Henry Russell Sanders

"Red Sanders" redirects here. For the tree, see Pterocarpus santalinus.
Henry Russell Sanders

Sanders, circa 1955
Sport(s) Football
Biographical details
Born (1905-05-07)May 7, 1905
Asheville, North Carolina
Died August 14, 1958(1958-08-14) (aged 53)
Los Angeles, California
Playing career
1924–1926 Vanderbilt
Position(s) Quarterback
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1927–1930 Clemson (assistant)
1934–1937 Riverside Military Academy
1938 Florida (assistant)
1939 LSU (assistant)
1940–1942 Vanderbilt
1946–1948 Vanderbilt
1949–1957 UCLA
Administrative career (AD unless noted)
1945–1949 Vanderbilt
Head coaching record
Overall 102–41–3
Bowls 0–2
Accomplishments and honors
1 National (1954)
3 PCC (1953–1955)
AFCA Coach of the Year (1954)
College Football Hall of Fame
Inducted in 1996 (profile)

Henry Russell "Red" Sanders (May 7, 1905 – August 14, 1958) was an American football player and coach. He was head coach at Vanderbilt University (1940–1942, 1946–1948) and the University of California at Los Angeles (1949–1957), compiling a career college football record of 102–41–3 (.709). Sanders' 1954 UCLA team was named national champions by the Coaches Poll and the Football Writers Association of America. Sanders was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1996.

Known for being witty and hard driving, Sanders used the single-wing formation at Vanderbilt and UCLA. He is widely credited with coining the saying, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing".[1] When asked about the UCLA–USC rivalry, Sanders said "it's not a matter of life and death, it's more important than that!"


Born in Asheville, North Carolina, Sanders spent most of his youth in Nashville, Tennessee. One of his best boyhood friends and classmate at Duncan was renowned sports writer Fred Russell, with whom he would remain close friends his entire life.

Vanderbilt player

Sanders attended college at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He was a four-year letterman both in football and baseball. Sanders was captain of the baseball team in his senior year and a substitute quarterback on the football team. His football coach, Dan McGugin, said of him, "Red Sanders has one of the best football minds I have ever known."

Early coaching career

Sanders' was first hired by Josh Cody as the backfield coach of the Clemson Tigers. He got his first head coaching position at Riverside Military Academy, leading its 1936 team to an undefeated record.[2] The father of Bucky Curtis hired Sanders for the job. Sanders then assisted the 1938 Florida Gators, again with Cody, and the 1939 LSU Tigers.

Vanderbilt coach

He also had a successful stint as head coach at Vanderbilt, compiling a 36–22–2 (.617) record, the best mark by a coach while the school has been a member of the Southeastern Conference. Highlights included


Sanders coached the UCLA Bruins from 1949 through 1957. He was indisputedly the best football coach in school history, elevating a rarely distinguished program to an elite national power with an overall record of 66–19–1 (.773) at UCLA and earning the school its only national championship in football in 1954. As head coach of the Bruins, Sanders led them to four Top 10 National Rankngs, three Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) titles, two Rose Bowls (1953 and 1955 seasons) and to a 6–3 record over arch-rival USC.

Sanders instituted the distinctive football uniforms worn by the Bruins when he replaced the navy blue jerseys with "powderkeg blue," added the shoulder stripe to give the impression of motion, and changed the number style from block to clarendon. Sanders said these changes also made it harder for opponents to scout his Bruins on the grainy black and white game films of the time.

The 1954 Bruins compiled a 9–0 record and climbed to the top of the Coaches Poll, sharing the national championship with Ohio State, winner of the AP Poll's title. Due to the PCC's early "no repeat" rule, the undefeated Bruins were unable to compete in the Rose Bowl that season despite being the PCC champion. Second-place USC, who the Bruins defeated 34–0, played in the 1955 Rose Bowl instead and lost to Big Ten Conference champion and eventual co-national champion Ohio State, 20–7.

Television appearance

Sanders appeared as a contestant on the November 18, 1954 episode of the television quiz program You Bet Your Life, hosted by Groucho Marx.[4] and also The Jack Benny Program that same year.

"New Years Day" 1956 (The Jack Benny Program). Season 6, episode 7. Original air date: 1 January 1956.


Shortly before the 1958 season, Sanders died suddenly of a heart attack in a Los Angeles hotel room with a woman on August 14.[5][6] His assistant coach George W. Dickerson rushed in on an interim basis to take his place for the first three games, suffered a nervous breakdown, and was replaced by William F. Barnes.


Winning isn't every thing, it's the only thing

Sanders actually spoke two different versions of the quote. In 1950, at a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo physical education workshop, Sanders told his group: "Men, I'll be honest. Winning isn't everything. (Long pause.) Men, it's the only thing!"[7] In 1955, in a Sports Illustrated article preceding the 1956 Rose Bowl, he was quoted as saying "Sure, winning isn't every thing, It's the only thing."[1] The quote has since been erroneously attributed to Vince Lombardi as the originator.

Beating 'SC is not a matter of life or death, It's more important than that

While at UCLA, another famous quote was attributed to Sanders regarding the UCLA-USC rivalry, "Beating 'SC is not a matter of life or death, it's more important than that."[8][9]

Personal awards

Head coaching record

Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs Coaches# AP°
Vanderbilt Commodores (Southeastern Conference) (1940–1942)
1940 Vanderbilt 3–6–1 0–5–1 11th
1941 Vanderbilt 8–2 3–2 6th
1942 Vanderbilt 6–4 2–4 8th
Vanderbilt Commodores (Southeastern Conference) (1946–1948)
1946 Vanderbilt 5–4 3–4 7th
1947 Vanderbilt 6–4 3–3 5th
1948 Vanderbilt 8–2–1 4–2–1 4th 12
Vanderbilt: 36–22–2 15–20–2
UCLA Bruins (Pacific Coast Conference) (1949–1957)
1949 UCLA 6–3 5–2 2nd
1950 UCLA 6–3 5–2 3rd
1951 UCLA 5–3–1 4–1–1 2nd 17 17
1952 UCLA 8–1 5–1 2nd 6 6
1953 UCLA 8–2 6–1 1st L Rose 4 5
1954 UCLA 9–0 6–0 1st 1 2
1955 UCLA 9–2 6–0 1st L Rose 4 4
1956 UCLA 7–3 5–2 T–2nd
1957 UCLA 8–2 5–2 3rd 18
UCLA: 66–19–1 47–11–1
Total: 102–41–3
      National championship         Conference title         Conference division title
#Rankings from final Coaches Poll.
°Rankings from final AP Poll.


  1. 1 2 Sayre, Joe (December 26, 1955). "He flies on one wing". Sports Illustrated. p. 29.
  2. http://www.riversidemilitary.com/NetCommunity/SportsHallofFame
  3. Alabama Crimson Tide 1941 Season Summary (PDF copy at www.rolltide.com)
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xlyesk5c02o&index=8&list=PLHaioNpr_GDbvsTj_taM-jO6C1658N1PC
  5. "'Athlete's heart' killed Sanders". Milwaukee Journal. Associated Press. August 16, 1958. p. 12.
  6. Murray, James (August 25, 1958). "Red Sanders". Sports Illustrated. p. 26. Archived from the original on February 2, 2014.
  7. Rosenbaum, Art - INDIANS FAR FROM BASHFUL AT CHOW, Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, Calif.: Oct 18, 1950. p. C3 (1 page)
  8. The Start of Something Big: USC vs. UCLA by Lonnie White, marking 75 years of the UCLA-USC rivalry
  9. Burke, Anne (Editor) - Summer 2004 Bruin Walk: Rah-rah Boo-hiss. UCLA Magazine, summer 2004


External links

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