3. Wally Butts
Throughout the 1910’s, 20’s and 30’s, the Georgia football program continued to progress. They went from a losing program in their first 18 years, to a program with a conference title and a share of a national title in their following 30.
But then came a coach who took Georgia to an even higher level in 1939. Wally Butts came to Athens in 1938 as an assistant to Joel Hunt after 10 years as a high school head coach in Georgia. He became head coach in 1939 when Hunt left to become head coach of Wyoming.
Butts’s first year at Georgia was a rough 5-6 campaign and they weren’t much better in 1940, finishing 5-4-1. But in 1941 Georgia began moving in the right direction with a 9-1-1 season, their only loss that year was to Alabama.
In 1942, 50 years after the Georgia football program was established, Wally Butts led Georgia to their first consensus national championship. That team featured Heisman winner Frank Sinkwich and future Maxwell Award winner Charlie Trippi (who were both ranked third and second respectively on DotD’s Top 10 running back’s list).
They also defeated UCLA 9-0 in Georgia’s only appearance in the Rose Bowl.
The team was mostly dismantled after 1942 because of World War II. In 1943, the Bulldogs finished 6-4 and 0-3 in the SEC. They improved in 1944 and finished 7-3.
By the end of 1945 the Bulldogs were back in their pre-WWII form. The Bulldogs went 9-2 that year and shutout rivals Georgia Tech, Florida, Clemson and Auburn. Trippi returned halfway through the year to join freshman quarterback Johnny Rauch.
In 1946, Georgia had arguably their best season in program history to that point. They finished the year 11-0. They were named national champions by the Williamson poll and Trippi won the Maxwell Award while finished second in the Heisman voting.
Two years later, the Bulldogs won their third SEC title in seven years by going 9-2 and a perfect 6-0 in SEC play.
The next decade was mostly hit or miss for the Bulldogs. From 1949-to-58, Georgia never won the SEC Championship. Their best years were a 7-4 season in 1952 and a 6-3-1 season in 1953.
Butts had one last great season in 1959. Led by captain running back Dan Soberdash and quarterbacks Charley Britt and Fran Tarkenton, the Bulldogs finished 10-1 and won the SEC Championship. An early season loss to South Carolina kept Georgia from playing for a national title.
Butts retired after the 1960 season with a record of 140-86-9, all at Georgia. He led the Bulldogs to four SEC titles and two national titles (one consensus and one shared). He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997.