This is the sixth and final story profiling the members of the 2009 class of the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame.
by Chad Vignes & R.J. Marse
LSU Sports Information
In June 1933, former LSU track and field coach Bernie Moore packed his five-man team and their equipment into his black Plymouth and headed north to Chicago to compete in the NCAA track and field national championship meet.
With only $137 allocated for the trip, Moore said his athletes would be able to “live off the land” as they competed. The five athletes – shot-put and discus thrower Jack Torrance, pole-vaulter Matt Gordy, high-and-low hurdler Al Moreau, hurdler and quarter-miler Glen “Slats” Hardin and javelin-thrower Bubby Blair – would, as they lived off the land, go on to win the first track and field national championship in LSU history. But it wasn’t easy.
Former LSU athletic director Joe Dean called Hardin “the greatest track athlete to ever attend LSU.” Hardin competed for Moore in both track and field and football at LSU, and his performance on the track is what made him one of the all time greats.
A native of Greenwood, Miss., Hardin was the most accomplished of the five, competing in the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and winning a silver medal in the 400-meter hurdles. Hardin would continue to perform at a high level in Chicago and help start the momentum that would lead the Tigers to a championship, setting a world record as he won the 440-yard high hurdles and then, after being set a yard behind the field for a false start, setting another record in winning the 220-yard low hurdles. Hardin finished with 20 of LSU’s 58 points in the meet.
“I don’t know how long they had been running the 400 (meter) hurdles then,” Hardin once said, “but I do remember that (coach) Moore didn’t know anything about them and I didn’t, either.”
“Baby Jack” Torrance, as he was known, was also a two-sport star in football and track and field at LSU. One of the premier shot-putters in the world at the time, Torrance won the first of three consecutive NCAA titles and followed it with a third-place finish in the discus for the Tigers. Blair then finished fourth in the javelin and Moreau was able to grab second in the high hurdles and sixth in the 220-yard low hurdles.
It came down to Gordy, the 135-pound pole-vaulter from Abbeville, La., who had never cleared more than 13’-4” prior to the NCAA championship. LSU stood ahead of Southern California by four points and Bill Graber, USC’s world-record pole-vaulter, had already cleared 14 feet in his final jump. Gordy failed his first two attempts and if he failed his final attempt he would fall into a three-way tie for second behind Graber, tying LSU and USC for first place.
“I looked up to the top of the stadium and saw Coach Moore pacing up and down like an expectant father,” Gordy said in a 1971 interview with the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I laughed and I guess that laugh really relaxed me.”
Gordy made the jump, tying Graber for first place and besting his previous personal-best by eight inches. LSU had beaten USC by four points, 58-54, and a track dynasty was born with Bernie Moore as its leader.
On Tuesday, Moore will be inducted into this year’s LSU Athletics Hall of Fame along with five other legends at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Other inductees include baseball and basketball coach Harry Rabenhorst (profile), long-time LSU trainer Dr. Martin J. Broussard (profile), track and field Olympian Esther Jones (profile), softball All-American Britni Sneed (profile) and football great Anthony McFarland (profile).
Tuesday night's 2009 LSU Hall of Fame Banquet is sponsored by Moniotte Investments, Deumite Construction, and Rabenhorst Funeral Homes.
In his 18 seasons as head track coach, Moore led the Tigers to an unprecedented 12 SEC titles, including the inaugural conference championship in 1933. Under Moore, LSU athletes set five world records, won eight NCAA titles and collected 29 All-America honors.
Coaching teams with multiple SEC titles in one sport is certainly a famed accomplishment, but an SEC title in two sports is nearly unheard of. Not for Bernie Moore. In addition to leading LSU track to national prominence, Moore also coached LSU’s football team to two SEC titles in 1935 and 1936.
Louisiana senator Huey P. Long endorsed the new head football coach in 1935 saying, “winning that track meet showed me he could handle men.”
In Moore’s first season as football coach, All-American Gaynell Tinsley and the Tigers posted a 9-2 record and LSU’s first Sugar Bowl appearance. It was the first time in SEC history a coach won SEC titles in two major sports in the same year.
If that weren’t enough, Moore did it again in 1936 when he led the football team to its second SEC championship and the track team to its fourth straight SEC title.
Moore led the Tigers to three-straight Sugar Bowl appearances in his first three years as head coach. Unfortunately, all three Sugar Bowl appearances resulted in LSU losses. Moore was able to overcome the postseason losing streak in 1943 when the great Steve Van Buren led the Tigers to a 19-14 victory over Texas A&M in the Orange Bowl, giving LSU its first bowl game win.
One of Moore’s most memorable games came in what would later be known as the “Ice Bowl.” January 1, 1947, in the Cotton Bowl, LSU dueled Arkansas to a 0-0 final score, despite out-gaining the Hogs 271-54 in total yardage on the legs of Y.A. Tittle. The Tigers finished that season 9-1-1, one of Moore’s better seasons, though no title was won.
Moore stepped down as head football coach after the 1947 season, with a career record of 83-29-6 in 13 seasons. He is second, only to Charles McClendon, in most career wins all-time at LSU.
In 1948, Moore became the commissioner of the SEC and would hold that office for the next 18 years. He was the longest-tenured SEC commissioner in history.
After he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954 and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1963, Moore finally retired in 1966.
Moore died the following year in 1967, but his body was honorably laid to rest by the men who first benefitted from his legacy.
Matt Gordy, pole-vaulter on that historic 1933 National Champion Track team, was vice-president of Pan-American Oil in 1967. He flew his private jet to Baton Rouge to pick up his four teammates from that 1933 championship team.
From there Gordy, Jack Torrance, Buddy Blair, Al Moreau and Glenn Hardin flew to Moore’s hometown of Winchester, Tenn. to serve as pallbearers in Moore’s funeral ceremony.
Today, Bernie Moore’s legacy lives on, as the LSU outdoor track stadium still bears his name; a fitting memorial to an LSU legend.