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Building Legends by Remembering Legends

Frank "Tad" Gormley

Sport: Coach

Induction Year: 1968

Francis Thomas “Tad” Gormley, who was born in Cambridge, Mass., in 1882, got off to an impressive start as a track coach. He trained J. C. Lorden of Cambridge and Timothy Ford of the Hampshire Athletic Association—winners of the Boston Marathon in 1903 and 1906, respectively.

Then he went to New Orleans, at a cost of, $35, to take a job as athletic director of the Young Men's Gymnastic Club—a forerunner to the New Orleans Athletic Club.

‘When I left Massachusetts,” he recalled more than a half century later, “it was snowing. There was green grass in Hammond and sunshine when I got to New Orleans…and it's been green grass, sunshine and flowers for me ever since.”

He was a track coach at Tulane, Louisiana State University and Loyola, and also coached LSU basketball teams for two seasons. Knute Rockne lured him to South Bend to coach at Notre Dame, but there wasn't enough green grass and sunshine to keep him in Indiana more than a few months.

As a trainer and coach in New Orleans for more than half a century, many of Gormley's fondest memories were of the time he spent at City Park Stadium—which was renamed Gormley Stadium shortly after his death in 1965.

“Money didn't mean that much to him,” said Ellis Laborde, general manager of City Park from 1944 to 1978. “He spent his weekends at the stadium on his own time. He was dedicated to bringing out the best in every child. We used to call him the Knute Rockne of City Park. To know him was to idolize him.”

“Some people leave behind large amounts of money for the community to build schools or libraries,” recalled Louis deLassus, who trained under Gormley as a cross-country runner. “Tad built character in kids. That's what he left behind.”

He made his college coaching debut at Tulane in 1914, with a team led by sprinter Bert Coleman and miler Edmund Faust scoring a dual meet victory over LSU.

Two years later, Gormley was head track coach and trainer at LSU. He first team included Dana Jenkins, a freshman from Eunice who quickly developed into a world-class sprinter. Jenkins set school records that stood until the 1930s and led the Tigers to the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship in 1916.

A stint in the Army interrupted Jenkins' training—and probably cost him a berth on the 1916 United States Olympic team. But Gormley coached LSU to three more conference titles and developed two Olympians after he moved to Loyola. They were sprinter Emmett Toppino, who ran on the United States 400-meter relay team that broke the world record in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, and triple jumper Rolland Romero, who competed in both the Los Angeles Olympics and the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Gormley also trained Olympic boxers Eddie and Dennis Flynn, and featherweight champion Jimmy Perrin. But he was best known for track. With conference meets cancelled in three of his 12 years at LSU because of World War I, he had four titles and two second-place finishes in nine years to establish a tradition that is still intact.

“Athletes are not born,” he often said. “They are made. The real power must come from inside the youngster. If a boy does not have the spirit to compete, even tremendous ability can be wasted.”

Three of his conference championships at LSU were decided by margins of less than three points, with the last one being the most exciting. The Tigers trailed Georgia Tech throughout the 1927 Southern Conference meet, but took the team title with a 1-3 finish in the final event—the javelin—by William Holladay and Jack Burnett.

When he took over the LSU basketball coaching assignment in 1921-1922, the Tigers won their first 14 games before dropping a 39-23 decision to Tulane in Baton Rouge. One night later, LSU avenged that loss with a 34-19 victory over the Green Wave completing a 15-1 season.

His next—and last—LSU basketball team compiled a 10-10 record marred by four losses to Tulane and a 36-10 setback at the hands of Vanderbilt in the opening round of the Southern Intercollegiate Conference tournament. That game, played at Atlanta, Ga., was LSU's first post-season appearance.

One of the men who attended a testimonial dinner honoring Gormley in 1958 was legendary football coach Clark Shaughnessy. He said Gormley was a great help to him when he arrived at Tulane as a 23-year-old head football coach.

“Tad was a very successful coach,” said Shaughnessy. “I don't mean only with the won and lost column. His boys had to carry out certain ideals.”

The keynote for the program at the testimonial dinner was the invocation by Rev. William Ruggeri, S.J.

“Lord,” he said, “it is the prayer of every man here who has adolescent sons that they may find in their teachers and athletic heads one whose character will make character will make a lasting impression for what is good and just and decent in their future lives.

“Our prayer tonight can be put very simply. Please give this troubled, seething world more men like Tad Gormley.”

In his response to the tribute, Gormley thanked God for a good life. “I didn't make much money,” he said, “but it's great feeling to know you helped make men out of boys.”

While he was proud o the Olympians and record-breakers he coached, Gormley found just as much pleasure in helping lesser athletes reach their potential.

“I can remember him sitting on a park bench later on in his life, watching kids train,” deLasus said. “He'd puff his pipe and say, ‘Louis, what a beautiful sight to see kids practicing. They're all getting exercise. They can't all be champions, but they're building up good, strong bodies.”

Gormley was posthumously inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1968.

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