2015-10-28 / Front Page

Russ Cohen & the ‘point-a-minute’ team

By Roy F. Chalker Jr.

One hundred years ago, something remarkable was happening in college football. The 1915 Vanderbiltt Commodores were winning, and winning - big. In fact,byy October 30 Vanderbiltilt had racked up an incredible 459 points to 0 (zero). By the end of the season the team had scored 514 points and given up 41 in 510 minutes of playing time while winning all but one game. Vanderbilt became known as the “Point a Minute Team” and was the highest scoring team in the country.

The team was led by long-time Coach Dan McGugin with a star quarterback named Irby “Rabbit” Curry. The team’s captain was Waynesboro’s own Russ Cohen.

Though Russ lived in Augusta during his college years, his family’s roots were in Burke County and he lived most of his life here. His family owned a plantation just north of Waynesboro on both sides of what is now U.S. Highway 25.

Vanderbilt’s 1915 record was even more remarkable because they were coming off a 2-8 season and only 10 experienced players had returned. Vanderbilt was a member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) and its opponents that year included Ole Miss, Tennessee, Auburn, Cumberland, Middle Tennessee, Southwestern, Georgetown, Henderson State and Virginia, which handed the team its only defeat that season. In that game, Vanderbilt made only five first downs and suffered a stunning 35-10 loss.

But, the Commodores clinched the SIAA championship with a 27-3 win over Sewanee in Nashville on Thanksgiving Day. It wasn't easy. Sewanee had not been scored on by a Southern Conference team all season and by the beginning of the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt was down 3-0. Curry, the star quarterback, had left the game bruised and battered. (It was later discovered that he had three broken ribs.) With ten minutes left to play, Curry reentered the game and led a great comeback. The Commodores scored 28 unanswered points before the final whistle blew.

Pictured at left, the 1939 coaching staff at VMI, including Head Coach Pooley Hubert (second from right) and Coach/Scout Russ Cohen (far right). Pictured at left, the 1939 coaching staff at VMI, including Head Coach Pooley Hubert (second from right) and Coach/Scout Russ Cohen (far right). Russ Cohen played end and caught many of “Rabbit” Curry’s passes. Curry accounted for 118 of Vanderbilt’s 514 points during the season and, along with Cohen and lineman Josh Cody, was named to the All-Southern Team. (In 1918, while serving as a U.S. Army pilot in World War I, Curry died when his plane was shot down over France.)

After finishing at Vanderbilt, Russ had a long career as a college coach, beginning as an assistant to the legendary Wallace Wade at the University of Alabama. It was then that Cohen made the acquaintance of the great Alabama player Allison T. “Pooley” Hubert, who would later join Russ in the peach business here and coach Waynesboro High School to a state championship in 1957.

After four years at Alabama, Russ became head coach at Louisiana State University, where he was personally hired by Governor Huey P. Long. The notorious “Kingfish” took a great interest in the LSU football program. According to Russ’ son Porter Cohen, Long obtained a signed letter of resignation from everyone he hired, including Cohen, so that all he had to do to fire someone was “accept their resignation.”

After a so-so season in 1930, Cohen’s Tigers faced a strong and talented team from Tulane, LSU’s in-state arch rival. According to legend, Long "accepted" Cohen's resignation during the game, which LSU lost 12-7. But, the Kingfish was ultimately so impressed by the Tigers’ effort that he called Russ to the Governor's Mansion and gave him a new three-year contract. According to “Greatest Moments in LSU Football History," Long told Cohen that he was “the only man in Louisiana with a contract without providing me with his undated resignation.” Of course, ultimately it didn’t matter, and Long ushered Cohen out at the end of a lackluster 1931 season. However, in 1934, for reasons still unclear to this day, the Kingfish walked across the field and presented Cohen with a wreath of yellow chrysanthemums during halftime of the game between LSU and Vanderbilt, where Cohen was an assistant coach.

Russ Cohen had a reputation as a great football talent scout, and went on to hold coaching positions at Cincinnati, Virginia Military Institute and Clemson in addition to LSU and Vanderbilt before returning to his Burke County roots in the early 1950s. He settled onto his farm just north of Waynesboro, enjoying his family, his peaches and an occasional round of golf with old friends like Pooley Hubert. He was a popular speaker on the local sports and civic club circuit and entertained several generations with his joyful wit and wonderful football lore. Russ Cohen died on April 7, 1981 at the age of 88. One of the mourners at his funeral at Waynesboro’s First Methodist Church was a tall man in a hound's tooth hat - Alabama Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

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