One of the more interesting things that has surfaced in those old boxes called “Sundry Contracts” is the correspondence surrounding John Heisman’s resignation as Rice’s athletic director and football coach in December, 1927. Heisman came to the Rice Institute amid very high hopes in 1924. He had a five-year contract, a salary of $9,000 (considerably higher than any faculty member), and an agreement that he would only be in residence in Houston during spring training and the football season. Heisman, one of the greatest innovators in the history of football, was utterly unable to improve the school’s football fortunes. Under his direction the Owls had three mediocre years: 4-4 in 1924, and 4-4-1 in both 1925 and 1926. In Heisman’s fourth season (1927) they were a disastrous 2-6-1.
At the end of that 1927 season, Rice fans were clamoring for a change. Captain Baker laid out the situation to the rest of the trustees in a letter dated December 1, noting that “the sentiment of the student body and friends of the Institute who take an interest in athletics is practically unanimous that Heisman should go.” He proposed buying out the remaining time on Heisman’s contract and appointing assistant coach Claude Rothgeb to the job. This was accomplished by the next day. Heisman never coached again.
The next year Rothgeb went 2-7. (This was his last head coaching job too.) He was succeeded in 1929 by Jack Meagher, who did no better, leading the Owls to another 2-7 record. Meagher lasted in the job until 1933, leaving Rice with a mediocre 26 wins and 26 losses. Things took a turn for the better with the hiring of Jimmy Kitts in 1934, and this success was famously continued by Jess Neely for over two decades, from 1940 to 1966.