Saturday, September 18, 2010

18 September 1901: Coach Harry Mehre Is Born

On this day in 1901, Harry Mehre was born in Huntington, Indiana. He would attend the University of Notre Dame from 1918-1922, playing lineman for legendary coach Knute Rockne, including undfeated seasons in 1919 and 1920. After a year of coaching and playing for the independent professional team, the Minneapolis Marines, Mehre was hired as an assistant coach at the University of Georgia by Bulldogs' head coach George "Kid" Woodruff. He started work in Athens on April 1st, 1924.

Former Notre Dame players for Rockne were in high demand in college football at the time, with many schools hoping to replicate the Irish's success using the Notre Dame Box, a variation of former Georgia Coach Pop Warner's single-wing formation that opened the game up for passing. It was, however, the Irish's defeat of Georgia Tech, 35-7, in 1923 that convinced Coach Woodruff to hire Notre Dame assistants, starting with Mehre in 1924, and followed in 1927 by Jim Crowley, one of the famous Four Horsemen.

After the 1927 season, Coach Woodruff left football to return to the business world and recommended Coach Mehre for the head coach position. Coach Mehre would lead the team for a decade, including the inaugural game at Sanford Stadium on October 29th, 1929 versus the Yale Bulldogs, a game called "one of the greatest football spectacles ever in the South." Southern governors traveled to Georgia for the event, and Athens was a city of celebration in the week leading up to the game. When the Yale team arrived, most of the city and student body was there to welcome them to town, and the Yale band marched up College Avenue, playing "Dixie" when they reached the review stand set up at City Hall. Georgia won the game 15-0.

During his tenure at UGA, the Bulldogs became a nationally known and ranked football team. They beat Yale five times in a row, and upset Fordham in 1936 when they were the favorites to play in the the Rose Bowl. A man of many talents, Coach Mehre filled in for Georgia's basketball coach, Herman Stegeman, in 1931, and handed revered University of Kentucky Coach Adolph Rupp his first loss as a Wildcat, with a 25-16 victory for the Bulldogs.

Coach Mehre's record at UGA was 59-34-6 when, in 1938, he took the head coach position at the University of Mississippi. In his first game as Coach, his Rebels beat the LSU Tigers 20-7 in Baton Rouge. During his eight years at Oxford, he won four games in a row over the LSU, a first for a Mississippi football team. In 1946, Coach Mehre retired from coaching and went into business. He later became a football analyst and sports columnist for the Atlanta Journal, and was a popular speaker at Touchdown Clubs around the south. He was known for his self-depreciating wit and ability to tell an hilarious story.

Coach Mehre wrote for the newspapers for 22 years, before going into retirement in the 1970s. He died on September 27, 1978 in Atlanta. On April 25, 1987, Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall opened on the University of Georgia campus, housing athletic offices, facilities, and a Bulldog sports museum that is open to the public.

Much thanks to Loran Smith at the Georgia Athletic Association for his assistance to the author in writing this article.

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