Football coaching great James Wallace (Wally) Butts was born in Milledgeville, Georgia on February 7, 1905. In high school and college, he became a successful star in three sports—football, basketball, and baseball. Butts coached football at several high schools and at Georgia Military College. In 1938, he was named an assistant coach at the University of Georgia, and the following year he became head coach. Butts’ twenty-two year reign as Georgia’s head football coach was a time of unprecedented success for the football program. His teams won 140 games, including four major bowl victories and four Southeastern Conference championships. While noted for his rugged coaching style and insistence on discipline and conditioning, Butts was also an innovator in developing passing routes in a time when most college football teams relied primarily on rushing plays. Butts was named Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year in 1942, 1946, and 1959.
He retired from coaching in 1960, but remained athletic director in 1963. It was during these last three years that the Saturday Evening Post published a story accusing Butts of giving an opponent inside information on Georgia’s team and game plans. Former players and coaches rallied to his support, denouncing the article as absurd. Butts sued the Post for libel, and a jury agreed that the evidence did not support the allegations; Butts was awarded a large cash settlement for the damage to his reputation. After retiring from the University, Butts remained in Athens as owner of a successful insurance company. He suffered a heart attack while jogging, and died on December 17, 1973.
In 1987, the University of Georgia completed construction of the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. The complex contains the administrative offices of the football team,weight room and meeting facilities for the coaches and players, and a museum honoring the history of the Georgia Bulldogs. The facility was named in honor of Coach Butts and another Georgia great, Harry Mehre.