Cumberland began intercollegiate athletics in 1889 when Lacy Rice of Madisonville, Ky., a lanky young freshman, competed in a track and field meet at Vanderbilt. Rice lived to the age of 102 and as a centenarian returned to Cumberland and gave the pitching staff some tips on throwing curve balls.
Intercollegiate football began October 26th, 1894, against Peabody College with a 6-6 tie. In 1903 Cumberland won the Southern Conference championship.
Football has seen its ups and downs at Cumberland, however. The sport was dropped in 1906, resumed in 1912, dropped in 1915, resumed briefly in 1916 when the memorable 222-0 game with Georgia Tech was played in Atlanta, too well known to require description, and then was not resumed until 1920.
A new field and grandstand was added in 1920 and name Kirk Field. Here Cumberland enjoyed several successful campaigns until the Great Depression blew the whistle after the 1929 campaign.
Garland "Gus" Morrow, an ex-Vanderbilt star, was hired as coach in 1932 and the sport resumed, with Cumberland competing in the Smokey Mountain Athletic Conference. Marrow, Ned Vaughan, Gene McIlwain and Charley Kerr served as head football coaches during the period 1932-41. Among teams defeated by the Bulldogs during that time span were Tennessee Tech, Middle Tennessee, Carson-Newman, Tampa and Appalachian State.
Cumberland resumed the sport again after the War and played three seasons under Joe Black Hayes. The high spot was a 6-0 win over Florida State, but during the 1947 season there were other pleasing victories against over Georgetown College, Delta State and a postseason game for the championship of the Tennessee Valley against previously unbeaten Athens.
The Volunteer State Athletic Conference was organized in a meeting in Lebanon in 1947, with Cumberland a charter member of the league. The football program was disbanded after the 1949 season.
Cumberland moved from a four-year institution to a junior college in the early 1960s but returned to a four-year school for the 1983-84 academic year. CU’s athletic teams competed in the Tennessee College Athletic Conference of the NAIA until the late 1990s.
At the urging of President Tom Mills, Cumberland returned to football field in September 1990 under longtime Nashville high school coach Nick Coutras. The first team went 0-8, but Coutras’ young players looked on it as a sort of initiation. The Bulldogs led Maryville College, 21-20, at halftime in the final game of the year and had the ball as time expired, falling 34-28.
A new fieldhouse was built and a grandstand erected on the site later dubbed Lindsey Donnell Stadium. The program improved to four victories in 1991 and made an appearance in the NAIA Playoffs in 1993 under first-year coach Herschel Moore, an assistant to Coutras and another longtime Nashville area high school coach.