Note: The following appears in the June issue of Orange: The Experience. For full access to all of the publication’s content, join IPTAY today by calling 864-656-2115.
Although a lot of changes have taken place in college athletics since Josh Cody paced the Clemson sidelines as head football and basketball coach in the late 1920s and early 1930s, some principles he stressed should never change.
Leaving Clemson after the 1930 season with a 29-11-1 record, Cody coached at Vanderbilt, Florida and Temple, which was his final stop in coaching and administration. At one time or another, he coached both the football and basketball teams at these schools.
Cody played football at Vanderbilt. He remains the only Commodore to earn All-America honors three times (1915,16,19). The 1920 Vanderbilt graduate was selected as an all-time All-America player by Football Writers Association. The Commodores had a 23-9-3 record, as he was a devastating lineman on both sides of the ball under legendary head coach Dan McGugin.
As one teammate recalled, “He would tell the running backs on which side of him to go, and you could depend on him to take out two men as needed. He was the best football player I’ve ever seen.”
Cody also played basketball, baseball and was on the track team at Vanderbilt, earning 13 varsity letters. He was also a lieutenant in World War I in 1917 and 1918.
Upon graduation, Cody started his coaching career at Mercer in 1920 as coach of all sports and athletic director. In 1923, he came back to Vanderbilt as head basketball and baseball coach, and as an assistant in other sports. In 1926-27, the Commodores finished 20-4 and won the SoCon basketball title.
In his first year (1927) as head football coach at Clemson, he led the Tigers to a 5-3-1 record, then guided Clemson to back-to-back 8-3 seasons (1928,29).
Cody was a popular man among the Clemson student body. He was nicknamed “Big Man” because of his large stature. According to one account, when he was seen on campus and the name “Big Man” was yelled, he would turn and wave and smile the largest grin. He loved and respected the students at Clemson, and they loved him.
This probably was best exemplified when it was rumored he was leaving after two years at Clemson. To show their appreciation for his fine record, the students, faculty and staff acted quickly and took up a collection to buy him a brand-new black Buick, and presented him this new car in front of the steps at Tillman Hall on May 6, 1929. He would stay for two more years after this kind gesture.
In 1930, the Tigers finished with an 8-2 mark in his final football season at Clemson, the first time in history it had won at least eight games in three consecutive years.
Cody is the only coach in Tiger history who has been around more than two years and never lost a football game to South Carolina. He also defeated Furman three straight seasons, had a 13-0-1 home record and had a 72-percent winning mark, fifth highest in school history. He coached Clemson’s first All-America football player, center O.K. Pressley. Cody also coached basketball at Clemson for five years and led the Tigers to a 16-9 record in 1930. During the 1928-30 seasons, he guided Clemson to a 22-4 mark at home.
Upon leaving Clemson, Cody returned to Vanderbilt as an assistant football coach and head basketball coach. He was the head football coach and athletic director at Florida from 1936-39.
In 1940, Cody was a line coach at Temple and was appointed head basketball coach in 1942. He held that post until he became athletic director in 1952. During his tenure as basketball coach, Cody totaled 124 wins and coached the Owls to the NCAA Tournament in 1944, their first appearance in program history.
Cody retired to a farm in New Jersey. He died of a heart attack on June 19, 1961 in Mount Laurel, N.J., at the age of 69. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1970 and the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.
Cody enjoyed a wide reputation as athlete, coach, administrator and gentleman. Although many things have changed in the last 80 or so years since Cody was at Clemson, some things that he stressed, like the importance of character and respect for others, will never change.
He will be inducted into the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame this fall in ceremonies that will take place on the Boston College football weekend.
March 14, 2019