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Ashway: Peahead's legacy still lives at Wake Forest

POSTED: September 3, 2013 1:55 p.m.
 

Now that you’ve had a long opening weekend in which to immerse yourselves back into college football, let’s see how much you really know.

Can you name the coach who won more games at Wake Forest than anyone else?

If you answered Jim Grobe, you’d be wrong. Close, but wrong. His 74 wins from 2001 through Thursday place him second on the list.  He’s also lost 74.

And it’s not Jim Caldwell, either. He reached a Super Bowl, but went 26-63 at Wake from 1993 through 2000.  Nor is it Bill Dooley. Vince’s bro went 29-36-2 from ’87 through ’92. From ’81 through ’86, Al Groh went 26-40. John Mackovic was 14-20 from ’78 through ’80.

That’s 35 years of coaching — good coaches, all — and nary a winning record. It takes a very special coach to win at Wake, and Douglas Clyde Walker was special in many respects.

From 1937 through 1950, "Peahead" (a nickname acquired during his Alabama youth) compiled a record of 77-51-6, a .597 winning percentage. Wake hasn’t had a coach post a winning record since Peahead left campus. And only two before him had a better winning percentage, but they each coached for only three seasons.

Peahead’s secret? Discipline, conditioning and toughness.

"Win or lose, you didn’t feel like going out dancing after playing a Peahead-coached team," Bill Thompson of NC State told Bill Hensley of the Window on Wake Forest a few years ago.  "I went home and soaked for hours in a tub of hot water to ease the pain of my bruises."

Herman Hickman, Yale’s head coach, described one of Peahead’s drills for Sports Illustrated in 1956:  "He would line up an entire offensive team and just put one man on defense. Of course, only the men assigned on the regular plays to block him were supposed to do the actual blocking. But it didn’t work out that way.  Five or six men would hit him on every play. And all the time Peahead was exhorting him to ‘make the tackle!’

"He would give each lineman from end to end about ten minutes apiece of this drill. ‘You know,’ he drawled, ‘after a couple of weeks of this, it’s not hard to tell who your football players are!’"

Peahead also told Hickman how he selected his players’ positions.

"I just take about 50 of them down to the woods next to the practice field," he said. "I blow my whistle and tell them to come out on the other side as fast as they can. If they dodge the trees on their way through, they’re backs. If they just run over them and knock them down, then those are my linemen."

Peahead stood about 5-foot-7 and weighed in the vicinity of 200 pounds, loved fancy ties that he wore with sport shirts, and could barely utter a sentence without swearing for emphasis. This didn’t play too well at a Baptist school, leaving Peahead in trouble consistently.

Called on the carpet by the university president on one occasion, Peahead said, "Aww, Dr. Kitchin, ‘damn’ to a football coach is like ‘amen’ to a preacher!"

Furman Bisher remembered covering Peahead while at the Charlotte News.

"He was a unique individual, a genuine character," Bisher told Hensley." He was witty, feisty, droll, and quotable, and he never made excuses."

He favored nicknames for his players. Among the more colorful were "amoeba brain," "Hollow brain," "butterfingers," and "anthracite head." Former player Tom Donahue told Tucker Mitchell of the Winston-Salem Journal that his freshman roommate Leonard Paletta thought his first name was "expletive."  That’s the first thing Peahead ever said when talking to him. "’Expletive’ Paletta, are you ever going to get this right?"

Peahead was able to recruit future hall-of-famer Bill George to Wake Forest by showing him the beautiful campus during his visit. Only one problem: Peahead showed him Duke’s campus. When George arrived for the fall semester, Peahead explained that the nice campus was for the upperclassmen.

One time the student body began chanting for reserve Doc Murphrey to be inserted into the game. As the "We Want Murphrey" chant reached a crescendo, Peahead called Murphrey to his side. "Murphrey," he drawled, "go sit in the stands. I think your friends want you up there."

Once a player got the wind knocked out of him, and the team doctor dutifully reported this fact to Peahead.  "Hey, you’re a doctor," Peahead exclaimed, "make him breathe!"

Peahead’s 1945 team beat South Carolina in the very first Gator Bowl. In 1946, his Deacons went over to Knoxville and stunned fourth-ranked Tennessee, 19-6. That remains Wake’s only victory against a top 10 team. All-time, Wake is 1-52 against top 10 teams, and 1-33 against top five teams.

In fact, Peahead’s success is the reason Wake Forest is a member of the ACC.

"We clearly belonged with those other schools," alumnus and faculty member Ed Wilson told Mitchell.  "Furman, George Washington, William & Mary, The Citadel, in terms of size and all. But the big schools were our natural rivals.

"Peahead had contributed to that feeling because he had made us competitive in football with those schools and some other big schools. You can say he made it possible for Wake to even consider going into the ACC."

Peahead Walker. His legacy lives.

 

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