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Burdell’s Bracket: Sweet Sixteen

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What’s the secret to winning this bracket? Football.

William Alexander and Bobby Dodd
Georgia Tech Archives/George C. Griffin Photography Collection (http://history.library.gatech.edu/items/show/22440)

It’s time to let the people decide - we’re busting out the poll tool to run the second edition of From the Rumble Seat’s Burdell Brackets, this year featuring some of the greatest coaches, professors, presidents, and alumni Tech has ever produced. We’ll vote each week on Thursday mornings, so check back here next week for the Elite Eight.


Welcome back to the bracket challenge, here’s the draw for a refresher:

Burdell’s Bracket: Sweet Sixteen
Jake Grant

Sweet Sixteen:

Coaches Region:

No. 1 John Heisman vs. No. 4 William Alexander

John Heisman, simply put, is probably the reason Georgia Tech athletics exist, at least at the level they do today. He may not be the clear-cut greatest coach of all time in his sport, but he has an argument at it, at least, and, thanks to the award in his namesake, probably the loudest legacy today. At Tech, he served as athletic director, as well as coach of the baseball, basketball, and football teams. He won conference titles in the former and latter, and was the coach of the 1916 222-0 Cumberland win and the 1917 national championship. His 1916 retroactive title is unclaimed by the school today.

William Alexander started at Tech as a student and captain of the scrub team, graduated as a civil engineer and class valedictorian, and stayed on to be an instructor, before eventually finding his way to Heisman’s staff in several sports. He proved so indispensable that, despite his young age, he was named to be the Old Man’s successor, and would go on to not only lead the team to the 1928 national championship, but to be the first coach to ever lead a team to every major bowl - Rose, Cotton, Sugar, and Orange. His “Plan” in 1927 famously ruined the School in Athens’ national title hopes, and, despite getting offers to follow in the footsteps of Wallace Wade in Alabama, he never left his alma mater. As athletic director, he would also see the athletic department through some of its leanest years, costing the school its boxing and lacrosse programs, and, for a while, swimming and other non-revenue sports, but kept the doors open and founded the Reck Club.

Poll

No. 1 John Heisman vs. No. 4 William Alexander

This poll is closed

  • 70%
    John Heisman
    (56 votes)
  • 29%
    William Alexander
    (23 votes)
79 votes total Vote Now

No. 2 Bobby Dodd vs. No. 6 Bobby Ross

On a nice gameday, if one enters the Flats from Tech Square, in order to get to the game, one must walk down Techwood to Bobby Dodd Way and take a right in order to get into Bobby Dodd Stadium. It is no accident the man was doubly immortalized, seeing as his name is also on the award that goes to the football coach of the year, and he served extensively on the Flats to a school he wanted to come to as a young two-way football star, but rejected him because of his poor academics. Before he was Alexander’s successor, he was an assistant coach and coached baseball, and he would go on to be Tech’s athletic director, but his greatest accomplishment was the Golden Era of Tech Football, with a claimed national championship in 1952 joined by unclaimed awarded titles in 1951 and 1956, as well as many other years of great success, bowl wins, and growth. It was said Bobby Dodd would only leave Tech for Texas, but neither they or his alma mater of Tennessee ever pried him away. Ultimately, it’s probably principally his fault we’re no longer in the SEC, but he stuck to higher principles, and, for that, I respect him more.

Like many of the top seeds in this region, Bobby Ross probably requires no introduction for the fair reader of this blog. For those that don’t know, Ross was the coach of Tech’s most recent football national championship team in 1990, a year that, unsurprisingly, also saw a conference title and a bowl win (Citrus, over Nebraska). That team came from pretty much nowhere, just two seasons removed from being the dregs of the conference, and took a lot of skill and a little luck to go the whole season without a loss, something no other title claimant from the year can make. The next year, Tech would finish second in the ACC behind a newcomer/juggernaut, the Bobby Bowden-led Florida State Seminoles, and, despite an 8-5 record and Aloha Bowl win, Ross would depart for the NFL after just five years at Tech.

Poll

No. 2 Bobby Dodd vs. No. 6 Bobby Ross

This poll is closed

  • 97%
    Bobby Dodd
    (78 votes)
  • 2%
    Bobby Ross
    (2 votes)
80 votes total Vote Now

Faculty and Staff Region:

No. 1 George Griffin vs. No. 5 D. M. Smith

The Best Friend to All Tech Men, “The Most Beloved Person in the History of Georgia Tech,” or one of his other many Tech-friendly nicknames would fit in well here, but, really, the man did it all. Whether it was carrying two touchdowns across the line in the Cumberland game, graduating in 1922 as an engineer after an 8 year slog from sub-freshman to senior interrupted by World War One, serving as a math professor, a football assistant coach, and tennis, track and cross country head coach, countless administrative positions, or, most famously, as the Dean of Men, Griffin did it all, and wrote it down for us to enjoy in his memoirs. For that, he is immortalized in statue form outside the Ferst Center in a plaza named in his honor, as well as the namesake of the track. Oh, and he also invented what is now known as the Freshman Cake Race.

David Melville Smith was a mathematics professor best known for his teaching style and winning personality. He spent forty years as an instructor at Tech, retiring in 1954, and spent 14 of those years as the department head of mathematics and helped charter the Mathematical Association of America. He was described as,

“‘A friendly, inspiring curmudgeon who could scare the hell out of you, teach you, advise you, and follow your future after graduation...unfailingly interested and supportive.’ His memorable teaching style and devotion to his students earned him the title of “legend” among alumni...He was often seen driving around the Georgia Tech campus in a 1930s black coupé automobile similar to the Ramblin’ Wreck.”

Upon his death, the Carnegie Physics Building would be renamed in his honor.

Poll

No. 1 George Griffin vs. No. 5 D. M. Smith

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    George Griffin
    (60 votes)
  • 18%
    D. M. Smith
    (14 votes)
74 votes total Vote Now

No. 6 John Saylor Coon vs. No. 10 Homer Rice

This guy was the first one, as in, the first professor of mechanical engineering and drawing, Tech’s first major, as well as being the first head of the department. He spent 35 years as a Tech educator and was known for being a very difficult professor. As superintendent of the shop program, he ended the expectation that students use the school shops to make and sell goods to raise money, moving the school closer towards a traditional collegiate engineering degree. He promoted quantification and pushed the degree program with classes broadening the scope of learning with ethics, design, and analysis. Like Smith, he was a pioneer in his field, helping found the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. His lasting legacy would define mechanical engineering curriculum across the country, fusing his shops and classrooms into unified programs, with the shops essentially becoming labs for the classes in the New Shop Building, named in his honor after his retirement in 1923. Though it no longer houses engineering classes, it is the oldest building on campus still used for academics, and was the largest by floor area at the time of its completion. Though Mason would be seen as promoting “shop culture” in the 1960s, its true form died in the turn of the 20th century with Coon, as he helped evolve it to where it stood in Mason’s time, when it needed to evolve again.

Rice, meanwhile, was the athletic director’s athletic director. In fact, the best one of the year gets an award named after him. Not only that, but, in terms of general success, he oversaw Tech athletics’ Golden Era, with unmatched heights in basketball, a national championship in football, a baseball College World Series appearance, and sustained success in golf and tennis, and two of his facilities hosted Olympic events. Most importantly, and longest lasting, has been Rice’s views on leadership and his Total Person Program, exemplifying what Dodd meant when he and Edwin Harrison pulled us out of the SEC - Tech, and the college experience, is about more than wins and losses, it’s about the journey, education, and growth along the way, too.

Poll

No. 6 John Saylor Coon vs. No. 10 Homer Rice

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    John Saylor Coon
    (26 votes)
  • 66%
    Homer Rice
    (52 votes)
78 votes total Vote Now

Alumni and Students Region:

No. 8 John Young vs. No. 13 Calvin Johnson

Young died recently in the winter of 2018, but was best known for his time as an astronaut. He graduated from Tech in 1952 with a BS AE before joining the Navy and serving in the Korean War. After the war, he made the jump from air to space, where he became a part of the first crewed Gemini mission in 1965. Later, in 1969, he was the first man to fly solo around the moon and is one of only three people to have been to the moon twice. In the Space Shuttle age, he flew two missions on the Columbia before becoming the Chief of the Astronaut Office. After 42 years in NASA, he retired with the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Congressional Space Medal of Honor, NASA Distinguished Service Medal, and NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal, among others.

There’s only one Megatron. We can talk about his many NFL accolades, including his status as a Pro Bowler in 6 of his 9 professional seasons, his four All-Pro selections, his record for receiving yards in a season, his 100-yard game records, and his reception records, but being one of the greatest to ever do it after college doesn’t even reflect what he did while he was here. The Newnan native is Tech’s highest-rated recruit ever, winner of the Biletnikoff Award that goes to the best college receiver, was the ACC Player of the Year, a two-time first team All-American, all-conference in each of his three seasons, and ACC Rookie of the Year, as well. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2018. These are all great things but Johnson is a man of high character as well. And, in that, he represents his alma mater well.

Poll

No. 8 John Young vs. No. 13 Calvin Johnson

This poll is closed

  • 49%
    John Young
    (39 votes)
  • 50%
    Calvin Johnson
    (40 votes)
79 votes total Vote Now

No. 2 Jimmy Carter vs. No. 11 Bobby Jones

Carter, well, he did plenty as a Navy man after leaving Tech during World War II to go to the Academy. After serving, he returned to Plains, Georgia to be a peanut farmer before working his way from Georgia State Senator to Governor of Georgia to President of the United States. He was noted in his early career as someone who fought for equality and integration, and would famously feud with his own lieutenant governor-slash-predecessor-as-governor Lester Maddox, noted archsegregationist and proprietor of the Pickrick Restaurant on what is now Tech’s campus, over these issues. Running as a dark horse for president, he beat incumbent Gerald Ford, another man with civil rights-related ties to Tech. In his time in office, he addressed issues from Vietnam War draft dodgers, nuclear armament, the Panama Canal Zone, and created the Departments of Energy and Education. His tenure was hurt by the Iran Hostage Crisis, the Energy Crisis, and the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster, and using the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympic boycott as a political stunt did him few public favors. For more on his support of building more Atlanta expressways, click here for yesterday’s Rearview. Ultimately, he graded out as an average president, but his post-presidential work has been exemplary and been the core of his legacy. Carter is the longest-lived president and the longest-retired president.

Jones was a lawyer by day after graduating from Tech as a mechanical engineer in 1922 and picking up degrees from Emory and Harvard, while moonlighting as the greatest amateur golfer of all time. He is famous for his innovations at Augusta National, where he helped found the course and the Masters, but even more notable for his “Grand Slam” in 1930, where he won the US Open, US Amateur, British Open, and the British Amateur, the four main golf tournaments of the day, all in the same year. Afterwards, he retired from golf, participating in his Masters’ tournament on an exhibition basis from its founding until 1948, when he retired due to health. A noted sportsman, he once quipped that “you might as well praise me for not robbing banks” when he was acclaimed for openly taking a questionable penalty - the USGA’s sportsmanship award is named in his honor. He died in 1971 and is one of the few on this list to be a member of both Georgia Tech’s athletic and engineering halls of fame, and, unsurprisingly, is also a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Poll

No. 2 Jimmy Carter vs. No. 11 Bobby Jones

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Jimmy Carter
    (25 votes)
  • 68%
    Bobby Jones
    (55 votes)
80 votes total Vote Now

Presidents and Leaders Region:

No. 1 Marion Brittain vs. No. 4 John Hanson

A cursory glance at the map lends Marion Brittain a respect not given to any past faculty, staff, or administrator. Not one, but two places are named for Brittain: the beautiful collegiate gothic dining hall, and the path known as Brittain Drive, more colloquially known as Yellow Jacket Alley. He would find both fitting. Brittain helped expand campus to new and previously underserved students, like the women of the Evening School, growing the research at the Engineering Experiment Station, and standing up to the inequalities of the state government with resolve, despite countless setbacks like losing the Commerce School and the school’s independence when the Board of Trustees was merged into the state Board of Regents. It was Brittain who secured the Guggenheim grant that established the School of Aeronautics and he who established the ROTC. When it was all said and done, after a tenure of fighting legislature that began before he even dreamed of leading the Institute, he stepped down on his own terms. He still lived in the old President’s House on North Avenue and still walked to work every day to his desk in the same office. Brittain was the only man to ever officially hold the title President Emeritus. Instead of administrative duties, he toiled for a few years on his book, The Story of Georgia Tech, a labor of love. He would continue to be Tech’s biggest, most loyal football fan - fittingly, one of the founding fathers of what is now the Ramblin’ Reck, Club - and remains to this day Tech’s longest serving president.

John Hanson, probably more than any other man, is why Tech exists. He was a self-made industrialist who fought the long fight, never actually serving Tech as president or anything like that, but it was his idea for the state to bring about technical education, and then he championed it with his connections in state politics, his position as the editor of the Macon Telegraph as a counterweight to Henry Grady’s Atlanta Constitution, and his status as a prominent textile manufacturer and railroad executive. He was a prominent backer of Nathaniel Harris in his political aspirations to get Tech to happen, ultimately succeeding after six years of pushing. He died in 1910 and was honored in 1961 with the naming of Hanson Hall, a dormitory, in his honor.

Poll

No. 1 Marion Brittain vs. No. 4 John Hanson

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    Marion Brittain
    (53 votes)
  • 28%
    John Hanson
    (21 votes)
74 votes total Vote Now

No. 2 Lyman Hall vs. No. 3 Blake Van Leer

While Pettit, Van Leer, and Hall all died on the job, only one worked himself to death. For all his work fundraising for a school that was criminally neglected by the state legislature, he was able to expand the curriculum offerings by laying the groundwork for programs like textile, civil, chemical, and electrical engineering. Though he was not a sports or recreation fan, his hiring of John Heisman to coach football and his empowerment of J.B. Crenshaw to run the rest of the athletic department was inspired. It is because of that the public tribute to Hall on campus is a small, out of the way chemistry lab-turned-office building that is quite literally overshadowed by its much more famous neighbor, Bobby Dodd Stadium. Growth was the name for Hall, be it through programs, offerings, having dormitories on campus - he thought they would reduce disciplinary infractions, or enrollment. He was the school’s first and only mathematics professor when he was hired, and eventually worked his way up to be its president. He was a hardliner, but a humble man who cared deeply about Tech.

The first engineer to ascend to the highest post at Georgia Tech, Col. Van Leer came to Tech by way of North Carolina State. He would be the last Tech president born in the 19th century, but he was one of Tech’s most progressive presidents, the one to see Tech admit women and the most prominent voice in Tech’s fight to play in the 1956 Sugar Bowl, despite his failing rapidly failing health, and the now eight decade old tug-of-war against the state government that would stop at nothing to throw roadblocks in his way. Much like the passing of Brittain three years prior, the entire campus ground to a halt following his sudden passing of a heart attack in January of 1956. Though the role he played in establishing Georgia Tech and its home city as the first research powerhouse in the region as well as laying the groundwork for swallowing half of Home Park west of Hemphill to turn into West Campus should not be ignored, his steadfast pursuit of opening the Georgia Tech education to any and all who seek it, first with co-education, and stirring the waters that would lead to integration, remain his most significant contributions to Tech as we know it.

Poll

No. 2 Lyman Hall vs. No. 3 Blake Van Leer

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    Lyman Hall
    (40 votes)
  • 45%
    Blake Van Leer
    (34 votes)
74 votes total Vote Now

Who ya got? At the rate of nine upsets of the original 32 matchup pairings, we are tentatively looking at another four or five big ones this time around, so that ought to be interesting. We’ll see you next Thursday for the Elite Eight.