Joshua Crittenden Cody was born on June 11, 1892 in the Nashville suburb of Franklin, Tennessee. At the age of twenty-two, Cody, a son of self employed house painter James Cody and his wife Elizabeth, enrolled in nearby Vanderbilt University and joined the football team. You see, although he was a grown man, Josh Cody was a very big man, as tall as 6'4" and weighing 220 pounds or more, characteristics that would have made him a giant in his day.
The Vanderbilt Commodores reversed their fortunes in 1915, going 9-1. Cody, a big part of the team’s turnaround with his powerful blocking and quick tackling, earned his first selection to the All American team. Cody and the boys from Vandy (7-1-1) posted another fine season in 1916. Once again, Cody was named to the All American team.
Josh Cody wasn’t just a superlative football player. His letterman’s jacket was covered with a lucky thirteen letters in football, basketball, baseball and track in his four seasons at Vandy.
“When I think of Josh in his college days, I get a mental picture of this great big fellow playing catcher in the spring and between innings running out beyond the outfield to throw the shot or the discus in his baseball uniform. He was unbelievably skillful and nimble for a big man in basketball, and in football where he’s a legend, said sports writer Fred Russell about Cody.
Mercer University hired the multi-sport star to coach their athletic teams beginning with football in the autumn of 1920. But before beginning his duties in Macon, the owners of the Dublin Irishers semi-pro baseball team hired Cody, along with then current Vanderbilt baseballers catcher Mims Tyner and third baseman Woodruff, to play on the team.
Cody did quite of bit of managing from behind the plate, catching the Irishers’ first game and garnering two of the team’s four hits in a losing effort against Millen. After going an outstanding 16-7 in five weeks of baseball, the Irishers surprisingly disbanded due to lack of financial support and attendance.
After several lackluster seasons at Mercer, Coach Cody was easily lured back to Vanderbilt as head basketball and assistant football coach under his mentor and former coach, the legendary Dan McGugin, on the gridiron. During his tenure at Vandy, the gridiron Commodores were just mediocre at best. Cody’s hardwood five (20-4) won the Southern Conference championship.
Clemson University was the next stop on Cody’s climb to the top of his game. In four seasons with the Tigers, Cody’s footballers never lost more than three games in a season, beating South Carolina four straight times and in the process, making Coach Cody the only Clemson coach with more than two seasons who never lost to their hated intrastate rival.
Josh Cody desperately wanted to return to Vanderbilt as the head football coach. He did return in 1931, but when another coach was chosen to lead the team, Cody looked elsewhere. His Florida Gators suffered through four losing seasons. Once again Cody was on the move.
The unforseen resignation of the school’s football coach in 1955 gave Joshua Cody one final chance to coach football. His team lost every game.
Joshua Cody, known as “Big Man” to his friends and fans, was known far and wide as a champion eater. Fred Russell once said, “When he was at Clemson he had a contest with Herman Stegman, the coach at Georgia. Josh weighed about 260 then. He out stripped Stegman by 11 chickens. He wasn’t satisfied just to win. He just went on to a decisive victory.” Said Cody on the eating contest, “I got two chickens ahead of him early and just coasted.”
A teammate of Cody in 1919, Atlanta Constitution publisher Ralph McGill said about Cody, “He was a great big fellow and one of the most seriously dedicated fellows I’ve ever met. He was a farm boy and he didn’t have any polish but he was very honest and sincere. He didn’t have scholarship——we had none in those days——but he had a real job. He literally cleaned the gymnasium every day, cleaned up the locker rooms and the showers, and tended to the coal furnace after practice.”
Cody was posthumously enshrined into the National College Hall of Fame in 1970 and the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1999. He remains Vanderbilt’s only three-time (1915, 1916, 1919) All-American football player.
On a personal note, Coach Cody was my grandfather Howard Irving Scott’s football and basketball coach at Mercer University in the 1920-1 seasons. It will also be noted that a decade later, another quite legendary coach, Wally Butts of the University of Georgia, played for Dublin’s semi-pro team, only to see his season cut short when he injured his leg in the second game of the season.
But it was in those bright, warm, twenty-three summer days, the days of Joshua Cody, when Dublin’s baseball team was led by one of college football’s greatest linemen.