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Remembering University of Miami legend and World War II veteran Jack Harding

Jack Harding’s contributions to the University of Miami were great, and his decision to leave Coral Gables and enlist in the United States military during World War II was even greater. 

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Jack Harding coached the Miami Hurricanes to their first conference championship and bowl game victories, and his winning years put the 'Canes on the map as a contender in college football. Much of what Harding instilled is still present today: Miami is always ready to schedule tough adversaries and rivals, like the Florida Gators, and Mark Richt’s unselfishness in donating $1 million to Miami's indoor practice facility is something Jack Harding, who lent his services as head football coach, baseball coach, and athletic director to the University of Miami, and to the United States military, can appreciate. As we honor those who have fallen while serving our country, State of the U would like to take a moment to remember Miami Hurricanes legend and World War II veteran Jack Harding.

Jack Harding guided the Miami Hurricanes through important years in program, and United States, history. He arrived in Coral Gables in 1937, the same year the Hurricanes began playing in the Orange Bowl (then called the Roddy Burdine Municipal Stadium), and served as Miami’s head coach and athletic director. After posting a 4-4-1 record his first year, Harding turned the team around in his second season, finishing with an 8-2 record and winning the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship for the first time in program history. Along with bringing the 'Canes their first conference championship, Jack Harding’s 1938 season also saw the first meeting between the Hurricanes and the Florida Gators, which resulted in a 19-7 Miami victory in Gainesville.

In 1939, the Second World War began and the world’s attention turned to Europe. Back in the United States, Jack Harding observed the war from his coaching post in Coral Gables. In 1939 and 1940, Harding weathered difficult seasons where the Hurricanes went 5-5 and 3-7, respectively. However, in the '41 and ’42 seasons, Harding’s Hurricanes returned to their winning ways, posting an 8-2 record in ’41 and 7-2 in ’42.

On the morning of December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, killing 2,403 Americans, including 2,335 servicemen and 68 civilians. The next day President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a speech to a Joint Session of Congress, calling for war against Japan.

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. … No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory. … With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God.” – Excerpts from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Infamy Speech

Around 16.1 million Americans served in World War II, and Miami’s Jack Harding was one of them. Following the 1942 football season, Harding left the Hurricanes to enlist in the United States military. At this pivotal moment in world history, Jack Harding had the courage to relinquish his duties at the University of Miami, and to serve and protect his country. Eddie Dunn, a legendary running back and captain of the 1938 football team, served as the Hurricanes interim head coach during Harding’s absence.

The war’s impact was felt everywhere around the globe. In the United States, millions raced to enlist in the U.S. military and many of those who couldn’t found other ways of supporting the war effort. It was all hands on deck, and anything less wouldn’t suffice.

At the University of Miami, and across all of college football, they made a try at completing their regular schedule, but their efforts were severely hindered. The Hurricanes returned just six lettermen for the 1943 season. They lacked players, a complete coaching staff, and enough opponents for a full schedule. Despite these hurdles, Eddie Dunn rallied the Hurricanes and arranged a six-game schedule. As the fight raged on in Europe and in the Pacific Ocean theatre, the ‘Canes posted a 5-1 record and overcame the difficulties of life during World War II.

The 1944 football season wouldn’t be as kind to Eddie Dunn and the Hurricanes, however. In ‘44, Miami put forth its worst record in school history, 1-7-1, and after years of success the ‘Canes looked to be regressing.

But as the skies cleared over Europe and in the Pacific, and an Allied victory was all but assured, Harding returned home to the University of Miami just prior to the 1945 football season.

Students poured into the University of Miami as hundreds returned from service, and Harding prepared the ‘Canes for perhaps his greatest run. Following the losing season in ‘44, expectations were low for the Hurricanes with many suggesting they would win just three or four games. A relatively unknown Miami starting eleven, packed with youth and inexperience, sat waiting for Jack Harding’s return. This same group that was called too little and too inexperienced to compete with college football’s heavyweights fought valiantly and injected itself into the national spotlight, forcing its detractors to take notice.

With victories over national powers Clemson, Michigan State, Auburn, and the Florida Gators, Harding led Miami to an 8-1-1 regular season record and sent the ‘Canes to its first postseason bowl game since 1935.

1946 NCAA Orange Bowl program

The Miami Hurricanes and Holy Cross Crusaders met in the 1946 Orange Bowl. The game was a hard-fought contest with the teams tied at 6 apiece as just seconds remained. Late in the fourth quarter, the Crusaders were driving deep into Miami territory and looked as if they might best the ‘Canes. But as time trickled down, a pass from Crusader quarterback Gene DeFilippo sailed through the arms of an open receiver and into the hands of Miami’s Al Hudson.

The game’s ending gun fired as Hudson sprinted across the 35-yard line, and a capacity crowd watched on as he returned the interception 89 yards for a score. In Jack Harding’s return to coaching after his service in World War II, the Hurricanes finished the ’45 season with a 9-1-1 record and a 13-6 Orange Bowl victory.

Harding posted another 8-win season in '46 and continued to coach the Miami Hurricanes through to the 1947 season. After the ‘47 season, however, he relinquished coaching duties to become the Miami Hurricanes athletic director. As Miami’s AD, he was noted for scheduling college football's top programs of the time, such as Notre Dame, Syracuse, Michigan State, and Alabama. Jack Harding held the post of athletic director from 1947 until his death in 1963.

In 1964, the University of Miami established the Jack Harding Most Valuable Player Award. According to Miami, this is the highest performance-based award a Hurricanes player can attain from his teammates. Several Hurricanes (and NFL) greats have earned the honor, such as George Mira, Ted Hendricks, Jim Kelly, Russell Maryland, Ray Lewis, Ken Dorsey, and Calais Campbell. In 1980, Jack Harding was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach. He compiled a career college football record of 103–69–12 as head coach at St. Thomas College and Miami. Along with being the Miami Hurricanes football head coach and the school’s athletic director, he served as the Hurricanes’ baseball coach in 1940 and 1959.

Jack Harding’s contributions to the University of Miami and his service in the United States military deserve our respect and admiration. On behalf of those of us at State of the U, we’d like to thank our veterans for their service and wish you all a happy Memorial Day.