James Lynah-A Second Chance

James Lynah-A Second Chance

by Sam Blackman

An early Clemson football star, Jim Lynah made the most of his “second chance”.

Lynah was born in Charleston, S.C. and grew up in Savannah, Ga. 

He was a two-year starter for Head Coach John Heisman at right end for the Tigers in 1900 and 1901. The 1900 team was Clemson’s first undefeated team, and they were also the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) Champions.   

The 1900 Tigers rolled over teams that season that included Davidson 64-0, South Carolina 51-0, Georgia 39-5, Alabama 35-0, Wofford 21-0 and Virginia Tech 12-5. The Tigers were 6-0 that season and surrendered just 10 points the entire year.  

The 1901 team finished 3-1-1 and during this season Heisman’s Tigers defeated Guilford 122-0, and had a 29-5 victory over Georgia.  

Lynah was about to graduate from Clemson in June of 1902.  To add merriment to the occasion of the upcoming graduation, he and some others “borrowed” a turkey from Clemson professor William Shannon Morrison’s farm.

They had a fine celebratory, turkey dinner at the expense of the bird owned by Professor Morrison. The guilty participants were caught and Lynah, the ringleader in this prank, was expelled from school the week before graduation.     

“A New Beginning”

In the fall of 1902, Lynah enrolled at Cornell and began college again where he was regarded as one of the top players in the east and captained the 1904 team under Hall of Fame Coach, Pop Warner.  

He played primarily the position of quarterback on the football squad and was a member of the Quill and Dagger society as well as Sigma Phi.  He was described a “powerful runner who was dangerous with the ball”.

Played for Two Legendary Coaches

Lynah is one of the two players known to have played for two of the most famous and legendary football coaches to ever pace the sidelines, John Heisman and Pop Warner.

The other player that both men had the opportunity to coach also had Clemson ties. Joe Guyon played for Warner at Carlisle Military Institute in 1912 & 1913 and he later played for Heisman at Georgia Tech in 1917 & 1918.  The Yellow Jackets won the National Championship in football in 1917. Ironically, Guyon was later the Tigers’ head coach in baseball and boxing during the late 1920s and early 1930s.  Guyon is a member of both the NFL and the College Football Halls of Fame.     

Distinguished Career and Clemson Graduate 20 Years Later

After graduating from Cornell in 1905, with a degree in mechanical and electrical engineering, Lynah joined the construction department of the E.I. DuPont Company as an electrical engineer.  

In 1922, 20 years after he was to have graduated from Clemson, the class of 1902 had a reunion and the school presented Lynah with a diploma from Clemson. In the registrar’s office, he is indicated as having received a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering.  

That same year he started work at General Motors in Detroit, Mich., and for the next several years he proved to be an ingenious asset for the company.  At GM, Lynah directed the general purchasing and manufacturing staffs, and at the young age of 48, he retired to his Savannah home in 1929.

A year later he was appointed chairman of a committee for the expansion and development of the College of Engineering by the Cornell University Board of Trustees.  

Successful Athletic Administrator

In 1935, Lynah was named the first fulltime Director of Athletics at Cornell and served in this capacity until 1944.  

While Athletic Director at Cornell, Lynah still had time to perform a major service for his country.  In July of 1940, with World War II already started in Europe, he took a dollar-a-year job as coordinator of specifications for the nation’s huge national defense program serving under William S. Knudson, chairman of the National Defense Commission. Also during World War II Lynah ran the Brunswick Shipbuilding Company in Brunswick, Ga.  

During his tenure, he put Cornell athletics on a sound financial basis. He took the lead in organizing what became the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).

He instituted the plan for a central office of the ECAC and became its first chairman. He was also a strong proponent for a stronger Ivy League.

The ECAC is a college athletic conference comprising schools that compete in 19 sports.  It has 303 member institutions in NCAA Divisions I, II, and III.  Most or all members belong to at least one other athletic conference.

Most member schools are in other conferences as well, but through the ECAC they are able to participate in sports that their main conferences do not offer. Its headquarters are located in Centerville, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod.

Each year the ECAC currently awards the James Lynah Distinguished Achievement Award.  The award is bestowed annually to a maximum of four former ECAC athletic administrators who have achieved outstanding success in their respective careers or have made an great contributions in the interest of intercollegiate athletics, the NCAA and the ECAC.

Lynah organized Cornell’s department of athletics, physical education, and women’s physical education into a single department.

As chairman of a university committee for the development of athletic facilities, during and after he served as director, he set plans in motion which brought about Moakley Club House at the Cornell Golf Course, Teagle Hall, and an indoor ice skating and hockey rink, which was completed in 1957 after Lynah’s death in February, 1956, and was named in his honor. 

Lynah Arena at Cornell is an iconic building that is used by Cornell’s hockey teams. It was constructed for $500,000 with a donation from Walter S. Carpenter, Jr. whose gift came with the stipulation that he did not want his name on the building.

In 1948, Lynah was named chairman of the NCAA enforcement panel, which became known as the “NCAA Sanity Code.” He played a key role in the investigations of alleged violations of the code by any of the member universities and colleges. Fearless in his convictions, he took a strong stand on control of recruiting and devoted many years to improving procedures of the NCAA.

Lynah was also a significant proponent in forming the Ivy League in football, established nearly six months after his death in 1956.

He is a charter member of the Cornell Athletic Hall of Fame and was named to the Greater Savannah Athletic Hall of Fame posthumously in 1978. 

Lynah was a person of intellect and diversity.  He was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Political and Social Science, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Society of Automotive Engineers, and the Army Ordnance Association.

Tribute to Clemson

For many years, a fund established by Lynah was awarded to Clemson students with high scholastic rating and possessed outstanding qualities of character and leadership. The award was given in memory of the distinguished professors who were teaching at Clemson when the 1902 class were undergraduates.  This list of professors included William Shannon Morrison, the owner of the turkey that Lynah “borrowed” in 1902.  

Lynah in his professional career was a noted industrialist, national and local leader, and legendary sports figure.

A newspaper article by Savannah News Press sports editor Frank Tilton summed up Lynah’s life this way:  “When Lynah died the morning of February 24, 1956, at his residence, he left behind a splendid record of achievement in all that he endeavored to do, whether it was serving his fellow man, or country’s business, cultural, or national affairs, or promoting the integrity of sports.”