Derrick Thomas, a winner of the Butkus Trophy, is picked in the first round of the NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. After being the fourth person picked in the draft, Thomas, who is in Las Vegas with the ESPN crew for the draft, relays back to Tuscaloosa in a conference call, "I'm ecstatic about going to Kansas City."
The Alabama-Made Legend: Vaughn Hall Mancha
my center, is, in my opinion, going to be one of the South’s greatest linemen.
230 and one of the fastest boys on my team.” – Coach Frank
Looking back at Coach
Thomas’s 1944 football team, there is one player that stands alone both in size
and talent. Often called “a one man defense”, Vaughn Mancha was the cornerstone
of Alabama’s offensive success. Not only making a statement in football
history, but also establishing a widely recognized athletic career, Mancha
began his journey at The University of Alabama.
At the young age of
six, Mancha lost the sight in his left eye, thanks to a friend and a bow and
arrow. Later, when most young men were being drafted into the military, Mancha
was not required to serve due to his vision loss; however he joined the
Merchant Marines to serve his country in World War II. Although he signed with
The University of Alabama in 1941, he did not join the football team until 1944
due to the war.
Vaughn Mancha, a junior
at Ramsay High School in Birmingham, was contacted by Coach Thomas’s coaching
staff and offered a scholarship to The University of Alabama. Playing football
for the Crimson Tide was Mancha’s dream and he remembered the conversation
vividly: “Mancha, we’d like to have you down with the Tide.” In an interview
with The Paul W. Bryant Museum he joked, “And I said ‘well do y’all give
After Auburn University
caught wind of Alabama’s move to recruit young Mancha in 1941, they too tried
to offer him a spot on their football squad. After arguing back and forth
between schools, both coaches finally asked Mancha where he would like to play
college football and he replied, “If I am going to play, I’m going to play at
As a four year starter
and a senior captain, Vaughn Mancha quickly became a vital asset to the
football team’s defense. Mancha once said, “Defense is where you play; offense
was a rest period.” However, jersey number 41 could be seen on offense,
defense, and even special teams. Mancha reflected back on his various positions
and said, “You know, when you are on special teams, you run down on the punt.
That’s where you get killed.” He admits in an interview years after his playing
days ended that he would have been a much better football player if he could
have sat out on offense and rested. In his days, Mancha was on the field
playing his heart out both ways for the Crimson Tide.
Mancha as a force to be reckoned with, and they considered themselves lucky to
be on the same team with him, because they would never want to face him on the
field. Tackles made by Mancha were game-savers and game-changers, and for that,
his team and coaches valued his talent and strength. His career took him to two
Sugar Bowls and a Rose Bowl, both of which Mancha was immensely grateful to
have experienced. When asked about the Rose Bowl, Mancha says that a few of his
fondest memories were not those made on the field but rather on the trips and
the time spent with his teammates. He remembered the train ride to California for
the 1945 Rose Bowl and joked, “We stopped the train every three hundred miles
to workout. We played cards and the boys would chase the cheerleaders down the
aisles to keep our legs in shape, you know.” Many of his teammates remember
Mancha for not only his unstoppable skill, but for his sense of humor as well.
Other football legends
have made their way through The University of Alabama, one being Harry Gilmer.
Gilmer played alongside Mancha and they were teammates, but also friends.
Gilmer remembered the astounding stature and size of Mancha, “Back in those
days if you stepped on the scale and weighed 238 pounds, you were fat.” He went
on to say that Mancha was pure muscle, “but you could be 238 pounds and not be
fat if you were Vaughn Mancha.” Gilmer, famous for his “jump pass” appreciated
a good football player, “He was an outstanding
leader, not just a leader. He was the best of the leaders. He played to win,
and he played with great agility. He had speed and lateral quickness. You could
count on him.” The relationship between Harry Gilmer and Vaughn Mancha was
friendly on and off the field. Aside from his unbelievable football reputation,
Gilmer brags on his former teammate and says, “He was also a smart fella, and a
really great friend.”
Mancha was asked to
describe the moment he found out he was named an All-American in 1945 and he
had this to say about his experience: “I went to the Supe Store and the paper
had just come out. Somethin’ about Mancha being All-American. Oh Lordy! I ran
out of that Supe Store and bought all the papers!”
After his college
football career, Vaughn Mancha was a first-round NFL draft pick by the Boston
Yankees, currently the Indianapolis Colts. He signed in 1948 for $7,500 and a $2,500
signing bonus. After only one season with the Yankees, Mancha suffered a knee
injury that ended his football career.
Gilmer and Vaughn Mancha
representatives from Livingston State University (now the University of West
Alabama) made an appearance at Mancha’s front door and offered him the head
coaching position. Mancha, still in recovery from his knee injury, was
ecstatic: “I got up and started running with my cast on my leg!” He coached at
Livingston for three years, making the best out of the small town team he had.
In 1949, Mancha and his team handed Florida State University their only loss of
the season. Mancha recalled that three of his former Alabama teammates stepped
in to officiate that game at the last minute. When asked about it he laughed,
“But I did pay them a bonus.”
After a call from
Florida State in 1952, Mancha took the position of assistant coach under head
coach Don Veller. The majority of his coaching experience at Florida State was
under head coach Tom Nugent. He coached future greats such as Burt Reynolds and
Lee Corso. Aside from being running back coach, Mancha also earned his Master’s
degree in Educational Administration at Florida State University.
Vaughn Mancha’s last
stop of his coaching career took place at Columbia University in New York.
Mancha admitted to wanting to travel the world and finish his studies, and
therefore packed up and took his family north. Mancha coached at Columbia from
1957 to 1959 until he received a call from Florida State University asking him to
come back, but this time for the position of Athletic Director. Mancha left New
York with his family and his Doctorate in education, and returned home to
Mancha, FSU (1960)
Ask anyone at Florida
State University, and they will tell you that Vaughn Mancha was one of the most
significant gifts they ever received. As athletic director for twelve years,
Mancha altered the entire athletic culture at the university. He hired
legendary football coaches like Bobby Bowden, Bill Parcells, and Joe Gibbs.
Under the focus and determination of Mancha as AD all sports prospered and
improved. The baseball, basketball, and football programs had off-the-chart
seasons and received national recognition. The “never give up on your goal” mindset
of Mancha gave FSU the tools it needed to become a contender among other
During his tenure as
athletic director, his former head coach Don Veller became the FSU golf
coach. Back in the day, Coach Veller had
griped about the money that the athletic department gave to the golf program
for scholarships. Veller would say, “Why not just give them free range
balls?” Ironically, years later, Mancha
received a request from Coach Veller asking for more scholarship funds for the
golf team. Mancha quipped, “Why don’t we just give y’all free range balls?”
Again, Vaughn Mancha was a man of many jokes.
Cecil “Hootie” Ingram
was athletic director several years after Mancha. When asked about the
influences Mancha made at Florida State as AD, Ingram said, “Vaughn was a very
good ambassador for athletics at Florida State. He got the school up and
rolling and was very effective because of his personality. He sure was a people
person.” Ingram remembers growing up in Tuscaloosa and watching Mancha play.
Thinking back he said, “I watched probably every one of his games. He was such
a great football player.” As most would say about Vaughn Mancha, Ingram
laughed, “Vaughn never knew a stranger. He was such a jolly guy, always
Peterson, Frank Pope, Gov. Claud Kirk, and Vaughn Mancha (1967)
After a long career as
Athletic Director, Vaughn Mancha was ready to acquire the job towards which he
had been working throughout his academic journey. He took a teaching position
with the Florida State College of Education. As an art professor, he taught
design, layout, graphic design, and photography for 15 years at Florida State
University. With the athletic department still being very important to him,
Mancha used his teaching position to establish FSU’s first film laboratory so
that coaches could watch game film efficiently and conveniently. Mancha made
improvements all over campus during his involvement at FSU, in both the
educational and athletic departments. When he retired in 1990, the lively and
spirited man still roamed the hallways and campus of Florida State University.
It was said that you could hear him coming down the halls singing his Italian
Mancha, Team of the Century Event (1992)
Although Vaughn Mancha lived
the majority of his life in Florida, he made sure to always give credit to The
University of Alabama for his start-up and life-long successes. He said, “My
career in athletics has been mostly at Florida State, but my heart has always
been at Alabama.” Alabama is where and why Mancha fell in love with the game of
football. His success here inspired him and made his name famous so that he
prospered in his future careers. Vaughn Mancha made his mark on both The
University of Alabama and Florida State University with his endless
determination, hard work, and his love for football.
The successes of Vaughn
Mancha are widely recognized and set him apart from many players who came
before or followed after him. Over his lifetime, he earned honors such as
inductions into the College Football Hall of Fame, the National Football Hall
of Fame, Florida State Athletics Hall of Fame, and was named to the All-Century
team at The University of Alabama, just to name a few.
“I have had a great
life. I think working in athletics helped me stay young. And I owe it all to The
University of Alabama.” – Vaughn Mancha
Vaughn Mancha died on
January 7, 2011 in Tallahassee, Florida with his wife, children, and
grandchildren by his side. Mancha is a legend and his contribution to the game
of football will be remembered forever.
Article by Caroline
Caroline is a prospective University of Alabama
student. A senior at Carterville High School in Illinois, Caroline plays golf,
is a state officer with Future Business Leaders of America, and is a proud
supporter of Alabama football. She hopes to major in business beginning in the
fall of 2016 at UA. She would like to thank Ken Gaddy, and the rest of the staff
at The Paul W. Bryant Museum for the opportunity to work on this article and
experience the culture of the Tuscaloosa. Roll Tide!