Jess Neely showed the college football
world how to win like a gentleman.
Jess Neely came to the Owls in 1940 after a solid
stint at Clemson. The Tennessee- born, Vanderbilt- educated attorney- coach
was a pioneer in both on-field tactics and marketing. At Clemson, he originated the
IPTAY ("I pay $10 a year") Club, which at the time was considered
big-money alumni fundraising. (It is quite a coincidence, but the three most-
reknowned Rice coaches--John W. Heisman, Jess Neely, and Ken Hatfield, all coached at
Clemson before coming to Rice.)
Neely's teams were always tough; usually a winner. Coach
Neely liked to recruit as many Texas small-town high school quarterbacks as possible, on
the theory that they were each the best athlete on their team--he could always find
another position for them to play.
His inaugural 1940 Rice team went 7-2. Then, his Rice teams
in the immediate post-war years reached the greatest measure of success in Institute
history, finishing 10th in the nation, with an Orange Bowl victory over Tennessee in 1946,
and 5th in the nation with a Cotton Bowl victory over North Carolina, in 1949. His
teams of the 50s were no less accomplished, winning SWC championships in 1953 and 1957,
with a Cotton Bowl victory over Alabama in '54. He took the Owls to two more bowl
games before ending his career--in 1960, to the Sugar Bowl, and in 1961, to the
Ending his coaching career in 1966, Neely finished eighth on the
all-time list of winningest college coaches, with 208 victories. He still had a few
good coaching years left in him, but saw that college athletics was becoming a big
business, far removed from his philosophy of sport, and he had come to find the recruiting
process especially distasteful. He returned to Vanderbilt to serve for many
years as athletic director there. On the Vanderbilt campus, through the athletic
complex, the major street is named Jess Neely Drive. By that measure, at Rice, the
stadium, the weight complex, the coaches' offices, the gym, and the street that goes by
them--all ought to be named after Jess Neely.
Williams' Rice Historical Society biography of Jess Neely...