W&M Football’s First Legendary Coach

Carl Voyles (3rd from left) brought W&M Football to new heights during what has become known as the program’s “Golden Era.”

There exists a treasure trove of W&M gridiron stories we couldn’t possibly cover in their entirety, even if we published nothing but W&M Football stories every day for the next year.

Despite that, we can make a small dent — bringing back to life select segments of W&M alum Wilford Kale‘s book, Goal to Goal: 100 Seasons of Football at William & Mary.

This next story details W&M’s first elite football coach — a coach that produced an All-American, and wins over several powerhouse football programs across the nation.

We present: Carl Voyles.

“Carl Voyles” by Wilford Kale

They called him the “silver tongue” because of his persuasive speech.

His tenure at W&M began what has gone down in history as the “Golden Era.”

He has the best winning percentage in William and Mary football, and his 1942 team, with the exception of one tie, won all of its intercollegiate games.

Carl M. Voyles was a legend to the students and players during his 1939-44 coaching stint.

One example of what elevated him to such high esteem can be found in the way he responded in 1944 to Hank Wolfe, sports editor for The Richmond News Leader about his William and Mary experience.

Surprisingly, Voyles did not discuss his championship 1942 team, but instead reflected on his first one.

“One of the biggest thrills occurred when the 1939 team came from behind and beat Washington and Lee.

We were leading by five points with three-and-a-half minutes to play and had the ball on our own 10-yard line.

Waldo Matthews threw a pass to Harley Masters and the ball was advanced to the middle of the field.

It looked like it was our game then, but one of our lineman was across the line of scrimmage on the play and we were penalized five yards.

On the next play we elected to punt and the tackle, who was offside, let a W&L lineman come through and block the punt.

This put W&L ahead 13-12 with two minutes to go. We received and ran with the ball twice.

Then Matthews switched to the wingback position and went down the field and caught a long pass on the sideline surrounded by W&L players.

He jerked loose and ran 54 yards for a touchdown to give us a 18-14 win.

Each of our Homecoming games since that time has been a thrill to me, for we promised the boys if they beat W&L that day, every William and Mary team on Homecoming Day under me would make a special attempt to give the old grads a good day.”

The last game of the 1942 season was against the University of Oklahoma. W&M won in an upset, 14-7. The team poses on the steps of the Main Street Station in Richmond, VA after returning. Many of the players are wearing cowboy hats and Coach Voyles is in a traditional Indian chief’s headdress.

Players remember Voyles as “the type of coach who made us play game by game. I don’t think we realized that the team was as good as it was until many years later,” explained William J. “Bill” Goodlow, a captain in 1941.

Voyles came to Williamsburg in November 1938 after serving for eight years as the first assistant to Duke University’s football coaching legend Wallace Wade.

In appointing Voyles, W&M President John Stewart Bryan said of his previous experience:

“Under these dynamic and brilliant generals, Carl Voyles studied the wide field of college athletics in all of its major phases…this training, coupled with his own force and attractiveness, won him the deep affection and fullest confidence of his former associates.”

During his years at W&M, he compiled a 29-7-3 record before football was halted by World War II in 1943.

His teams outscored opponents 851 to 274 and compiled a winning percentage of .806.

He had seventeen first-team All-State players, seven second-team players, and three named to the third team.

They included eleven all-Southern Conference team members and a 1942 All-American guard Garrard “Buster” Ramsey.

Ramsey recalled that Voyles was steeped in fundamentals and got plenty out of each player.

Another of the “Fab Frosh,” Jim Hickey, who went on to be head coach at the University of North Carolina, called Voyles “one of the great coaches. He was a hard, tough man.”

Carl Voyles came to campus ready to teach and coach football. During his first spring practice in 1939, he demonstrated how he wanted blocking handled. (photo via 1940 Colonial Echo)

Some others did not like his “professional” approach, which sometimes included keeping them in games at the risk of injury.

Players also mentioned that Voyles was a strong supporter of academics and wouldn’t tolerate players missing classes.

Voyles was so concerned that players finish their schoolwork before practice that he had lights installed on the practice field, so they could drill on into the night.

In the spring of 1944, W&M President John E. Pomfret said Voyles was a “free agent” to talk with Auburn officials.

When Voyles finally accepted a six-year contract at the Alabama school, Dr. Pomfret said Voyles had developed a “splendid team from the mediocre material. He [was] a strict disciplinarian and [did] not permit the boys he worked with to fall into bad scholastic habits.”

Unfortunately, Voyles did not attain similar success at Auburn.

His 1944 team finished 4-4, but his center, Tex Warrington, who followed him from Williamsburg to Auburn, was named an All-American.

With only a 15-12 record and winning only four Southeastern Conference games, he was released by Auburn in 1947 with two years remaining on his contract.

Coach Voyles poses on Cary Field with his 1942 all-American guard Garrard “Buster” Ramsey.

After Auburn, Voyles became head coach of the Brooklyn Dodgers professional football team of the All-American conference, then rival of the National Football League.

He later coached the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League and won the Grey Cup in 1953.

His collegiate coaching record was 63-34-5 over twelve seasons at Southwestern Oklahoma State College (1922-24), W&M (1939-42), and Auburn (1944-47), and his overall record was 128-82-6, including 9-0 high school credentials in Altus, Oklahoma.

Voyles retired to his home in Florida to manage his real estate holdings, including an automobile agency and a tomato farm he owned in Vero Beach.

In 1969 he was named to the William and Mary Athletic Hall of Fame in the first group of inductees.

He died January 11, 1982, at the age of 82.

-Wilford Kale, Goal to Goal: 100 Seasons of Football at William & Mary (book details on Amazon)

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