J.F. "Pop" McKale

They Fought Like Wildcats Centennial (1914-2014): Ranking Arizona’s Top 10 hires on 100th anniversary of “Pop” McKale’s hiring



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General history
The games
Comparisons then and now
Wildcats nickname
Military service


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Excerpt from L.A. Times, Nov. 8, 1914, authored by Bill Henry:

“Arizona’s cactus-fed athletes, despite heroic efforts on the part of their two halfbacks, (Asa) Porter and (Franklin) Luis, went down to defeat before the Occidental Tigers yesterday afternoon, the tally with all precincts heard from being 14 to 0 in favor of the Tigers.
Confident of rolling up a big score, the Tigers took the field with grins on their faces, but before the game was 10 seconds old they knew they had a battle on their hands.
The Arizona men showed the fight of wild cats and displayed before the public gaze a couple of little shrimps in the backfield who defied all attempts of the Tigers to stop them.”

This site will conduct a countdown in a 100-day period, leading up to Arizona’s 2014 football season-opener with UNLV on Aug. 29 at Arizona Stadium. The 100 Days ‘Til Kickoff countdown will include information daily about the historic 1914 Arizona team that helped create the school’s nickname of “Wildcats” because of how they played that fateful day against Occidental.


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One hundred years ago today, Arizona added some “Pop” to its existence.

At the behest of most of the 308 students at Arizona, who put forward a petition for his hire, James Fred “Pop” McKale became the figurehead of the athletic department on this date (June 2) in 1914.

Arizona president A.H. Wilde, who had his doubts about McKale because the young coach was only 27, succumbed to the pressure from the student body and hired McKale as the school’s athletic director and coach of the basketball, football, baseball, track and field and tennis teams.

The 47th anniversary of McKale’s death from a heart attack was Sunday (June 1). He lived 79 years, 43 of them as a leader of Arizona athletics. He gave his life to the Wildcats and city of Tucson after moving to the desert territorial town in 1911 to teach and coach at Tucson High School.


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His remarkable imprint on Tucson High — other than creating its nickname “Badgers” because he came from Wisconsin — made him a home run hire for Wilde. His Tucson High football team shut out Arizona’s “Second Team” (as it was called) or junior varsity, 11-0. His baseball teams drubbed those at Arizona and Tempe Normal (the former name of ASU). That success made Arizona’s students envious of his coaching ability.

A newspaper article in 1914 that indicates the popularity of J.F. "Pop" McKale among Arizona students before his hire

A newspaper article in 1914 that indicates the popularity of J.F. “Pop” McKale among Arizona students before his hire

Little-known incredible fact: Arizona’s two most influential athletic directors in its history — McKale and Cedric Dempsey — both hail from a small private school in Michigan: Albion College.

With today the 100th anniversary of McKale’s hiring at Arizona, the following is a brief look at the Top 10 hires for the Arizona athletic department:

10. Fred Snowden (Basketball coach, 1972-1982): Snowden is much more than the first African-American to coach a major-college basketball program. He took Arizona from the doldrums of being a regional program in the WAC to becoming a respected program nationally in the years leading up to he Wildcats’ move to the Pac-10 in 1978. The flair of the “The Fox”, as he was called, was expressed by his teams that loved to run and gun. He is also the first basketball coach to make a concerted effort to recruit nationally, luring top prospects from the Midwest, including legendary players Bob Elliott, Al Fleming, Eric Money and Coniel Norman. The Wildcats had a 25-year NCAA tournament drought before Snowden coached the 1975-76 team to one game from the Final Four. Snowden’s early success provided the impetus for Lute Olson to realize, upon his hire in 1983, that Arizona’s program was a gold mine.

Caption here

The 1914 Arizona football team that earned the honor of being named the first “Wildcats” was composed of (front row, left to right): Verne La Tourette, George Seeley, Leo Cloud, Richard Meyer, Asa Porter. Second row: Franklin Luis, Lawrence Jackson, Ray Miller, J.F. “Pop” McKale (coach), Turner Smith, Harry Hobson (manager), Orville McPherson, Albert Crawford, Ernest Renaud. Back row: Albert Condron, Emzy Lynch, Charley Beach, Vinton Hammels, Bill Hendry, George Clawson, Harry Turvey.
(AllSportsTucson.com graphic/Photo from University of Arizona Library Special Collections)

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9. Sean Miller (Basketball coach, 2009-present): Miller has coached only five years in Tucson, but his immediate mark on the program serves notice that he can climb this list relatively fast. Without major-college head coaching experience upon his hire by former athletic director Jim Livengood, Miller has proven that he can continue what Olson started. His high-ranked recruiting classes, despite not having ties in talent-laden California when he moved to Tucson from Xavier, are above what Olson amassed in his first few years. Miller also took over a program in flux after two years of interim coaches because of Olson’s leave of absence and retirement saga. Despite the turbulent transition, Miller has coached Arizona to two Elite Eights and a Sweet 16. Miller already has two Pac-12 titles and a No. 1 ranking to his credit.


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8. Jerry Kindall (Baseball coach, 1973-1996): He is Arizona’s leader in coaching victories with a record of 860-580-6 with three NCAA championships (1976, 1980 and 1986). The 1976 championship was the first national team title for the Wildcats in any sport. Arizona played in the College World Series five times under Kindall. He coached 34 All-Americans, four of whom were Pac-10 players of the year. A total of 209 players who played for Jerry at Arizona signed professional contracts, 32 of whom played in the major leagues. Kindall has the distinction of being the first person in NCAA history to win a NCAA baseball championship as a player and a coach. He was shortstop on the 1956 Minnesota national championship team that beat Frank Sancet’s Arizona squad for the title.

James Fred "Pop" McKale began his legendary coaching and administrative career at Arizona 100 years ago today.

James Fred “Pop” McKale began his legendary coaching and administrative career at Arizona 100 years ago today.

7. Mike Candrea (Softball coach, 1986-present): Candrea is to softball what Paul “Bear” Bryant is to football. He is a legendary figure in the sport who built Arizona’s program from the ground level to one of the most prestigious in the country. Candrea will coach his 30th season at Arizona next year. He is approaching Enke Sr. (36 years with the basketball program) as the longest-tenured coach in the school’s history. Candrea has eight national titles, 21 trips to the Women’s College World Series and 1,377 career victories. He has also produced 50 All-Americans, four national players of the year. He also coached Team USA to an Olympic gold medal in 2004.

6. Dick Tomey (Football coach, 1987-2000): Tomey earned a school-record 95 victories as Arizona’s football coach, surpassing McKale’s 80. He also served the second-most years (14) to McKale’s 16 as the head football coach. Aside from the victories and longevity, Tomey’s mark on the program was developing three historic seasons that will live in the books forever. The creation of the nationally-acclaimed Desert Swarm defense occurred in 1992 when Arizona nearly upset No. 1 Miami and eventually toppled top-ranked Washington at home. Arizona finished 10-2 in 1993 with a Fiesta Bowl victory over the Hurricanes. In 1998, the Wildcats achieved the school’s best mark of 12-1 with a win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.

5. Dave Strack (Athletic director, 1972-1982): Arizona made the successful transition from Bear Down Gym to McKale Center in 1973 because of Strack’s hire of the flamboyant crowd-pleaser Snowden. It was a bold move because of Snowden’s distinction as the first African-American to coach a men’s hoops program. Strack was also responsible for the hire of Jim Young as football coach in 1973. Young led Arizona to a 31-13 record in his four years, including two 9-2 seasons. That successful era helped Arizona’s brass, including president John P. Schaefer, believe the program could compete in what was then the Pac-8 despite resistance from ASU to join the Wildcats in making the jump to the WAC. Strack also hired Kindall in 1973 and Smith in 1980. He promoted future Arizona Sports Hall of Fame coaches Dave Murray (track and field) and Rick LaRose (men’s and women’s golf).

4. J.F. “Pop” McKale (Coach and athletic director, 1914-1957): Arizona’s significant developments under his watch included the construction of Bear Down Gym in 1926 and Arizona Stadium in 1929 and his responsibility with the overall evolution of the athletic department. Arizona’s basketball and baseball teams most notably flourished under his hires of Fred A. Enke Sr. and Frank Sancet, respectively. Enke coached Arizona to its first NCAA tournament in 1951. Sancet took Arizona to the College World Series nine times and finished runner-up in three of them. Capacity at Arizona Stadium went from 7,000 in 1929 to 26,700 by the time McKale retired in 1957.

Lute Olson is the best hire in the history of Arizona athletics  in one person's opinion

Lute Olson is the best hire in the history of Arizona athletics in one person’s opinion

3. Larry Smith (Football coach, 1980-1986): Despite the cloud of pending NCAA infractions over the program upon his hire, Smith was responsible for making Arizona a nationally-recognized program. He coached Arizona to its highest ranking in 1983 — No. 3 in the Associated Press poll — when the Wildcats were serving the first of a two-year NCAA probation for recruiting violations under the previous staff. In what could have been a time of despair, Smith provided hope that Arizona could compete in the Pac-10 after moving from the WAC. His teams in those early transitional years achieved historic victories over UCLA, USC, Notre Dame and Arizona State. He also placed a strong emphasis on beating arch-rival ASU, starting “The Streak”, a nine-year unbeaten streak against the Sun Devils from 1982-1990.

2. Cedric Dempsey (Athletic director, 1983-1993): In his first year on the job, Dempsey, a former Arizona basketball assistant coach, hired Lute Olson away from Iowa. That accomplishment alone merits Dempsey’s lofty place on this list. Olson took to the Final Four in 1980. Arizona was in the midst of four consecutive losing seasons. Dempsey convinced Olson that Arizona’s program was a sleeping giant. Dempsey was also responsible for the hiring of Tomey in 1987 and Candrea in 1986. Dempsey, who served as president of the NCAA from 1993-2003, is honored as one of the NCAA’s 100 Most Influential Student Athletes.

1. Lute Olson (Men’s basketball coach, 1983-2007): He took Arizona’s program from the depths of college basketball (4-24 record a year before hiring) to the Final Four in only his fifth season in Tucson in 1987-88. The Wildcats have evolved into a perennial power since, belonging with the elites of college basketball (Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, etc.). His national championship, four Final Four appearances and school-record 589 victories puts him in a class of his own.

Honorable mention: Athletic directors Jim Livengood and Greg Byrne, basketball coach Fred A. Enke Sr., football coach Jim Young, baseball coaches Frank Sancet and Andy Lopez, golf coach Rick LaRose and track and field coach Dave Murray.

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He covered Arizona basketball for the The Arizona Daily Star when the Wildcats won the 1997 NCAA title. He attended the University of Arizona with partial aid from a scholarship awarded by the Concerned Media Professionals. Morales also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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