Glory Days: Celebrating 90 Years of Kent State Football
Golden Flashes football has always been a popular part of campus life.
Kent State did not join the national trend of sponsoring football until 1920. With only a handful of men enrolled on campus that season, nearly all were members of this first team, which played only two games. Coached by the head of the education department, Prof. Paul G. Chandler, the football team would not log a touchdown in the record books until 1923, and it was not until 1925 that a Kent State football team won a game ….
Flash forward to the 1970s, one of the most outstanding periods in Kent State sports history.
In 1973 the NCAA reorganized into three competitive divisions, with Kent State choosing to join the most competitive, Division I. This changed competition, scheduling practices, and set the stage for the development of the Mid-American Conference. … Several athletic facilities were built during the decade including a new football stadium, constructed on the far southeastern edge of campus, off Summit Street, near its intersection with state Route 261. Dedicated in 1970, it became the new home of the Golden Flashes football and the field hockey teams. At the time of construction, seating capacity was 30,520. In 1973, its official name was changed to Dix Stadium, in honor of longtime trustee Robert Dix.
The football program saw some of its most significant successes in the early 1970s under coach Don James and with players such as Jack Lambert (of future pro football fame), Larry Poole, Cedric Brown, Abdul Salaam (Larry Faulk) and Greg Kokal. In 1972, the grid-men won their only MAC championship and ended the season with a Tangerine Bowl appearance…. Below are brief highlights of those exciting years in Kent State football, and the coaches and players who made them happen.
While only at Kent State a short time (1971-74), Coach Donald “Don” James led the Flashes’ football program, known as the “James Gang,” during its most victorious time with Kent State’s only Mid-American Conference Championship and a trip to the Tangerine Bowl in 1972. James left Kent State to work as the head coach at the University of Washington, where he continued his success.
Leading Kent State rusher, Larry Poole, second in the nation in scoring in 1973, helped the football team create one of their strongest eras. He set many records during his time, including career yards rushing (2,668), most touchdowns in a season (18) and career (38). The Cleveland Browns drafted him in 1975, and he later also played for the Houston Oilers.
Perhaps the most famous football alumnus, Jack Lambert (number 99) played a starring role on the James Gang as middle linebacker. He led the MAC with 233 tackles in 1972 earning MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors. The 1972 Tangerine Bowl MVP finished his Kent State career with 593 tackles. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected him in the 1974 draft where he became part of the “Steel Curtain” defense for the next decade that helped the NFL team to four Super Bowl victories. The UPI twice selected Lambert as the Defensive Player of the Year (1976 and 1979). Selected All-Pro eight times, Lambert played in the Pro Bowl nine times, a record for a linebacker. The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted him in 1990.
Nick Saban (’73) played defensive back for Kent State in the early 1970s, started at cornerback as a sophomore in 1970 and then at safety his last two years. He contributed to the Golden Flashes winning the 1972 MAC title, although injuries caused him to miss the last few games of the season. He started his illustrious coaching career as a Kent State graduate assistant in 1973 and 1974.
Greg Kokal (’80) directed the Golden Flashes to their only Mid-American Conference football championship and Tangerine Bowl berth in 1972. He lettered four times (1972-75) and was team captain as a senior. He ranked eighth in the NCAA in total offense (2,010 yards) as a senior and set the Kent State record for most passing attempts in a game (42) in the Tangerine Bowl.
Gary Pinkel ( ’ 75) was the leading receiver on Kent State’s 1972 Mid-American Conference championship team, grabbing 34 passes for 477 yard and three touchdowns. He led Kent Sate in receiving as a senior with 36 catches for 409 yards, helping the Golden Flashes post the best record in school history (9-2-0). He was named to the All-MAC First Team at tight end in 1972 and 1973 and as an Associated Press Honorable Mention All-American in 1973.
The 1972 football season unexpectedly became one of the most memorable in the sport’s beleaguered history at Kent State. After finishing last in their conference the previous season, the Flashes’ next season ended in their defeat of Toledo University and capture of their first-ever MAC championship. The team then saw post-season action at the Tangerine Bowl on December 29, 1972, facing Tampa who defeated them, 21-18.
Defensive back Cedric Brown, another key contributor to Kent State’s winning ways in the 1970s, led the nation with eight interceptions in eight games as a senior in 1975. The Oakland Raiders of the NFL drafted him in 1976. He played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1976-84, where he earned team MVP honors in 1981.
Abdul Salaam (’80), whose name means “Soldier of Peace” (Larry Faulk when he played at Kent State), twice selected to the All-MAC First Team as a defensive lineman (1973 and 1974), led his team as captain in 1975. The New York Jets drafted Salaam, and he played with them 1976-83.
After a playing career that ended in 1978 with 645 tackles, John “Jack” Lazor (right) stayed on to serve as an assistant coach in 1979 and 1983. While playing for Kent State, Lazor earned All-MAC First Team honors 1976-78, honorable mention Associated Press All-American in 1977 and AP Third Team honors in 1978.
Football player and sprinter Gerald Tinker excelled on the gridiron, track and in the classroom. As well as being a member of the All-MAC academic team in 1972, he ran the third leg of the 4X100 meter relay team that won gold at the 1972 Olympic Games for the U.S. followed by the NCAA Indoor Championship in the 60-meter dash in 1973. He ranked fifth in the nation as a punt return specialist, while also playing wide receiver for Kent State. The Atlanta Falcons picked him in the second round of the NFL draft in 1974, where he played two years, followed by a season with the Green Bay Packers.
Adapted and excerpted with permission from Kent State University Athletics by Cara Gilgenbach and Theresa Walton. (Arcadia Publishing, 2008).