course in life
set early at East Carolina
Tenacity, discipline were lessons learned
from '66 club
Jim Gudger in his
days at ECU (Photo: ECU SID)
the East Carolina freshman football team may have been, pound-for-pound,
the toughest ever assembled under the Pirate flag. Jim Gudger was one of
it was the fact that the team was made up largely of rough and tumble
mavericks, or perhaps the players were simply the last of the old school.
Whatever it was that was in the air around that special team, Gudger
inhaled a bunch of it and it has permeated his soul.
today, as involved in East Carolina football as he was when he was
strapping on the foil every day and competing on Saturdays.
spirit instilled in him by his coach, Dr. Henry Vansant, and his teammates
is one of self-reliance and trust in those who have stood alongside in
the tough times.
complete sense, then, that Gudger tackles his livelihood on his own
terms. He is an entrepreneur. His philosophy: Why trust anyone else with
his future. And, frankly, that is the way he played.
takes tenacity,” Gudger said of making your own way in business.
“Especially when things look grim. You got to put your head down for
three more yards. Some people quit and a lot have, but I just keep going
and I’m doing alright.”
spirit was clearly crafted during his time at ECU and it has driven him
on his quest to be his own boss.
is cautious with his trust. This explains his long-time partnership with
one of the Pirates’ greatest-ever running backs, Butch Colson.
idea of being tenacious about something,” Gudger said, "that's something
I seem to have been adept at all along. You know, I never took one of
those tests that tells you what you should do for a living. Butch and I
were very successful in the mid-‘80s and became very successful at
and Colson felt it was time to form their own company, but it drew the
ire of their former company. Butch took one path, Gudger the other.
formed his own deal and the company sued,” Gudger said. “I decided to
get out (of the business), but Butch stayed in there. You know how
tenacious Butch is, and he became very, very successful.
out of the business for about 15 years until Butch called me about 2½
years ago, and now I’m with him at WH Colson Securities, kind of a little
Gudger, the challenge of making money work for his clients is very
similar to the thrill he would get on the football field. And like
football, Gudger believes investing is a very simple game at its core.
amazing to me how dumb people can be,” he said. “Now is the time to buy.
Everything is on sale! Hey, we’re not real smart guys… I was PE major and
Butch… Geography. And we’re running the whole thing here.”
reality is, it is not an easy gig, but Gudger is good at it. He and
Colson have some 70 representatives around the country and they are all,
as Gudger says, “doing well.”
the only thing tough about living in Greenville for Gudger is that,
while he is in the process of getting his business in order, his family lives in Asheville.
“Family… that’s the whole purpose for being around,” he said. “Those kids
are the greatest joy of my life. Above anything, comes my family — and I
am very proud of my children.”
than family, Gudger admits that his only real friends are those from
his playing days.
got my old buddies from 1966. I don’t have any old friends from high
school and none really since college, but I got my old buddies. I can’t
wait for Lettermen’s weekend. I take my son and he gets to experience
(the old team). He knows Coach Vansant and all the guys.”
team defined a dream that was shared by the entire program from the
Chancellor down to the third string trainer. And Gudger is damn proud he
was part of it, even if East Carolina wasn’t his first choice.
had two scholarship offers – Davidson and ECU,” he said. “(The coaches at
Davidson) told me that they could get me into the school and then Homer
Smith, who was the coach, called me and says, ‘We were wrong, they said
you’re too dumb to go to school here.’ Well, my daddy was an old coach
at Western Carolina and knew Coach (Clarence) Stasavich pretty well from
when Stas was at Lenoir Rhyne. Stas offered me a full scholarship.”
Dorm life - Jim
Gudger lies on bed (center) while
Richard Peeler, left, and Chuck Zadnick
hang out. (Submitted)
was an exceptional high school athlete, playing fullback for what was
called Sylva Webster (now Smokey Mountain) High. He helped his team to
the North Carolina State championship as a sophomore and senior.
Moreover, on his one trip to East Carolina, he was in the lineup for the
North-South prep all-star game and played like gangbusters, earning MVP
honors in the game.
then, there really were no interstate highways,” Gudger said. “It’s a
long damn way to Cullowhee from Greenville. But when I went there for
the game, I loved it in Greenville. I fell in love with the people, the
football, and the fun.”
introduction to ECU football suited him just fine.
a frenetic bunch, for sure,” Gudger said. “As freshman, we would
scrimmage the varsity every once in a while and we would go and kick the
varsity’s ass. There are some guys who wouldn’t like it if they heard me
say that, but we did.”
later, Coach Henry Vansant would reveal to some of his ’66 freshmen that
as players, that team was stocked with the most tenacious collection of
us went down to see George (Wheeler) and Coach Vansant admitted to us
that a lot of our practices were so intense that he would call practice
early for fear of someone really, seriously hurting someone,” Gudger
played quarterback for the freshman team in Vansant’s Single Wing.
really a blocking back,” Gudger said. “Back then I was considered real big at 6-2, 225 pounds, and real fast at 4.8 in the 40. I called the
plays, so I was called the quarterback, but I was really a glorified
(Photo: ECU SID)
played blocking back for that freshman team and took away from it a
toughness and tenacity he still carries with him today.
Vansant was one of those coaches like (Pat) Dye and Bear Bryant,” he
said. “Coach Vansant could get everything in you out of you. He could
talk to you for just a couple of minutes and get your (blood) boiling.”
undefeated frosh season was followed for Gudger by the discovery that he
was suffering from Rumatory arthritis.
doctors told me that I would be in a wheel chair by the time I was 40
(if he continued to play),” he said. “But, today, I still run my three
miles (a day) and (a wheelchair) hasn’t got me yet.”
after a redshirt season, he was on the varsity and working hard for
Stas was something else. He always had a pipe in his mouth and he used
to click it with his teeth,” Gudger said. “The old master. There has
never been a human that I’ve encountered that could just look at someone
and know exactly what they are all about. He was very intelligent and
had the innate, uncanny ability to understand people and what motivates
Gudger, he also knew well Stas’ techniques for keeping his players
when you thought you were a good football player,” Gudger said, “He’d
say, ‘Hey, what’s your name?’”
redshirt junior season, Gudger needed no name tags to be identified on
the football field.
played blocking back for the undefeated (freshman) team,” he said. “But my redshirt
junior season, Coach Vansant was coaching the line and I will never
forget what he said to me. He said, ‘You’re mine now.’ Henry had a way
of making you sweat blood and make your heart pump piss. I can’t even
remember my reaction to that, but I started all nine games that season
at defensive tackle and it was the best year of my life. We didn’t have
much success as a team, but I played my best football that season.”
senior season was anticlimactic as Stasavich turned over the head
coaching reigns to former Duke and NFL great Mike
resigned and Mike had a different agenda and it didn’t include
fifth-year seniors,” Gudger said. “I think I may have started maybe half
of the games. My best football was my junior season. But, I will say, I
showed up every day for five years.”
George Wheeler, Jamie Louis,
Jim Gudger, Walter Adams. (Photo: ECU SID)
memories of his playing days are less defined by his moments on the
field and more by those people he lined up beside.
truly the neatest thing in the world when all of us old Pirates get
together,” he said. “We put George (Wheeler) in charge of Lettermen’s
Weekend this year and he’s been getting calls from all of (the old ’66
freshman team). It was a great bunch of people.”
recalls some of them.
remember old Leo (Jenkins) the Lion, that son of a gun,” Gudger said. “He
was damn proud of East Carolina and emphasized all of the right things.
He was a man’s man. I would liked to have seen him at linebacker. I
remember he would invite us all over to the (Chancellor’s) house and we
would walk in and introduce ourselves and, you know, he would already
know us all by name. I was always impressed by that.”
Gudger’s teammates garner equal respect.
Glatly was the toughest player and Jim Flowe, he was another tough son
of a gun who walked the walk and was a nice person, too. Robert Ellis
and George Wheeler. All of them, I consider my friends.”
closest of all of them — Butch Colson.
Gudger and Colson,
still teammates, only now
in business. (Submitted Photo)
Butch played together and were the best of buddies in college,” Gudger
said. “Freshman were not even allowed to have a car anywhere in the
Greenville area. Of course, Butch had one and he even got kicked out of
school for it.
was a real mean guy and I think someone who he had crossed at one point
may have turned him in. But, I remember, Butch let me have a key to that
car and we kept it hidden for a long time.”
anecdote is illustrative of the relationship between the two hardnosed
ballplayers, so it was no surprise that Colson wanted Gudger in his
organization, even if he had to wait awhile to get him.
went into coaching out of college and coached on various staffs around
the country until his last stop brought him full circle to ECU, where he
coached the offensive line in 1980.
quit coaching, Butch and I went into business together,” he said. “We
made a good team and were in it for about 10 years. Mostly insurance and
mutual funds. Then I moved to Asheville.”
Don Tyson Jr., Don Tyson, Jim Gudger, and JR
Gudger at 2001
Letterman's golf (Photo: 1972 Fighting Pirates Website)
Asheville, closer to his home, Gudger partnered with another friend and
opened a dental equipment company. Again, Gudger found success, selling
the equipment all over the world until he and his partner cashed out the
company in 1997.
Looking for something to do, Gudger got the call from
his old friend Colson. And they have been together virtually every
know, they say that the only difference between an entrepreneur and a
venture capitalist is that, even though they do the same things, the
capitalist makes money at it,” Gudger joked. “No… I’ve been fortunate (in
business). I was able to travel the world and do okay (financially).”
latter has allowed him to provide the type of opportunities he has always
wanted to for his children, who have all found success following their
just don’t ever want to do what daddy wants them to,” Gudger joked in
reference to his middle daughter, Tara. “She went to State, not ECU. She
got her MBA in Sports Marketing from Ohio University and now she’s
traveling all over with Kerry Earnhardt’s (NASCAR) team.”
is extremely proud of all of his children. His eldest is thriving in the
computer business in Philadelphia and his youngest, son James, is in
believe, his girlfriend’s dad is Cliff Williams, the bass guitar player
from AC/DC..?” Gudger said of his son.
L to R: James Robert (son), Marcia (wife),
Jim, Tara (daughter),
Brandi (daughter) - SUBMITTED PHOTO
and Colson are enjoying success, and the down market only makes business
easier for them as they help guide the financial futures of their
clients around the country. And though things are moving right along,
you can’t help but get the sense that Gudger will find some new
adventure somewhere down the line.
is a safe bet that no matter what that next step is, Gudger will be
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