Mitchell (Hornets Never Lie, 1989) delivers a football-focused biography of Douglas “Peahead” Walker, a vibrant coach from the nascent days of big-time college football.
Mitchell starts with Walker’s early 1900s upbringing in Alabama and subsequent high school athletic achievements, starring as a quarterback and a shortstop. From there, Walker plays for a number of collegiate football teams (eligibility rules were a little more lax back then) and plays in and manages semipro baseball leagues across the East Coast. With his playing skills on the decline, Walker took a job in the early 1920s coaching at Atlantic Christian College, building a small athletic program—across three sports—into a team that could punch far above its weight class. Walker continued on to Elon University, finding similar success, before moving in the late 1930s to Wake Forest University, where he became famous. Against bigger and better-funded rivals such as Duke or the University of North Carolina, Walker was able to build his team into a perennial contender that garnered national attention though never quite broke through for a conference championship. After a somewhat acrimonious split with Wake Forest, Walker had a brief stop coaching at Yale before moving, strangely enough, to Montreal to coach the Canadian Football League’s Alouettes. The book abounds with details gleaned from Mitchell’s extensive interviewing and research, with illuminating looks at each one of Walker’s many stops. Especially interesting are the effects of the Great Depression and World War II on Walker’s program-building efforts. The biography focuses on the many humorous Walker stories and anecdotes—most only half-true—giving the book a light, conversational tone. Football fans will love the many factoids about the early days of the game, while less interested readers may grow tired of the game-by-game recapping of nearly every season that Walker coached.
An entertaining look at an emblematic figure of college football’s early days.