University of Tampa Football History

Today, the University of South Florida provides the Tampa Bay area with college football action, but the majority of the local residents may not remember a time when the University of Tampa had a football program. The University of Tampa had football for 38 seasons, from 1933 until dropping the program after the 1974 season. There were some great players and well known coaches from the days of UT football that produced an all-time record of 201-160-12. Even the stadiums where they played are a major part of the history of Tampa Bay football.

The founding of the university dates to 1931 and the hard work of the school's first president Frederic Spaulding. As a principal at Hillsborough High School, Spaulding saw the need for a Tampa based college for those who could not afford to travel for higher education. On October 5, 1931, the first Tampa Junior College classes were held for 62 students at Hillsborough High School. In 1933, the school moved to Plant Hall and was renamed. The University of Tampa was chosen because Tampa College was being used by a private Catholic school.

When the University of Tampa moved into Plant Hall, across the Hillsborough River from downtown Tampa, the structure was in disrepair. The ornate minaret topped building is the former Tampa Bay Hotel, built by transportation magnate Henry B. Plant in 1891. It is a significant part of the history of Tampa and guests at the Tampa Bay Hotel included Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, Babe Ruth and the Queen of England.

Today, the UT campus has grown to about 50 buildings and has an enrollment in excess of 5,000. Frederic Spaulding retired in 1936, the year of the school's first commencement. In 1932, Spaulding reflected on starting up a college during the depression: "The decision to begin was one of the most daring ever made. We had no building, no money, no teachers and no students. No college ever began on less, but after the decision was made progress was phenomenal."

Frederic Spaulding's commitment to UT was a key to its success. In a March 27, 1933 letter, offering the position of athletic director to Nash Higgins, Spaulding wrote: "We particularly want anyone who accepts a position with us to feel enthusiastic about the school, and freely and wholeheartedly devote himself to its growth and improvement. We want men who are willing to give their best service unstintingly, and feel they are making an investment for the future."

While the school was still known as Tampa Junior College, a committee recommend names for the school's athletic teams. Since St. Petersburg Junior College was expected to be the arch rival, and they were using the nickname Trojans, the name Spartans was selected from the ancient Greek Trojans/Spartans war. In 1933, when the school became the University of Tampa, athlectic director and head football coach Nash Higgins selected the team colors. Since most of his players came from Hillsborough High School (red and black) and Plant High School (black and gold), Higgins combined the colors of those two schools making the UT's colors red, black and gold.

Tampa played its first football game in LaGrange, Georgia on October 12, 1933. James White scored the school's first touchdown in a 28-0 victory over Bowdon College. As a footnote, Bowdon, misidentified as "Bowden" in UT's media guides, would close its doors in 1936. UT started a tradition of playing a Christmas Day game and climaxed its inaugural season with a 7-0 victory over Haskell and a 6-2-2 record.

Fans were upset after a November 11, 1934 loss to Birmingham Southern. A couple of questionable calls in a 13-12 loss and United Press reported that "irate fans rioted." Headlines across country read, "Fans, Angered By Decisions, Pummel Referee," "Fans Try to Mob Referee" and "Fans Attack Referee at Tampa." 1934 also saw Tampa play its first game against a Cuban squad defeating Athletico de Cuba. UT would actually play several games in Havana in the 1930s.

In the early years, UT played primarily other small college teams. They did play the University of Florida five straight years, from 1938 to 1942, losing each time. The Gators dominated the games, three played in Tampa and two in Gainesville, with the exception of a 7-0 UF win in Gainesville in 1939. The Spartans also played Florida State nine straight years beginning in 1951. UT won the first two meetings, 14-6 in 1951 and 39-6 in 1952, before the Seminoles won the next seven. They played the University of Miami ten times between 1936 and 1974 with Tampa winning three games, Miami six and one game ended in a tie.

Other local teams that frequented the early schedules were Rollins, Stetson and Southern. Tampa went 1-13 against the Rollins College Tars, before the Winter Park based school dropped football after the 1950 season. UT was 7-8-3 against DeLand based Stetson University who had a football program until 1956. The Spartans were 2-0 against Southern before the Lakeland school did away with football after the 1935 season and renamed itself Florida Southern College.

Even in the early days, the football program had lukewarm support from the school's trustees. Some of the first players had to pay their own expenses. As with many schools, football was interrupted by World War II. Football returned in 1946, then the trustees rejected a fund raising offer from alumni and no team was fielded in 1947. The hiring of Marcelino Huerta as head coach, a position he held for eleven seasons, eventually gave the program some stability.

In 1963, head coach Fred Pancoast recommended the school upgrade its football program to Division I status. He had the foresight to envision that building a bigger stadium might eventually draw an NFL team to the area. Pancoast thought, "We would be self-sustaining, in fact, we would be able to return money to the general fund."

Once again, the school considered dropping football, but the idea to elevate the program to Division I-A was eventually approved. There was a stipualtion that the program could not lose too much money. Then Atletic Director Sam Bailey helped organize a Quarterback Club to raise additional funding. In 1967, alumni and fans formed the Sword and Shield, an orginization that raised $139,360 for the athletic programs. Tampa Stadium was built and brought about the glory days of UT football.

The first event at the stadium was a Spartans football game against number three ranked Tennessee. On November 4, 1967, 21,636 saw the Volunteers, quarterbacked by Bubba Wyche (the brother of Sam Wyche), roll over the Spartans 38-0. In 1969, Florida A&M came to town for the first ever intrastate battle between a predominantly black school and a predominantly white school in the state of Florida. The Rattlers won a back and forth contest 34-28.

The 1970 team defeated the Miami Hurricanes at the Orange Bowl 31-14 in what may have been the biggest win in school history. They finished 10-1 that season and Miami hired away head coach Fran Curci for the 1971 season. In October 1971, UT was formerly accepted into the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The 1972 team again beat Miami 7-0 and capped off a 10-2 season with a victory in the Tangerine Bowl. Kent State's Jack Lambert was the Defensive MVP of that bowl game and UT's Freddie Solomon was the Offensive MVP in the Spartans 21-18 Tangerine Bowl victory.

While it was not known at the time, the University of Tampa played its last game on November 30, 1974. The Spartans defeated FAMU 35-10 before 21,564 fans at Tampa Stadium and finished their final season 6-5.

The football program was in major debt. In 1975, University President B.D. Owens reported that over the last three years $755,000 was taken out the endowment fund to support the football program. If reserves continued to be depleted, the school would become bankrupt or have to become part of the state system. Ownes stated that the elimination of football was "Vital to the institution's fiscal health."

On February 12, 1975, the finance committee recommended dropping the football program. Two weeks later, the Board of Trustees agreed with a 16-9 vote. To this date, there are some which have never forgiven the University of Tampa's trustees for dropping the football program. There were even stories that President Owens was forced to carry a weapon for protection.

In the late 1980s, there was serious talk about bringing back the football program. Rick Thomas, who played strong safety for the Spartans in 1970-71, headed a study group and had plenty to say about revitalizing football at UT. "Dropping football was one of the worst business decisions UT ever made. It was a hasty, poor decision based on miscalculated facts. We could have remained successful then, and we can be successful now. The most successful sport in Tampa Bay area is football. Just look at the Buccaneers, the Bandits and the Hall of Fame Bowl. There's no college football within 80 miles. We have a great base of support for football that won't die and won't go away. When we had football, the team belonged to the community. It can work."

Also on that feasibility committee was Ed Caldwell, a defensive back at UT from 1968-72, who talked about the day the school dropped football. "Ever since that day, it's been in the back of our minds to bring back football. Now, the climate is perfect."

While the committee proposal included a $2-million fund-raising effort before the school fielded a team, on March 31, 1989, University of Tampa president Bruce Samson nixed the idea and recommended the school's Board of Trustees defer a decision on football for several years. Commented Samson, "It was not just an economic decision; it's really a question of priorities. But this certainly does not close the door to revisiting the subject. I hope the time will come when the university can have a football program." Rick Thomas remarked, "I think we had every ingredient to start a strong football program except one - the support of the president."

A couple of years later, things began rolling to bring football to the University of South Florida and UT has not had any serious discussions on the subject. Today, since the return of the football program remains highly unlikely, all that is left are fond memories of coaches, players and stadiums that are an integral part of Tampa Bay's football history.

Fran Curci and Earle Bruce are probably the best known of the thirteen head football coaches at the Unversity of Tampa. Here is a brief profile of the better known of the UT coaches.

Nash Higgins, formerly an assistant coach at the University of Florida, was the head coach from 1933 to 1940 with a 36-39-5 record. Part of his legend is that when he traveled north on recruiting trips, Higgins did so in a donanted bus that carried players, crates of oranges and a pet alligator.

Frank Sinkwich was a Heisman Trophy winner and coached two seasons at UT. He played halfback at Georgia and is still remembered as one of the greatest offensive players in college football history. Sinkwich won the 1942 Heisman Trophy and the Detroit Lions selected him with the first pick in the 1943 draft. He was the National Football League MVP in 1944 and an all pro for two seasons. He joined the Air Force and a knee injury playing for the Air Force team ended his football career. Sinkwich became the UT head coach in 1950 and his last game as head coach was a victory in the Phillips Field Bowl. He was 12-7-1 in two seasons and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Marcelino "Chelo" Huerta was the head coach from 1952 to 1961 and built the University of Tampa into a small college power. In his first season, the team went 8-3-1 and posted a Cigar Bowl victory. After going 8-1 in 1961, Huerta moved on to coach Wichita State and Parsons College. Huerta went 63-37-2 in ten season at UT and had career coaching record of 104-53-2. He was a colorful coach and there were rumors that he would actually suit up and play in some road games. Huerta has been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Fred Pancoast was just 28 years old when he was named head coach in 1962. He was a four year starter at safety for UT (1949-52) and was named the Spartans top defensive player in 1951. Pancoast had been offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Florida, including the time when Steve Spurrier was the QB. After two seasons, and an 7-9 record, he would go on to coach at Memphis State and Vanderbilt.

Sam Bailey did it all with Spartans. He was head basketball coach from 1950 to 55 (45-66 .405), an assiatant football coach and also coached baseball for thirteen years. Bailey was promoted to Atletic Director in 1962 and took over as head football coach in 1964. He compliled a 16-20 record from 1964 to 1967. The school's current baseball field is called Sam Bailey Field.

Fran Curci lead the Spartans to a an impressive 25-6 record in three seasons (1968-1970). After his team defeated the Miami Hurricanes at the Orange Bowl in 1970, and UT finished that season 10-1, the University of Miami promptly hired Curci for the 1971 season. Curci, an All-American quarterback with the Hurricanes, lasted two years at Miami. He then coached at Kentucky for nine seasons, lead the Wildcats to an SEC title and is the longest tenured coach in Kentucky history. Curci was also the first head coach of the Tampa Bay Storm.

Bill Fulcher was an assisant coach at Florida, head coach at UT for one season, then went on to coach Georgia Tech for a couple of years. Fulcher lead the Spartans to a 6-5 record in 1971.

While Earle Bruce coached for only one year at the University of Tampa, he lead the 1972 team to a 10-2 record and the school's only major bowl game victory. Leading the Spartans to the Tangerine Bowl was the first of four different football programs Bruce would take to a bowl game. Bruce went on to coach Iowa State for six years, but he is probably best known as the long time head coach at Ohio State. Bruce succeeded Woody Hayes as the Buckeyes coach, was at OSU from 1979 to 1987 and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Dennis Fryzel was the last head football coach at UT posting a 14-8 record over the 1973 and 1974 seasons. Fryzel was an assistant coach at Ohio State under Woody Hayes before coming to Tampa. After UT dropped football, he returned to OSU where Earle Bruce was now head coach. On December 31, 1981, Bruce fired defensive coordinator Fryzel and three other coaches in what was called the "New Year's Eve Massacre." Fryzel would not coach again.

There were some notable players from the days of UT football with the biggest names being John Matuszak, Freddie Solomon, Darryl Carlton and Noah Jackson. Here is a brief profile of some of the more well known players.

John Matuszak played defensive end for the Spartans and may be the most well known UT player. He was a 1972 All-American and selected by the Houston Oilers with the first overall pick in the 1973 college draft. The "Tooz" played 123 games with Houston, Kansas City and Oakland.

Freddie Solomon was a record breaking quarterback at UT. In 1974, he rushed for a then NCAA QB record 1,300 yards (with 19 TDs and a 6.74 yards per carry average). "Fabulous Freddie" finished his four years at UT with 5,803 total yards and a then QB record 3,299 career rushing yards (with 39 TDs and a 76.7 yards per game average). He received thirteen first place votes, and finished 12th, for the 1974 Heisman Trophy. Solomon was picked by Miami in the second round of the 1975 draft and played wide receiver, quarterback, running back and returned kicks as a pro. He was at Miami for three seasons and played at San Francisco until 1985. In his career, Solomon caught 371 passes for 5,846 yards and scored a total of 57 touchdowns. He played in 151 games and on two of San Francisco's Super Bowl champion teams.

Noah Jackson started every game at defensive tackle in three years at UT. He passed up his final year of eligibility to play in the CFL and, now converted to offensive tackle, he played three seasons with the Toronto Argonauts. Jackson was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in the seventh round of the 1974 draft and played at Chicago for nine seasons. He was on the NFL all rookie team in 1975. The Buccaneers signed Jackson as a free agent in 1984 and he played in six games in his final season. Jackson played in a total of 131 NFL games.

Darryl Carlton was drafted by Miami in the first round, twenty-third overall, in the 1975 draft. The offensive tackle played two seasons at Miami and was traded to Tampa Bay. Carlton played in a total of 71 NFL games, including 43 games with the Buccaneers from 1977 to 1979.

Leon McQuay was a popular running back and the first black athlete to receive a scholarship to UT. "All the Way" McQuay rushed for 3,039 yards, scored 37 touchdowns and was a two time small college All-American in three seasons at Tampa. He rushed for 1,362 yards and scored 22 TDs as a junior and skipped his senior season to sign with the Toronto Argonauts in 1971. McQuay rushed for 1,600 yards in two CFL seasons and played on a Grey Cup championship team. In 1973, he was selected in the fifth round of draft by the New York Giants. McQuay played a total of 30 NFL games, bouncing from the Giants to New England to New Orleans, and was used primarily as a kick return specialist. He signed with the Tampa Bay Bandits in 1982, but was cut three months later.

Pete Kuharchek was a linebacker at UT for the 1967 and 1968 seasons. He has had a long coaching career, which began as the linebackers coach at UT in 1970. Kuharchek was the linebackers coach for the Tampa Bay Bandits from 1983 to 1985 and his first head coaching job was with NFL Europe's Rhein Fire in 2001.

Paul Orndorff played fullback at UT and the "Brandon Bull" scored 21 touchdowns for the Spartans. He was drafted by New Orleans as a tight end in the twelfth round of the 1973 draft. He never played in NFL, but did play with Jacksonville of World Football League in 1975. Orndorff became famous as a wrestler known as "Mr. Wonderful."

There were plenty of other players in the history of UT football that went on to make an impact in the NFL. Quarterback Jim Del Gaizo played a total of 16 games with the Dolphins, Packers and Giants. Linebacker Ted Greene intercepted four passes in 32 games with the Dallas Texans. Tight end M.L. Harris caught ten touchdown passes in 74 games with Cincinnati. Running back Don Herndon scored a TD for the Giants in 1960. Running back Morris LaGrand was drafted by Kansas City in 1975 and selected in the 1976 Veteran Allocation Draft by the Buccaneers, but never played for the Bucs. Offensive lineman John Mooring played 53 games with the Jets and Saints. Defensive back J.C. Wilson had eleven interceptions in 84 games with the Oilers. Linebacker Mike Woods played for the Baltimore Colts.

A history of the University of Tampa football program must include the stadiums where they played. Plant Field, Phillips Field and Tampa Stadium are major parts of the Tampa Bay area's football past.

Plant Field, which was named after railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant, was the site of the UT Spartans first home games. Before football, on March 26 1914, Plant Field hosted the first major league baseball spring training game in the Tampa Bay area, as the Chicago Cubs defeated the St. Louis Browns 3-2. A plaque remains to commemorate the day that 4,300 fans saw Babe Ruth hit what may have been his longest home run. On April 4, 1919, while playing for the Boston Red Sox, Ruth blasted a 587 foot shot against the New York Giants. There was a football game between the Chicago Bears, lead by Red Grange, and the Tampa Cardinals, which was a pickup team lead by Jim Thorpe. Plant Field was renamed Pepin-Rood Stadium, after community activists Art Pepin and Ed Rood, and was demolished in 2002.

Phillips Field has been called Tampa Bay's first real football stadium and it was the home to UT football for thirty years. In 1934, the I. W. Phillips Estate donated seven and one-half acres of land, located on the west bank of the Hillsborough River, to the school. Using $72,000 of Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds, and $50,000 in bonds issued by UT, Phillips Field was constructed. When it officially opened on October 4, 1937, the Tampa Spartans had a new football home. It had wooden bleachers for almost 5,000 people, which would later be tripled to increase the seating capacity to about 15,000. Phillips Field had a horseshoe configuration open to the east and the river. Some still remember those days, when on field goals and extra point attempts, the ball sometimes ended up in the river. The first professional football game played in Tampa Bay was held at Phillips Field. In August 1964, the Buffalo Bills, quarterbacked by Jack Kemp, defeated the New York Titans 26- 13 in an American Football League preseason game. Phillips Field had a track running around it and A.J. Foyt once raced on the dirt track.

Tampa Stadium opened in 1967 and the primary tenant was UT football. Other college games were played at the stadium, along with NFL preseason games, and eventually the Tampa Bay Buccaneers called it home. Tampa Stadium hosted two Super Bowls, the Outback Bowl and the first games of USF football. Tampa Stadium was torn down after Raymond James Stadium was built in 1998.

From a small college program in the 1930s to full fledged major college football in the 1970s, it was quite a ride for University of Tampa football.

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