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Kentucky Football: The Blanton Collier Years (Part Two) 1954 -1961

It took a few years for the "only five out-of-state scholarship limit" to take hold, but take hold it did. Blanton Collier was Fall Guy number one. The university has always seemed to get away with blaming the coaches. So for years, UK could get away with a failure to provide resources for the top athletic revenue provider as long as the fans didn't complain too much.

Site of Stoll Field and McLean Stadium
Site of Stoll Field and McLean Stadium

I grew up during the Blanton Collier years, going through Morton Junior High and Henry Clay High School. Collier left after my sophomore year. I was in the fourth grade when Collier came on board and first became aware of UK football, even though I saw Babe Parelli on TV once when I was younger.

The players I remember most from those years were Bob Hardy, Lou Michaels, Ronnie Cain, Delmar and Lowell Hughes and Calvin Bird. On Saturdays, you could hear the roar of the crowd where I lived in Bell Court. My best friend lived in the Bell House in Bell Court and we listened to Lou Michaels' final game against Tennessee on the radio. He was a one man wrecking crew, making almost every tackle.

Michaels was my hero for several years because he gave me his chin strap after the game against Memphis a few years earlier. I wore his chin strap on my helmet as I played for the Little League Bruins at Woodland Park.

Delmar Hughes lived in a second floor apartment next door to my house on Sayre Avenue while he played at UK. He taught me how to throw a football properly, but he also knocked me down several times with the strength of his passes. He was married and when his wife was pregnant, he built a baby crib. You could hear his cursing through closed windows as he hit his fingers with a hammer. My dad finally offered Delmar his help with the construction.

I believe my first game that my dad took me to was against Florida in 1955. Bob Hardy had suffered a broken nose, but with blurred vision, kicked a winning field goal. When I was around nine, ten or eleven, my friends and I would sneak into McLean Stadium when the ticket takers left their posts to watch the opening kickoff.

I was in the 7th grade in 1957 when the Wildcats finished 3-7. That's when the rumbling from the fans began. Kentucky beat Memphis 53-7 and Xavier 27-0. UK lost their first six games to Georgia Tech, Mississippi, Florida, Auburn, and LSU before the Memphis game. Going into the Tennessee game, the Cats were 2-7. The Vols left Lexington with a 20-6 loss. That game probably lessened the complaining from the fans.

1958 brought a 5-4-1 record for Collier, but the Wildcats beat Tennessee again in Knoxville 6-2. As you will see, beating Tennessee probably kept Blanton Collier's job until the very end. Kentucky beat Hawaii in Louisville 51-0 to open the season, and in the second game, the Cats beat Georgia Tech 13-0 in Lexington. Kentucky lost the next four games to Mississippi, Auburn, LSU and Georgia before beating Mississippi State 33-12. The tie game was a 0-0 slugfest against Vanderbilt. UK beat Xavier before beating Tennessee.

In 1959, Collier finished 4-6, but managed to beat Tennessee again in Lexington 20-0.

Another 5-4-1 season followed in 1960. Kentucky would lose its first three games to Georgia Tech, Mississippi on the road and Auburn at home. The Wildcats beat Marshall 55-0 and LSU 3-0 before losing to Georgia, then went on to win the next three against Florida State in Tallahassee, Vanderbilt and Xavier before ending the season with a 10-10 tie in Knoxville.

Collier's final season was 5-5 with wins over Auburn, Kansas State, Florida State, Vanderbilt and Xavier. UK lost to Miami and Mississippi in Lexington, and LSU and Georgia on the road. Tennessee was coming to town in the final game and most fans probably expected another win. The ugly orange beat the Cats 26-16. That was the end for Blanton Collier. What was so sad was many fans had reasonably high expectations, as did Sports Illustrated. Read their analysis at the bottom of the page here.

Last October, Mark Story interviewed Collier's daughter concerning a fund raising effort to preserve Collier's childhood home in Millersburg. The interview turned out to cover something totally different. Kay Collier McLaughlin has a point that I believe has finally been addressed with the Mark Stoops hire. Read about it here.

Larry Vaught interviewed the great Howard Schnellenberger who held the same view as Kay Collier McLaughlin. Read his thoughts here. The only thing I'll really take issue with is two comments:

First, Schnellenberger believes you can win with Kentucky kids. With only 17 to 20 kids a year signing with Division I schools, that's just not true. You can't even reach the 85 scholarship limit over four years if all you sign are Kentucky kids.

Then, he uses West Virginia as an example. Apparently, he hasn't looked at the West Virginia roster lately: very few West Virginia kids. And, he hasn't checked Louisville's roster since Charlie Strong arrived either. In fact, in Kay Collier McLaughlin's book, Blanton Collier wrote a letter to his AD stating that Kentucky doesn't produce enough players to compete in the SEC, which can be read above in the Mark Story interview with Collier's daughter. There is a hint about the recruiting restrictions in his letter. Otherwise, why even feel the need to discuss the talent in Kentucky?

Blanton Collier was a great coach and it was a shame he had to work with one hand tied behind his back. He had some of the best NFL coaches in the business as assistants during his tenure. He started off well until the Bryant players graduated and the 5 out of state scholarship limit began to affect the roster talent. To accuse him of not being able to recruit was a travesty. The man deserved far better than what he got at Kentucky.

A piece on the Charlie Bradshaw years is in the works. It is perhaps the darkest tale of all in UK football history.