In the 1930s, Kentucky football was, you know, Kentucky football, and they thought Auburn’s Chet “He Played For Notre Dame” Wynne could change that.
Sure, Wynne had gone 5-5 at Auburn in 1933 — pretty decent by Wildcats standards — but his 1932 Tigers had been undefeated Southern Conference champs! That still had to mean something!
So, in late 1933, Kentucky made him offer. He took it.
Yes, an actual football coach once left Auburn for Kentucky. And he ultimately took Porter Grant with him.
Along with ol’ Shug, Porter Grant was one of the legendary Iron Men from Auburn. From 1930-32, he was one heck of an end, one of Wynne’s favorite players. After a year at Kentucky, Wynne offered him a job as an assistant. It was a good hire. He was a good scout, a good recruiter. Kentucky players liked Porter Grant. They liked him a lot.
In fact, it’s entirely possible that no assistant coach has ever been more beloved than Porter Grant, seeing as how pretty much every player on the 1938 Kentucky squad was willing to lay down his college football life for him.
After a few mediocre seasons under Wynne, Kentucky went 4-6 in 1937. They didn’t win a single SEC game. They didn’t score in a single SEC game. After four years, Wynne’s conference record was just 5-14. It was obvious that Chet Wynne wasn’t automatically Chet Win. So, Kentucky president Frank L. McVey asked for his resignation.
But Wynne wouldn’t give it! Only politicians resigned, he said. Besides, he had three years left on his contract. He knew Kentucky didn’t have the cash to buy it out. He wasn’t going anywhere.
Porter Grant, however, was more than willing to leave. He’d been asked to come back to Auburn as the school’s Alumni Secretary. Not only that, he could be an assistant under Wynne’s replacement, Jack Meagher.
It wasn’t a hard decision to make — Kentucky was a sinking ship — but it was a hard decision for his Kentucky players to accept… especially since they thought he’d been fired.
Somehow, the team got the notion that Pres. McVey had canned Grant and fellow Kentucky assistant Tom Gorman in order to “soft-soap” the alumni. McVey, so the theory went, was obviously trying to save face by firing someone since he couldn’t fire Wynne.
Grant had been “gracefully rejected by alien pressure” — that’s how the players put it when petitioning McVey to reinstate their pal Porter… or else.
And it was one heck of an “else,” downright unprecedented even — either Grant got his job back or 70 — 70! — Kentucky Wildcats would “voluntarily retire from the University’s football program.”
The Kernel, Kentucky’s student paper, was all about it.
“With many real problems to be solved and mended, it seems that obvious ailments causing our football shortcomings have been avoided. Instead of yanking some of the weeds out of the garden, the ‘bosses’ extracted the valuable plants in the hope the wolves would be satisfied.”
No, no, no, McVey said — anyone who thought he’d yanked a prized Porter petunia from Lexington’s gridiron garden was mightily misinformed.
McVey swore that Grant had left because he wanted more money and couldn’t get it, and because he wanted to head back to his alma mater, i.e. to a better job at a better school with a better team with wild new uniforms. McVey insisted he’d actually done everything he could to get him to stay.
Ultimately, the players backed down, but only after a reporter in Kentucky called Grant and confirmed McVey’s account.
Two years later, Grant took over head coaching duties for Auburn baseball for a season before shipping off to whip the dreaded Hun. He came back as a lieutenant colonel four years later and served as Auburn’s assistant athletic director for a year or so.
Kentucky finally forced Wynne out after the Grant-less — and nearly win-less — 1938 season.