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MSU Football History: 1917-1938

When Bulldog fans argue over the best coaches in school history, one name often forgotten is Sid Robinson, the coach of the Bulldogs from 1917-1919. By the time he left Mississippi A&M, he had compiled a .750 winning percentage, the second best in school history.

Robinson's first season saw the Aggies knock off Mississippi College 68-0, Ole Miss 41-14, and LSU 9-0. As the country raced into World War I, fewer school had teams, so many of those that did played military training facilities. In 1918, the Aggies played three military camps, and shut out Ole Miss twice to end the season to finish 3-2. Robinson led the Aggies to a 6-0 start in 1919 before falling to Auburn and Alabama to close the season.

The next coach to stop by Starkville was Fred Holtkamp. The Aggies defeated LSU, Tennessee, and Ole Miss during his first season in 1920, and they knocked off Ole Miss again in 1921 on the way to his building a 9-7-1 record in Starkville. Both games against Ole Miss were played in Greenwood. During his time, in 1920, the students renamed the football field after Don Scott.

A familiar name became the next coach of the Aggies, but the name may seem out of place. Dudy Noble coached the Aggies for the 1922 season, picking up victories over Ole Miss and LSU that season. He finished 3-4-2 as the head football coach. Noble, who picked up 14 varsity letters at Mississippi A&M, also spent time coaching the Ole Miss football, baseball, and basketball squads before coming to Mississippi A&M, where he gained fame as a baseball coach.

Earl Abel, an All-American tackle from Colgate, took over the Aggies in 1923 and 1924. During his time, he pushed the Aggies winning streak against Ole Miss to eleven games before joining the coaching staff at Colgate.

Bernie Bierman had an impressive run as a head coach, claiming five national titles and three southern titles as a coach. Unfortunately, the College Football Hall of Famer, did not manage to have that success in Starkville. He finished in Starkville 8-8-1 in two seasons (1925-1926). The 1926 season saw the winning streak over Ole Miss end at 12. Bierman was one of the few coaches to improve at every stop in his coaching career, which ended at Minnesota.

The Aggies hired another former All-American from the Big Ten, John W. Hancock, to take the reigns in 1927, and he stayed until 1929. He never defeated Ole Miss, and he left with a losing record of 8-12-4. Of note, he did lead the Aggies to victories over Auburn in 1927 and 1928, and he went on to become a Hall of Fame wrestling coach at the University of Northern Colorado. By never defeating Ole Miss, the Aggies fell behind 3-0 in the official series in the Battle for the Golden Egg.

There may not be a more interesting coach in Mississippi State history than Chris Cagle. He played eight years of college football, appeared on the cover of Time Magazine, and played professional football after leaving Mississippi A&M in 1930.

His one season saw the Aggies go 2-7, with losses to Mississippi College, Southwestern (now Rhodes), and Millsaps. However, they did knock off LSU and and Auburn, but lost to Ole Miss.

In 1931, the Aggies turned to the hardwood, bringing Ray Dauber over to coach the football team. Dauber was not a novice coach; he had served as Hancock's assistant coach. He finished his two seasons 5-11, only defeating Millsaps and Southwestern twice and Mississippi College once. The most significant thing of his tenure is that Mississippi A&M became Mississippi State College and changed their name to the Maroons in 1932. The team also became one of the thirteen charter members of the Southeastern Conference. Dauber finished his coaching career with losing records in basketball, track, and football.

In the first two years of SEC play (1933-1934), Mississippi State College dwelled in the bottom of the standings under Ross McKechnie. McKechne compiled a 7-12-1 record and went 1-10-1 against the SEC, picking up the lone win against Sewanee.

Maroon football finally began to return to respectability under Ralph Sasse. Sasse, who played and coached at Army and served in World War I led the Maroons to a 8-3 record with two SEC wins in 1935. Wins of note that season included victories at Alabama and at Mississippi Southern (now USM).

In 1936, Sasse led the Maroons to their first ever win in the Battle for the Golden Egg, a 26-6 win over Ole Miss. The team also tied TCU and won at Florida before traveling to the first officially sanctioned bowl in school history, the 1937 Orange Bowl. The Maroons dropped a 13-12 decision to Duquesne in that game. The season also marked the first winning record for the school in SEC play.

Sasse went 5-4-1 with another winning mark in SEC play in 1937, scoring victories over Florida and Ole Miss. With the Maroons seeming poised to become a steadily successful team, Sasse surprisingly quit coaching under doctor's orders from a nervous breakdown.

Many great things happened at Mississippi State College under his tenure. Scott Field was expanded to 26,000 seats, and the first bulldog mascot, Ptolemy, came in time to help the team to a 20-7 win over Alabama in 1935. Later that year, following a 13-7 victory over Army (a major accomplishment), a littermate of Ptolemy's became the first Bully. Chuck Gelatka became the first player from the Maroons drafted in the NFL.

With Sasse's surprise exit, Spike Nelson took over the Maroons. He secretly brought in cardinal and gold uniforms, and not so secretly put a losing record. He did not return for the 1939 season.