FRANKLIN C (Pepper) Rodgers, 35-year-old backfield coach at UCLA and former Georgia Tech quarterback under Bobby Dodd, is the new Kansas University head football coach.
Rodgers soon will be signed to a four-year contract to succeed Jack Mitchell, athletic director Wade Stinson announced at a press conference attended by Rodgers this morning at the Kansas Union. No salary terms were announced. Rodgers had not signed the contract at the time but planned to do so soon. Since playing at Georgia Tech Rodgers has been an assistant at Georgia Tech, Florida, Air Force Academy and Virginia University.
The new KU coach plans to move to Lawrence right after Christmas to begin selecting his staff, to attend the Big Eight Basketball Tournament and to get full-scale recruiting under way, His wife and four children will move here after the mid-term school break in February.
"I have talked to people about other head coaching jobs this year and in other years," Rodgers said today, "but this is the first head coaching job I have ever really wanted.
"UCLA coach Tommy Prothro talked here at the football banquet several weeks ago (Nov. 28) and really instigated things," Rodgers said.
STINSON SAID he personally contacted Rodgers and that the UCLA assistant had not applied for the job. Prothro highly recommended his aide.
"You're getting the top young coach in the country," Prothro told Stinson. "He's ready for a head job and he's the best there is."
"It is a tremendous thrill and quite an honor to be chosen as head football coach at Kansas University and I can't say how much I am looking forward to the challenge," Rodgers said. "I was real impressed with Chancellor Wescoe (W. Clarke) and his enthusiasm for the sports program. I just hope I can do my part."
KU's 20-member athletic board approved the former Georgia Tech quarterback's selection Thursday night. Moving quickly following the meeting, Dr. Wescoe accepted the board's recommendation and polled members of the Board of Regents by phone late Thursday night to confirm the appointment.
Rodgers met with the Athletic Board Thursday night and remained overnight at a Kansas City motel to be available for the morning new conference.
The new Kansas coach will have a free hand in selecting the staff of eight assistants, one more than employed by Mitchell.
THERE HAS BEEN no ceiling set on the money Rodgers can pay to get good top assistants.
"It is very important, possibly the most important thing in a good football program, to get quality assistants," Rodgers said. "I will start making class right away to fill the assistant positions. I will talk to a s many present Kansas assistants as want to talk with me," he said.
Present KU assistant Don Fambrough, one of the top candidates for the head coaching job, is interested in staying on the staff and sources close to the scene feel the former KU player will be retained as one of Rodgers' assistants.
Fambrough has assisted J. V. Sikes and Jack Mitchell at Kansas after winning all-Big Six honors in 1946 and 1947 as a KU guard and place-kicker.
Rodgers has been Prothro's backfield coach at UCLA the past two years and played a major role in developing All-America's Gary Beban and Mel Farr.
DURING HIS TWO years at Los Angeles, the Bruins won 17 games, lost only three and tied one. Last year they whipped Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, handing the Spartans their only defeat of the past two campaigns. UCLA was 9-1 this season, but was by-passed for the Rose Bowl bid in favor of Southern California.
Prior to joining Protho at UCLA, Rodgers was backfield coach for Ray Graves at Florida five years and held the same position on Ben Martin's staff at the Air Force Academy for two years. Both Graves and Martin echoed Prothro's praise of Rodgers in telephone conversations with Stinson. Dodd of Georgia Tech could not be reached for comment.
In addition to helping develop Beban and Farr at UCLA, Rodgers coached Heisman Award winner Steve Spurrier while at Florida and former All-American backs Larry DuPree of Florida and Rich Mayo of Air Force.
Rodgers has been involved in several bowl games as a player or coach and has never been on the losing side.
HE QUARTERBACKED Georgia Tech in 1951-52-53 and during that stretch the Yellow Jackets compiled a 30-2-1 record that includes three bowl triumphs. In each of his first two seasons Tech finished 11-0 and ran up a 32-game unbeaten string before losing as a senior at Notre Dame, then ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Rodgers was named the outstanding player in the 1953 Sugar Bowl after pacing the Rambling Wreck to a 42-19 victory over a West Virginia club that included current professional star Sam Huff. In that game, Rodgers tossed three touchdown passes, kicked four extra points and one field goal.
When Rodgers was a sophomore, the Jackets edged Baylor, 17-14, in the Orange Bowl and the following year they trimmed Mississippi, 24-7, in the Sugar Bowl. Rodgers kicked the winning field goal against Baylor and booted another in the triumph over Ole Miss.
Rodgers stayed on at Georgia Tech a year as a student assistant on Bobby Dodd's staff while completing work on his B.S. degree in industrial management.
The following year he joined the Virginia staff as backfield coach and was there through spring practice before being commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Force in June of 1955.
After two years at Hamilton Air Force Base in California where he played and helped coach the football team, Rodgers was assigned to Martin's staff at the Air Force Academy.
HIS FIRST YEAR there the Falcons won nine games and tied two, including a tie with Texas Christian in the Cotton Bowl.
The new Jayhawk coach was separated from the service in 1960 as captain in the Air Force Reserve and shortly afterward joined Graves' staff at Florida.
During his five years at Florida the Gators won 33 games, lost 17 and tied two. Included were Gator Bowl victories over Baylor in 1961 and Penn State in 1963.
When Prothro left Oregon State for UCLA two years ago he picked Rodgers as his chief offensive assistant.
Rodgers was married in 1952 to the former Judy Ragsdale of Atlanta and they have four children. Their three sons are Ricky, 13; Kyle, 9, and Kelly, 3 122. Their daughter, Terri, is 12.
Judy and Pepper were high school sweethearts at Brown High of Atlanta, where Judy was a cheerleader and Pepper a standout athlete in football, basketball and baseball. He made the all-state team in all three sports and remained in his home town to attend Georgia Tech.
While Rodgers was playing for Dodd, the Tech coaching staff included Frank Broyles, now of Arkansas, Graves of Florida and Bo Hagan, recently named head coach at Rice.
RODGERS WAS among more than 50 considered for the position left open when Mitchell's contract was terminated December 3.
Only eight of the candidates appeared before the screening committee composed of Stinson and six other athletic board members whose names were not disclosed.
When machinery was set up for selecting a coach, Stinson said names of those applying or appearing before the committee would not be divulged unless the candidates themselves made the disclosure. Only coaches other than Rodgers who confirmed they had talked with the screening group were Fambrough and Arkansas assistant Bill Pace, former Kansas staff member.