It has been six decades since Wallace Butts was the head football coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, but his legend (and spirit) still hover over Sanford Stadium where his teams were often dominant on fall Saturdays, especially in the 40s.
Before Butts fielded his first bowl team, the little community of Athens had its heart set on an invitation to a post-season game. Naturally, the big objective was the Rose Bowl. Suddenly there were invites from the Orange, Rose, Oil, Sugar, Gator, Orange again, Gator and Presidential Cup—all in the span of a dozen years. Butts became known as the Bowlmaster.
Of all the passionate alumni I have met over the years, the descendants of James Wallace Butts are among the most intense. Coach Butts’ grandchildren and great grandchildren are as impassioned about Georgia football as any family in the state. Most of them are UGA matriculates.
There is, however, an exception.
Coach Butts’ middle daughter, Jean, a former Georgia cheerleader, married a football coach—Frank Jones, former head coach at Presbyterian who later became the head coach at Richmond. In between those two gigs, son-in-law Frank moved around in coaching circles as an assistant coach and looked for real estate deals at every campus, where he became anchored. When he was an assistant at Mississippi State, Frank found affordable acreage five miles out of town and purchased it. His friends thought he was nuts.
Today, that land is prime real estate, the hottest property in Starkville. Jones’s son has developed the property, which includes the Veranda Restaurant, the highest regarded place to dine in Oktibbeha County—like the Five and Ten in Athens and City Grocery in Oxford.
While Frank Jones Jr. has always enjoyed his family heritage, he is actually a graduate of the University of Richmond, where his father was also athletic director.
He and his side of the family are as passionately committed to Bully, the State mascot, as Coach Butts descendants in the state of Georgia are committed to Uga. Young Frank was on the sideline when the Bulldogs had to strain to defeat the Spiders 28-24 Between the Hedges in 1975.
That was when the late Sam Mitchell talked Vince Dooley into focusing on preparation for Florida’s powerful wishbone attack, which they called the “Broken Bone.” It was almost costly, Georgia coming up with a late fumble to end Richmond’s last threat to pull off one of the biggest upsets in the country.
If you remember the rest of the story, the Bulldogs were blatant underdogs versus the Gators in the old Gator Bowl the next weekend. You have to think that Florida was smirking at Georgia … almost losing to Richmond at home.
While we are not sure about that, we know that Erk Russell’s defense bent all afternoon versus Florida, but did not break. If you keep a game close, anything can happen. Florida led 7-3 deep into the afternoon, and it appeared that the Bulldogs were never going to score.
Then Bill Pace, the Georgia offensive coordinator, who always felt that you should go into games with a special play—something that would catch the opponents off guard—came with the end around pass from Richard Appleby to Gene Washington, bringing about a memorable victory, 10-7.
Back to our story on the Butts descendants in Starkville. When Frank Jones got out of coaching at Richmond, he had developed a viable real estate company on the side. His son, Frank Jr., took over the company when timing was certainly propitious. He moved back to Starkville and became an owner/developer the aforementioned land, making the Veranda Restaurant the centerpiece.
Starkville has become a thriving community and has taken on a new look in the last quarter century. The vision of Coach Wallace Butts’ son-in-law and that of his grandson are very much a part of the town’s new look.