Texas Tech: The House That AC Built

A powerful storm literally came out of nowhere on a hot July day in Sherman last Saturday. The storm took out all power on campus during Austin College Legends weekend. But the ceremony and celebration were moved elsewhere, and the resilient Roos were honored all the same. Sounds appropriate for this week’s Roo Tale.

This Roo Tale is dedicated to my friend and Texas Tech graduate and fan Reid Baker. It is also dedicated to AC alum Tina Cook, whose daughter is currently a Red Raider, and to Roo Mascot & Lubbock native Stacy Jacob. And to all Roos who have ever yelled “guns up”.

Every Tech fan knows where they were on November 1, 2008. The #1 ranked Texas Longhorns came to Lubbock to meet the #5 ranked Red Raiders. College GameDay was in town. That evening’s game would be the fifth-most viewed telecast of any regular-season game in ABC history. And the Jones stadium crowd was the largest in Texas Tech history.

The home crowd would not be disappointed. After blowing a big lead, the final Tech drive ended with a dramatic Harrell-to-Crabtree TD pass with one second left. Your humble author and Horns fan was not pleased. But much of America was riveted. Just like that, the Red Raiders had defeated the top team in the country for the first time in its history. Tech would soon find itself as the #1 team in the land in some polls. How far the boys in Lubbock had come.

Texas, Texas A&M, and Austin College had all been playing football for nearly three decades before Texas Tech even EXISTED. And that existence was actually in doubt for a good portion of the early 20th century. After Tech’s birth, there was no guarantee that athletic success would follow at ANY level, let alone at the highest level. To reach that stratosphere would require a sustained and dedicated effort by administration, coaches, and players. Not to mention a lot of support from the citizens of Lubbock County.

What was needed was a family of coaching leaders to turn this new state college in a small West Texas town into a national athletic power. This would be no small task for a community about to experience the catastrophic effects of both the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. How could western Lubbock ever expect to compete with eastern Austin & College Station, given the state of Texas’s eastern wealth and focus? And how could the community, this new institution, and its athletic heroes endure the hardships to come and emerge stronger on the other side?

The answer would be found in Sherman, TX.

Little do most Texans know. But Texas Tech athletics just happens to be……………..”The House That AC Built”.

Chapter 1: Go West, Young Man
Chapter 2: Land of the Free, Home of the Roos
Chapter 3: The Dust Bowl & the Cotton Bowl
Chapter 4: For Whom The Dell Tolls

Story posted in the comments below.

Go Roos!

“Crabtree…….pulls free……” 


Chapter 1: Go West, Young Man

Texas is first and foremost a southern state. And Texas fought a violent civil conflict alongside other southern states in order to preserve its unjust economic institutions. Fighting and losing a war that itself is on the wrong side of history can be humiliating and painful. Just ask Imperial Japan or the Turks in the wake of WWI. Nations deal with this pain by turning to mythology.

Most southern states did so by embracing the “Lost Cause”, the bravery of those who fought, and the aggression committed by the other side. Texas, however, chose a different story in order to cope. Texas looked West. The mythology of Texas slowly evolved into one of ranching, not farming. Prairie, not thicket. Sunsets, not swamps. Cowboys, not chains. That ol’ war way back when? More of an east coast thing. Texas is western and its own unique region, we soothingly told ourselves.

This mythology was aided by actual western expansion in the U.S. Discovery of oil and other natural resources in the Permian Basin lured Texans and non-Texans out of the Pine Curtain. Small villages in Odessa and Amarillo turned into boom towns within a decade. Lubbock was the future. Galveston was the past.

The natural resource boom coincided with one of the wettest periods in the history of the Texas High Plains. Those not getting rich from oil soon found that money was to be had by cultivating the land and turning the Panhandle into Iowa. Experts warned against this. The High Plains were not the Midwest. The native grasses holding down the earth were there for a reason, and removing them would release the dust when the inevitable drought came. Nobody listened, as there was too much money to be made from the ground.

During this early 20th century boom, the new residents of West Texas increasingly looked East with resentment. Two state institutions of higher learning in Texas, and both were east? A demand for a third state college to represent West Texas was quietly requested. The response of the Texas legislature was a loud NO. The requests grew louder and more numerous. The legislature began to offer compromises. How about a branch campus of UT or A&M? The response was an unequivocal “no deal”.

By the Roaring 20s, the Texas Lege cried uncle and created a third state university to represent the citizens of West Texas. Texas Technological College would be located in Lubbock, and would open its doors in 1925 (see photo). The quarter century fight to create a West Texas school to rival UT & A&M had been won. But another quarter century fight was just about to begin. Could Tech compete?

It was next to impossible to lure coaching talent from the large state schools. Nearly as hard was convincing administration at increasingly large private schools in the Southwest Conference (SWC) to head West and build new traditions out of dust. What Tech needed was to become an outlet for top notch coaching talent at a smaller, private school that had a history of strong competition against the larger schools. Preferably a school whose priorities (avoiding growth & remaining academically focused) were increasingly the opposite of those being championed in Lubbock.

Matadors turned their lonely eyes to Sherman, and the Roos came a calling.

 Chapter 2: Land of the Free, Home of the Roos

Austin College won its first football conference championship in 1920, under the guidance of Coach Ewing Freeland. The large state schools had departed the TIAA for the SWC in the previous decade, leaving the Roos in a strong position to dominate those that remained. When Texas Tech asked Freeland to become the first football coach in Matador history, he just couldn’t say no.

Yes, the Matadors. The original mascot of Texas Tech. More on that later.

Freeland’s duties in Lubbock extended beyond the gridiron. He was also named Tech athletic director in 1925, as well as the first head coach of Texas Tech baseball. Success came quickly during Freeland’s tenure. Over his four years, Tech compiled 21 wins and a winning percentage just under .700, albeit against non-SWC competition. Lubbock fans liked what they saw.

The second game in Texas Tech football history was in Lubbock against Austin College (see photo). This defensive struggle ended in a 3-3 tie, and marked the first time any opponent had ever scored on Tech. Pete Cawthon’s Roos had high expectations of traveling west and scoring a victory, but Freeland’s Matadors put up a tough fight. Tech’s first season would end impressively, with a record of 6-1-2. Former AC Coach Freeland is created with designing and implementing the famous “Double-T” Texas Tech logo the following season. You’ll never look at the logo the same way again.

Athletic Director duties in addition to coaching duties proved to be too much, so in 1927 Tech hired Grady Higginbotham as AD. Grady (“Big Hig”) and little brother Roswell (“Little Hig”) are famous Aggies. They are also both very familiar to the AC community. Little Hig was an assistant coach to Pete Cawthon at AC in the 1920s, and a summer school student at AC in the 1930s. During his time in Sherman, Little Hig met and married Elizabeth Tuck of Sherman. Elizabeth’s brother H.G. Tuck and cousin B.T. “Bap” Brown are both famous AC alumni and athletes who reside in the Hall of Honor. Oh what I tangled web we weave Austin College.

Freeland took a hiatus from coaching after the 1928 season, and handed the reigns for one year to “Big Hig” Higginbotham. Freeland’s time away from coaching would not last long, however. In 1935, he returned to Sherman to take over coaching duties of the Roos once again. That same year the Austin College Kangaroos would finish the season as conference champions once again. Winning seemed to follow Freeland whether East or West.

“Big Hig” was more focused on finding a replacement for Freeland than he was coaching the 1929 team. And his efforts would be rewarded. Austin College had come to the rescue once before. And would do so yet again in even bigger fashion.

Austin College (and future Tech) Coach Ewing Freeland, 1920…


Chapter 3: The Dust Bowl & the Cotton Bowl

No one got hit harder than those in the High Plains of Texas. Wall Street suffered after the markets crashed. Americans in general fell into despair as the economy contracted by 30%. Livelihoods in natural resources suffered as commodity markets tanked. And tenant farmers like the Joad family endured foreclosure and long trips out west looking for the land of milk and honey. Shoot, they all had it easy.

Those on the High Plains had no Wall Street assets. Jobs in Permian Basin oil simply disappeared completely. And unlike the Grapes of Wrath tenant farmers, High Plains farmers owned their land and were therefore financially and emotionally invested in it and reluctant to move. And in spite of all of this cruelty, the Gods decided to inflict yet more suffering by ending the historic wet period in 1931 and initiating an unprecedented drought. And the land in this drought was now plowed, farmed, and dangerously unmoored.

The dust storms were small at first. But as the years progressed they got worse. Much worse. One of the most catastrophic occurred on Black Sunday, April 14, 1935. This storm looked more like an approaching hurricane than anything else as it began in Kansas, gathered strength, and rolled into Texas. Illness and death rates due to dust pneumonia increased. Poverty rose. Misery was everywhere. There was very little to cheer for in the Texas Panhandle during the 1930s. Only two things really. The promise that next year would be 1928 again. And the promise that Pete Cawthon’s Matadors would bring a Tech victory.

Pete Cawthon left Austin College after the 1927 season in order to recuperate from exhaustion. By 1930, he was ready to coach once again when Higginbotham asked him to take over in Lubbock. Tech would not be the same. Over the course of 11 years, Cawthon transformed Texas Tech into a regional power. 10 winning seasons. 76 victories. 5 Border Conference championships. And two Bowl games.

Tech’s first wins over future SWC foes Baylor & TCU occurred during the Cawthon era. No surprise really. Cawthon had already bested these schools while leading the Roos.

The high mark of the Cawthon years was 1938. Led by star running back Elmer Tarbox (a distant cousin of AC Roo Wes Tarbox….thanks Wes for confirming), Texas Tech won the Border confererence with a 10-0 mark and was invited to the 1939 Cotton Bowl. A Cotton Bowl loss to St. Mary’s tarnished a perfect season, but a final AP national ranking of #11 cushioned the blow. See Cotton Bowl photo.

Cawthon’s success was not his alone. He had help from Sherman. When Cawthon departed for Lubbock, he basically took Austin College with him. Russell “Dutchy” Smith played for Cawthon at AC; Smith would join Cawthon at Tech as the OL coach. W.L. “Crip” Golightly was another former Roo who would make the trip; he assisted Cawthon in football and was made head coach of Tech basketball. Roo Virgil Ballard did not want to be left out, and made the trip with Cawthon to help out on the gridiron. He would later take over Tech basketball from Golightly and coach Tech track. Finally, one of Cawthon’s stars in Sherman named John O’Dell Morgan was already in Lubbock as the head football coach of the Lubbock High Westerners. In 1930, he would resign in order to assist Cawthon at Tech right down the road. He would also later coach Tech basketball as well.

5 Roo coaches leading Tech to the Cotton Bowl during the despair of the Dust Bowl. Not. too. shabby.

According to legend, Cawthon is credited with ditching the Matador mascot and replacing it with the Red Raider mascot we are familiar with today. He’s also famous for spending heavily on his athletes. Cawthon’s Red Raiders were actually the first college team to travel by plane to play a football game. These budgetary issues resulted in frequent clashes with administration as the 1930s came to an end. As much success as Cawthon had brought, he believed that more could be had if only university administrators would focus less on money. These frustrations would lead to Cawthon’s resignation in 1941.

Cawthon today is considered something of a founding father at Tech, with good reason. He was nominated for the College Football Hall of fame in 2016, for his heroic efforts in both Sherman & Lubbock.

In spite of Pete Cawthon’s departure, a decade of Roo effort meant that the program was on an upward trajectory. Tech dreams were growing. Who would replace Cawthon? As DKR famously said, you dance with the “one that brung ya”. Tech wisely went back to the Austin College Sports well and picked another Roo. You betcha.

 Pete Cawthon and the 1938 Texas Tech Red Raiders…

 Black Sunday, 1935…

For those interested in the unique difficulty of the West Texas Panhandle in the 1930s, I highly recommend this book…


Chapter 4: For Whom The Dell Tolls

There were many “Cawthon boys” at Austin College, and John O’Dell “Dell” Morgan was one of the most famous. He was likely the best natural athlete on the AC teams that won a TIAA championship in 1923 and famously defeated Baylor in 1924. He was also one of the few Roos who occassionally had the guts to stand up to Cawthon’s fiery temper. His years assisting Cawthon at Tech ended in 1934, when Jack Meagher at Auburn hired Morgan to coach his offensive line in the SEC. Morgan’s time in Alabama would only last for 6 years though, when Tech offered him the job of replacing Cawthon as head coach.

Dell picked up where Cawthon left off. 11 years. 4 Border Conference championships. And 3 bowl games. Morgan’s only losing seasons during the 1940s were the WWII years when fielding teams was a challenge. Interestingly, one of those bowl games was a 6-0 loss to the Tulsa Golden Hurricane in the 1942 Sun Bowl. Morgan’s 9-1 Tech team played Henry Frnka’s Tulsa squad to a 0-0 tie for 58 minutes, before a last minute Tulsa TD got Frnka the win. Henry Frnka was a former Roo teammate of Morgan under Cawthon in the 1920s, and the 1942 Sun Bowl remains the only college football game in which two former Roos squared off. That is, until Bill Snyder/Kansas State and Larry Fedora/North Carolina meet each other next year in the national championship game. 😉

Morgan’s tenure would include Tech’s first two wins over Texas A&M. As all good Aggie fans and as this College Station boy are aware, Tech has always been a thorn in the side of the Aggies. This tradition can be traced to Morgan’s teams just after WWII. See photo of Morgan’s first Tech win over the Aggies.

In spite of his success coaching football, Morgan was a baseball guy. He shined in Sherman on the diamond, coached baseball at Auburn in addition to football, and decided to part ways with Tech in 1950 to return to the sport he truly loved. He would spending the rest of his days coaching collegiate baseball in Texas.

After Morgan’s departure in 1950, Tech was well on its way. A long awaited first victory over the Texas Longhorns came in 1955. Southwest Conference membership arrived in 1956. In 1976, Tech claimed its first SWC title in football. By the 1980s Tech had established itself as a surprising threat to any SWC foe, especially at the dreaded Jones stadium in Lubbock. The Mike Leach days and the victory over UT in 2008 were just around the corner.

All schools have to decide their own destinies, and we can all agree or disagree on which outcomes are preferable. The priorities of Austin College remained fairly consistent over the 20th century. AC was determined to stay small, private, and academically focused, with athletics maintained at a D3 level. Texas Tech, on the other hand, was an outward expression of the desire of West Texas to find its rightful place in the state, and its priorities were geared toward growth, public funding, and establishing an athletic tradition at the highest collegiate levels. It’s probably not surprising that the athletic tradition of AC found an outlet in Lubbock when priorities in Sherman proved too much to overcome.

Roo coaches guided Tech for 25 years in multiple sports throughout the horrors of Great Depression and WWII, handing over the reigns to others during the much easier task of continuing their work during America’s post WWII boom. To Texas Tech, we Roos gracefully say…. You. Are. Welcome.

Many of you Big XII fans have your team. Some of you are Horns fans, others Aggies, still others Sooners. I know a few Baylor & TCU fanatics. That is all well and good. But when your team is not playing, I might suggest that you root for the Red Raiders on any given Saturday. Why? That’s your work. That’s the work of the Roos. For Texas Tech truly is “the house that AC built”. Go Red Raiders. And Go Roos!

“Dutchy” Smith, Pete Cawthon, & “Dell” Morgan. The Roos at Tech in the 1930s, building the Red Raider house.

Roo Dell Morgan coaching Tech in Lubbock, 1940s…


Pete Cawthon, 2017 College Football HOF nominee for his work in Sherman & Lubbock…