Aggie History With Walter Hines :: Woodson Remembers 'Fine Young Players' On Winning Teams

Editorial Note: This article was written by the Panorama staff and appeared in the September 1996 issue of the Panorama

Warren Woodson led a great resurgence in Aggie football after arriving from the University of Arizona in 1958. His Sun Bowl teams were as talented offensively as any team in the U.S. At least seven members of that team went on to play professionally.

1960 was a good year for the Aggie football team. And the man credited with molding that team, and building Aggie football into a dynasty - and national power - in the late '50s and early '60s, still holds fond memories of his tenure at NMSU.

"We had some great teams back then, and I got to work with some fine young players," Warren Woodson, now 93, said in a telephone interview from his home in suburban Dallas. He was the head coach of 10 Aggie football teams from 1958-67.

Coach Woodson's wife, Muriel, a former physical education teacher at NMSU during the time Woodson was coaching football, said his health has been on the decline. They still keep track of NMSU athletics, especially football and basketball. Sometimes, Muriel said, they're lucky enough to find a score, highlights, or an Aggie basketball game on TV.

"His first rule was for us to throw the ball at least 20 times a game. His second rule was to throw the ball seven times in the first quarter."The Woodsons came to NMSU in 1958. The coach inherited a football program with a 21-74-1 record the previous 10 seasons under four different head coaches. Woodson's first three NMSU teams went 4-6 in 1958, 8-3 in 1959 and a perfect 11-0 during the 1960 campaign. The '59 and '60 teams both played in - and won - New Year's Eve Sun Bowl games.

Woodson's other Aggie teams went 5-4-1 in 1961, 4-6 in '62, 3-6-1 in '63, 6-4 in '64, 8-2 in '65, 7-3 in '66, and 7-2-1 in '67.

Woodson's NMSU coaching record of 63-36-1, a winning percentage of .626, makes him the winningest football coach in school history. His career coaching record of 203-95-14 helped earn him a 1989 induction into the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame. Woodson also is credited with inventing the T-formation with a wingback attack.

Woodson's teams were so dominant that Aggie running backs led the nation in rushing four consecutive years, still the longest streak by any school in NCAA history. Pervis Atkins rushed for 971 yards in 1959, Bob Gaiters followed with 1,338 yards in 1960, and James "Preacher" Pilot won back-to-back NCAA rushing titles with 1,278 yards in 1961 and 1,247 yards in 1962.

During his NMSU coaching career, Woodson's players were crowned NCAA statistical champions 13 times, for yards rushing (1959-62), all-purpose yards per game (1959-61), passing efficiency (1959-60), scoring (1959-61) and total offense (1967).

Charley Johnson, Aggie quarterback from 1958-60 and the only player in NCAA history to be selected Most Valuable Player in a bowl game two consecutive years (Sun Bowl 1959-60), said Woodson was a strict, hard-nosed perfectionist who knew what it took to win. "Coach Woodson had a list of rules we had to follow," said Johnson, now 57 and living in Houston. "His first rule was for us to throw the ball at least 20 times a game. His second rule was to throw the ball seven times in the first quarter. Those rules were in place to open up our outstanding running game.

"We were like his kids," Johnson said. "He was a harsh disciplinarian, and he didn't want anybody else messing with us. He took care of us. He had a genuine concern for everybody on the team, but he hardly ever let it show."

Johnson, who played 15 years with the NFL's Cardinals, Oilers and Broncos, last visited with his collegiate coach three years ago, on Woodson's 90th birthday.

"He was a great player," Woodson recalled of Johnson. "He was an excellent passer and he really blended with the team.
"We had a lot of great players back then. Pervis Atkins and Bob Gaiters were outstanding runners," Woodson said. "There's no question about it, my job was made easier because of the fine players we had."

In all, 19 Aggies were drafted to play professional football during Woodson's NMSU career.

The Woodsons still have plenty of friends in New Mexico's Mesilla Valley, Mrs. Woodson said. "Unfortunately, because of Warren's health, we haven't been able to travel much to visit our friends," she said. "We wish them all well."
Woodson, the coach that he still is, had a few words of advice for young people considering sports: "It's good for youngsters to get involved with athletics," he said. "The training and discipline you learn from being on a team can last a lifetime."

Charley Johnson, shown here practicing his passing accuracy, was one of the stars on Coach Warren Woodson's Aggie football team. Johnson played 15 years in the NFL. The photograph was taken in 1958 by R.P. Meleski and is published courtesy of the Hobson-Huntsinger University Archives at NMSU.