1940 Vanderbilt Commodores football team

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1940 Vanderbilt Commodores football
Conference Southeastern Conference
1940 record 3–6–1 (1–5–1 SEC)
Head coach Red Sanders (1st season)
Offensive scheme Single-wing
Captain John Ellis
Home stadium Dudley Field
← 1939
1941 →
1940 SEC football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
No. 4 Tennessee $ 5 0 0     10 1 0
No. 9 Mississippi State 4 0 1     10 0 1
Ole Miss 3 1 0     9 2 0
Alabama 4 2 0     7 2 0
Auburn 3 2 1     6 4 1
LSU 3 3 0     6 4 0
Georgia 2 3 1     5 4 1
Florida 2 3 0     5 5 0
Kentucky 1 2 2     5 3 2
Tulane 1 3 0     5 5 0
Vanderbilt 1 5 1     3 6 1
Georgia Tech 1 5 0     3 7 0
Sewanee 0 1 0     3 5 0
  • $ – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll

The 1940 Vanderbilt Commodores football team represented Vanderbilt University during the 1940 college football season. The Commodores were led by Red Sanders, in his first season as head coach. Members of the Southeastern Conference, Vanderbilt went 3–6–1 overall and 1–5–1 in conference play. The Commodores played their seven home games at Dudley Field in Nashville, Tennessee.

Bear Bryant[edit]

The 1940 season was coach Sanders only losing season as a head coach. The Commodores opened the 1940 season with a win over Washington and Lee and a loss to Princeton. Next on the schedule was Kentucky, which was favored to win the game. The game was played in Dudley Field. Fred Russell of the Nashville Banner recommended to Vanderbilt Coach Red Sanders that he hire Paul "Bear" Bryant to his staff. On Thursday October 10, 1940, Sanders was taken to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. The Tennessean reported:

"Paul (Bear) Bryant, line coach who took over the head man's job yesterday when Sanders had his inflamed appendix whacked out, was doubtful last night if Ellis would be of much service. In fact, he was not counting on starting him but hoped that he would be available for some duty."

"The loss of Sanders, who is not apt to be back on the practice field for two weeks, if that soon, was a jolt. Bryant is thoroughly capable of handling the Commodores, but the absence of Sanders leaves him with two tasks to perform and it requires a super man for such an undertaking."

Before the game, Sanders talked to the team by telephone from the hospital bed at Vanderbilt. The game ended in a tie Kentucky 7-7.

Bryant had this to say after coaching his first game as an acting head coach:

"I couldn’t ask a bunch of boys to play a better game than they did today. Bob Gude played the greatest game at center I’ve ever seen. Roy Huggins was marvelous. (Dan) Walton, (Mac) Peebles, (William) McElreath, (Eddie) Atkinson, (Blinks) Bushmiser—well, all of them gave a wonderful exhibition. It's too bad they didn’t win after rising to such great heights. I’m thoroughly satisfied with their play.

"We were in the worst physical condition we have been in the season and I am still wondering how some of them stayed in there as well as they did. These boys certainly are fighters and they’ve got plenty of guts. It's hard to beat that kind of team."

Bryant wrote in his autobiography Bear: My Hard Life & Good Times As Alabama's Head Coach, published in 1974:

"The night before the game I went out into the country and puked my guts out. My big chance. All I really had to do was give them that lineup. Instead I coached a 7-0 victory into a 7-7 tie. Kentucky didn’t have a great team. We struggled along and finally went ahead in the first half when an Irish kid named Flanagan, our tailback passed for a touchdown."

"So in the second half I didn’t let Flanagan throw any more passes. And Kentucky tied the game in the fourth quarter. Naturally I thought the officials cheated us somehow, else we’d have won. No young coach is going to believe he lost on his own merit. Preacher Franklin, who has a Coca-Cola distributorship in Birmingham now and is one of my television sponsors, was the Vanderbilt team manager, and he always had my ear."

"Preacher wanted me to go out there and kill the referee, a distinguished gentleman named Bill McMasters. Preacher had on his white coveralls and he was hopping around egging me on. He was like that. Even today when we lose old Preach thinks we got cheated."

"I had made a couple of steps towards McMasters, who was looking at me out of one eye, when Bernie Shiveley, the Kentucky athletic director, came up from behind and put his big arms around me and pulled me away. If he hadn’t I’d probably got thrown out of football before my time. I didn’t get to say a word."

Mickey Flanagan played for Vanderbilt in 1939–40. One of the referee's calls that must have irritated Bryant was described in The Tennessean:

"The break that turned victory for the turned, worn-out and reeling Commodores into a tie came when the officials called a slugging penalty in the fading minutes just after Noah Mullins, Kentucky right halfback, had wiggled through the Vanderbilt line for 21 yards to place the ball only 22 yards from goal."

"Art Rebrovich, Vandy's 165-pound back, was accused of slugging and with his ejection from the game went an 11-yard penalty. Three plays later Charley Ishmael, Cat fullback who was supposed to have had a sprained ankle, shot through right guard and into the end zone for the touchdown. Hardly a hand touched him."

Sanders was able to come back the next week to travel to Georgia Tech. Vanderbilt finished with a 3-6-1 record including a 25-21 loss to 17th ranked Alabama. The 1941 Commodores club was 8-2 with a 7-0 upset victory over 7th ranked Alabama and was the last year for coach Bryant at Vanderbilt.[1]


Date Opponent# Rank# Site Result
September 28 Washington & Lee* Dudley FieldNashville, Tennessee W 19–0  
October 5 at Princeton* Palmer StadiumPrinceton, New Jersey L 6–7  
October 12 Kentucky Dudley Field • Nashville, Tennessee (Rivalry) T 7–7  
October 19 at Georgia Tech Grant FieldAtlanta L 0–19  
October 26 at LSU Tiger StadiumBaton Rouge, Louisiana L 0–7  
November 2 Ole Miss Dudley Field • Nashville, Tennessee (Rivalry) L 7–13  
November 9 Sewanee Dudley Field • Nashville, Tennessee (Rivalry) W 20–0  
November 16 Tennessee Tech* Dudley Field • Nashville, Tennessee W 21–0  
November 23 No. 17 Alabama Legion FieldBirmingham, Alabama L 21–25  
November 30 No. 6 Tennessee Dudley Field • Nashville, Tennessee (Rivalry) L 0–20  
*Non-conference game. daggerHomecoming. #Rankings from AP Poll released prior to game.