Service to country came first for Bobcats coach

Dr. Jim TumblinFountain City, Our Town Stories

Perhaps no time could be more appropriate for a column on Nathan B. “Red” Eubank than November, the month we celebrate Veterans Day. It was Eubank who said, “There is no country comparable to the United States. I went to war twice because I believed that.”


Colonel Nathan B. “Red” Eubank served in both World War II and the Korean War.  He imbued literally hundreds of his students and team members with a spirit of patriotism.

Nathan B. “Red” Eubank (1903-1986). During their seven-year stint (1935-1941) line coach
Eubank and head coach Harvey Robinson led the Central High School football team to an
outstanding 56-5-5 record. (Photograph courtesy of the C.M. McClung Historical Collection)

Nathan B. Eubank was born near Pulaski in Giles County, Tennessee, on May 1, 1903, one of three children of Nathan A. and Martha Harris Eubank. His grandfather, Azariah J. Eubank, fought in the Civil War as a Private in Co. A, 53rd Tennessee Infantry (CSA). He enlisted on Dec. 6, 1861, and his unit was stationed at Fort Donelson prior to the build-up of forces there.

When Brig. Gen. Gideon Pillow arrived, he wrote in one of his first reports that “(the 53rd) was almost disbanded by measles and did not exceed 200 men fit for duty. The mostly farm boys, many of whom had never traveled beyond the borders of their county, had never been exposed to contagious diseases and succumbed easily to them.” During the Civil War, disability and death from disease were about as frequent as casualties in battle.

The 53rd’s brigade took part in some of the heavy fighting at Fort Donelson (Feb. 13-16, 1862) when Brig. Gen. U.S. Grant’s Union forces blocked the fort while Adm. A.H. Foote’s gunboats shelled it into submission. They surrendered on Feb. 16 and, with members of his unit, Pvt. Eubank was imprisoned at Camp Morton, Indiana.

Pvt. Eubank may have been among those members of the unit who were paroled at Vicksburg in November 1862. Some were later reported at Holly Springs; Port Hudson, Mobile, Dalton and Franklin. Some original members of the 53rd were with Gen. Joseph E. Johnson’s army at the final surrender on April 9, 1865, at Greensboro, North Carolina.

As his grandfather would have been 61 at the time of Nathan’s birth, he may well have known him and heard accounts of the Civil War period from him. If so, his avid interest in U.S. history may have begun in his childhood or teen years.

Nathan Eubank attended grade school in Pulaski and high school at Hume-Fogg High School in Nashville. Later, he graduated from the University of Georgia, where he was an All-Southern guard on the football team in 1925, playing at about 140 pounds. After coaching at the University of Chattanooga and the University of Georgia, he came to Knoxville Central High School in 1935. At first, in addition to his coaching duties, Eubank taught history and commercial law.

Harvey Robinson and N.B. Eubank are legendary in the history of Central High sports. They coached together during a seven-year stint (1935-1941) with Robinson as head coach and coach of the offense and Eubank coaching the defense. The coaching combination was responsible for a fantastic 56-5-5 record, winning six state titles and one Southern championship. A Robinson-Eubank coached team never lost to arch rival Knoxville High School during those years, although the teams did not play in 1937.

It was big news when Col. Eubank returned to Fountain City – “Knoxville News Sentinel” Dec. 28, 1946.

Sportswriter Harold Harris called the undefeated and untied 1939 State Champion Bobcats the “best ever” Central High School football team. The team had Dan Boring at blocking back, Chan Caldwell and Ford Owen at ends, Dave Cawrse at tackle, Jim Cawrse at guard, John Brown at center, Howard Painter at fullback, R.E. Selby at tailback and Mack Hansard in reserve. Hal Kelly and Jim Tillett made the All-State team that year. The team captain was tackle John Francis.

In 1941, Coach Robinson joined the Army. Some seniors had gone into the service and the coaching situation might have been a distraction. However, led by team captain Ford Owen, Central won the 1941 State Championship, cinching it with a 7-0 victory over Knoxville High School in the final game of the season. Eubank also left for the service in 1942.

When he returned from the war, Eubank coached for a year at the Citadel under head coach Quinn Decker. Then he returned to coaching at Central in 1947 along with Buist Warren, head coach, and O.C. Lloyd, line coach. He also coached in 1948 and 1949 and then retired from coaching to continue on the Central High School faculty as a teacher of history and sociology until 1972 when he retired completely. During the 1950s Lt. Col. Eubank served as commanding officer of the National Guard’s Third Battalion, 278th Infantry Regiment.

Vivian Crowe (1902-1986) was a native of Kansas, the daughter of Jason and Alice Schultice Crowe. Having taught at Carnegie Tech, she came to Knoxville to teach in the home economics department at the University of Tennessee in the 1940s. In 1961 she became cafeteria supervisor for the Knox County Board of Education. She and N.B. Eubank married in 1960 and established their home at 6016 Grove Avenue (Grove Park) where the couple lived out the remainder of their lives.

Many of his former students and former football team members knew only the “True Grit” side of Colonel Eubank. However, he was knowledgeable in many subjects from art and music to football and military tactics and his library also was wide ranging. He was a student of the Bible and considered it “the greatest history book of all.” Such books as Albrecht Durer (a biography of the greatest master of German art) and German Porcelain by William B. Honey graced his library shelves.

Late in life, in reflecting on his career as a coach, Eubank said, “There is no way I can mention all the many people who contributed to the success of our football organization at Central.” Giving major credit to his fellow coach and longtime friend, Harvey Robinson, he named some of their elite players: Kenneth “Red” Bales, Charley Selby, Barney Searcy, Bob Suffridge (UT All-Time All-American guard), Ray Graves (future Florida coach), Ray Cannon, Hodges “Burr” West, Dan Y. Boring (later head coach and principal at Central High School), David  Cawrse, Jim Cawrse, Chan Caldwell, Mack Hansard, Kenneth Donahue (later assistant  coach at Alabama and UT),  Charles Moffett, Horace “Bud” Sherrod (UT All-American end), Bill Fogarty and many more.

Col. Eubank was a charter member of the Fountain City Lions Club and assisted in its community projects, particularly in the upkeep of Fountain City Park and Fountain City Lake. To recognize his deeds as a humanitarian the East Tennessee chapter of the Football Foundation presented Coach Eubank a service award during the annual Orange and White Game at the UT’s Neyland Stadium on May 14, 1977.

Mrs. Vivian Crowe Eubank passed away on Feb. 2, 1986. On Nov. 30, 1986, only nine months later, Coach Nathan B. Eubank, a long-time member of Fountain City Methodist Church, died at East Tennessee Baptist Hospital. After services conducted by Gentry-Griffey Funeral Chapel, he was interred in Greenwood Cemetery.

Only a brief acquaintance with Col. Eubank revealed that you had been in the presence of a true patriot. As a member of the U.S. military, as a high school teacher and as a football coach Nathan B. Eubank made a difference in many lives.

Jim Tumblin, retired optometrist and active historian, writes a monthly series on Fountain City for KnoxTNToday.com.

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