ATLANTA — Pepper Rodgers, a colorful personality who helped Georgia Tech to an unbeaten season as a player in 1952 and went on to coach the Yellow Jackets as well as Kansas, UCLA and Memphis teams in both the USFL and CFL, died Thursday. He was 88.
A statement from his alma mater said Rodgers died in Reston, Virginia, where he lived after retiring from his final job as Washington's vice-president of football operations in 2004. No cause of death was given.
A quarterback and kicker, Rodgers was part of Georgia Tech teams that went 32-2-3, claimed two Southeastern Conference championships and won three major bowl games during his three years on the varsity. He capped a 12-0 season in 1952 by throwing a touchdown pass, kicking a field goal and adding three extra points in a 24-7 victory over Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl.
Georgia Tech finished No. 1 in the International News Service poll, but settled for No. 2 behind Michigan State in both The Associated Press and coaches’ polls.
Rodgers began his head coaching career at Kansas in 1967. He went 20-22 over four seasons, including an Orange Bowl appearance to cap the 1968 season, before moving to UCLA. After going 2-7-1 in his inaugural season with the Bruins, he went 17-5 and posted runner-up finishes in the Pac-8 over the next two years with an explosive wishbone offence.
That earned Rodgers a return to his alma mater, where he installed the wishbone but failed to match the level of success from his UCLA tenure. His best season was in 1978, when the Yellow Jackets went 7-5 and lost to Purdue in the Peach Bowl.
After slipping to 4-6-1 the following year, Rodgers was fired by Georgia Tech. He posted a record of 34-31-2 over six seasons in Atlanta, finishing his college coaching career with an overall mark of 73-65-3.
Rodgers returned to coaching with the Memphis Showboats of the upstart United States Football League in 1984. He went 7-11 his first season and 11-7 mark the following year, but the league went out of business after a failed attempt to move to fall to compete head-to-head with the National Football League.
Rodgers had one last coaching job, also in Memphis. In 1995, he went 9-9 with a team known as the Mad Dogs in the Canadian Football League’s failed effort to crack the U.S. market. Faced with massive losses and dwindling attendance, the team folded after one season.
Rodgers led Brown High School in Atlanta to an undefeated state football title in 1949.
After college, he served in the Air Force and began his college coaching as an assistant at Air Force in 1958. He moved to Florida in 1960 and on to UCLA in 1965.
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Paul Newberry, The Associated Press