Athletics & Recreation
It was the golden age of college football, and Harry Mehre added luster to the game in many ways.
Born John Henry Joseph Mehre in Huntington in 1901, he was always known as Harry. He played football at Huntington High School until a player’s death prompted the school to suspend the team prior to Mehre’s senior year.
He turned his attention to basketball, and played well enough to earn a scholarship to Notre Dame.
It was while playing basketball that Mehre caught the eye of legendary coach Knute Rockne, who convinced Mehre to join the Irish football team. Mehre played both sports for three years, and served as captain of the basketball team as a junior and senior.
Playing center for the football team, Mehre anchored Rockne’s offensive line, which was nicknamed “The Seven Mules.” and paved the way for the storied George Gipp. Over Mehre’s three football seasons from 1919-21, Notre Dame lost just one game.
Like many of Rockne’s players, Mehre entered the coaching ranks. Rockne and Mehre had a special connection, and corresponded often until Rockne’s death in a plane crash in 1931. In those letters and telegrams, which are preserved at the University of Notre Dame, the coaches exchange personal greetings, information on individual players, scouting of opponents and game strategies.
Mehre was named University of Georgia football coach in December, 1927. At that time, Eastern football – and Notre Dame – dominated the college football landscape. Southern football had yet to rise to national prominence. By hiring Mehre with his Notre Dame lineage, Georgia had committed to become a major force in college football. The school built the 35,000-seat Sanford Stadium, and convinced powerhouse Yale to make its first-ever trip below the Mason-Dixon Line for a 1929 contest to dedicate the new field.
On October 12, 1929, before an overflow crowd, Mehre’s Bulldogs stunned Yale 15-0. Vernon “Catfish” Smith, one of Mehre’s “Flaming Sophomores” scored all of Georgia’s points. The win put southern football on the map.
Georgia played Yale in each of the next four years, all in New Haven, Connecticut. The Bulldogs won every time, proving the 1929 win was no fluke. Mehre’s success against one of the country’s best teams earned him a place in Georgia football lore.
After that first Yale win, Mehre was rewarded an oral “lifetime” contract. But in his 10th season at Georgia, Mehre’s team finished 6-3-2, and the Bulldog faithful grew restive. Mehre resigned at the end of the season with an overall mark of 59-34-6. The always-quotable Mehre quipped, “I had a lifetime contract at Georgia until the alumni declare me legally dead.”
Mehre moved on to Mississippi where he coached another seven seasons, including a pair of 9-win campaigns. He left coaching after the 1945 season, having fashioned a 98-60-7 record over his 17-year career.
Mehre was among the first coaches to make the climb from sidelines to pressbox. He started writing for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and for more than 20 years he offered analysis and memories with a unique combination of insight and humor. In 1971, he was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
Harry Mehre died in 1978. In 1986, Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall was dedicated on the University of Georgia campus in honor of Mehre and fellow Bulldog coach Wally Butts.