President William P. Few's practice in staffing the new university was to seek advice from established scholars and respected administrators. Early in 1930, he had William H. Wannamaker, chief academic officer and chair of the faculty committee on athletics, write William Wallace Wade, football coach at the University of Alabama, for a confidential recommendation for a football coach and director of athletics. Then thirty-nine years old, Wade was at the top of his profession having built Alabama's football program and with it respect for southern football to among the nation's elite. In seven years Wade's teams had a record of 51-13-3 with three southern conference and two national championships. At the time when the best team in the West invited the best team in the East to the Rose Bowl, he had taken two Alabama teams to that prestigious bowl. In 1930 Duke was occupying its spectacular new Gothic campus with new athletic facilities. Few sought a director to fully integrate athletics into college life without sacrificing the paramount emphasis of academics.
In response, Wade dutifully recommended two individuals but, in a surprise ending, he stated that he had one more year on his contract and if Duke would be willing to wait, he would like to talk about the position for himself. Confidential negotiations proceeded until Wade accepted the Duke position. Ironically, his last year at Alabama produced yet another undefeated season with a Rose Bowl victory and his third national championship. Speculation was rampant as to why he would leave at such a time. It was rumored that a salary higher than that of President Few enticed him, but, in reality, his salary did not exceed that of several administrators.
Success soon followed at Duke as well. Within three years, Duke football improved with seasons of 5-3-2, 7-3, and 9-1 and a conference championship in 1933. Duke had the first All-American player in North Carolina in Fred Crawford in 1932 and 1933. In sixteen years Wade had an impressive record of 110 wins, 36 losses and 7 ties with seven conference championships and national rankings from first to fourth by various rating systems in 1938, 1939 and 1941.
The "Iron Duke" team of 1938 was undefeated, untied, and unscored upon before a heartbreaking 7-3 loss in Duke's first Rose Bowl game when Southern California scored in the last minute of play. Duke hosted the Rose Bowl in 1942 because of the surprise military attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 for the only time the game has ever been played away from California. Although favored, Duke lost to Oregon State 20 to 16. Wade took credit for the defeat saying the myriad details of being host distracted him. But the team played its worst game of the year. It was greatly disappointed with the relocation since it lost a glamorous trip to California and it had to practice in Durham over Christmas vacation as well. Wade coached twenty-six All-American players at Duke, with eight joining him in the National Football Hall of Fame.
Also employed as Director of Physical Education and Intramurals, Wade implemented a program that the Duke Chronicle reported had over ninety percent of undergraduate men taking part in at least one sports activity. Basketball and boxing were the most popular sports. Physical education courses enrolled almost seven hundred men with tennis and swimming attracting the most interest. The women's physical education and athletic programs were administered separately through the undergraduate Woman's College.
A not insignificant footnote to Wade's career relates to the racial integration of football. Even though a native Southerner and coach in a segregated system of education, Wade had no qualms about playing integrated teams. He had been a teammate of Fritz Pollard, a Negro All-American, at Brown University when they played together in the Rose Bowl in 1916. In 1938, Duke had an away game at Syracuse which had an outstanding dark-skinned player named Wilmeth Sidat-Singh. While some Southern schools asked that Sidat-Singh not be in the line up against them and their wishes were honored, Wade made no such request. When queried Wade said, "we want to beat them at their best." Duke did, 21-0. In 1950 a visiting team from Pittsburgh brought the first African-American player to play an integrated game in North Carolina. President Edens and Wade issued a press release welcoming the team to Durham. The game was played without incident on or off the field.
Wade retired from coaching in 1950 to become commissioner of the Southern Conference. In 1967, the university named its football stadium after Wallace Wade. Despite being in five Halls of Fame he considered the naming of the stadium his greatest honor. He was always proud and amused when introductions to strangers usually brought the comment "You're the man Duke stadium is named after!" He continued to live in Durham raising cattle on a farm in Bahama until his death at age 94 in 1986. In his eulogy, President Terry Sanford remembered Wade as a man who "held presence, commanded attention and demanded excellence." His players held him in awe. At the fifty-year reunion of the Durham Rose Bowl game, after Wade's death, team members were overheard debating whether or not to wear a coat and tie to the stadium on a very hot Saturday afternoon. Someone said "The Old Man" (his players' affectionate name for him, obviously used behind his back) "would want us to wear a coat and tie." They did.
Why did Wade leave Alabama for Duke? He steadfastly refused to answer that question until an interview with a sports historian late in his life. It was not the challenge of reviving another dormant football program. Nor was it for the money. He welcomed the opportunity to direct a total athletic program including intramural activities for all students. His philosophy regarding athletics and academics fit perfectly with that of the Duke administration. But having experienced the difference between programs at private and state universities since he was an assistant coach at Vanderbilt before going to Alabama, above all, Wade wanted the greater freedom from interference he believed a private university provided. His surprise decision was an excellent match for Wade, for Duke, and for football.
- Bowling, Lewis. Wallace Wade: Championship Years at Alabama and Duke. Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 2006. (catalog record)
- Football Records, 1922-ongoing
- Wallace Wade Stadium (online article)
- The 1942 Durham Rose Bowl (online article)
- Photos related to Wallace Wade on Flickr