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No. 17

With Ron Cherubini

Gudger's course in life
set early at East Carolina


Tenacity, discipline were lessons learned from '66 club

By Ron Cherubini

Jim Gudger in his days at ECU (Photo: ECU SID)

In 1966, 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 those players.

Perhaps 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.

He is, today, as involved in East Carolina football as he was when he was strapping on the foil every day and competing on Saturdays.

The 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.

It makes 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.

“It 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.”

His spirit was clearly crafted during his time at ECU and it has driven him on his quest to be his own boss.

And he is cautious with his trust. This explains his long-time partnership with one of the Pirates’ greatest-ever running backs, Butch Colson.

“The 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 (securities brokering).”

Gudger 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.

“Butch 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.

“I was 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 Merrill Lynch.”

For 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.

“It’s 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.”

The 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.”

About 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.”

Other than family, Gudger admits that his only real friends are those from his playing days.

“I’ve 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.”

That ’66 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.

“Look. I 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
teammates Richard Peeler, left, and Chuck Zadnick
hang out. (Submitted)

Gudger 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.

“Back 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.”

Gudger’s introduction to ECU football suited him just fine.

“We were 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.”

Years 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 characters ever.

“Some 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 said.

Gudger played quarterback for the freshman team in Vansant’s Single Wing.

“It was 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 guard.”

(Photo: ECU SID)

Gudger played blocking back for that freshman team and took away from it a toughness and tenacity he still carries with him today.

“Coach 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.”

The undefeated frosh season was followed for Gudger by the discovery that he was suffering from Rumatory arthritis.

“The 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.”

So, after a redshirt season, he was on the varsity and working hard for Coach Stasavich.

“Coach 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 them.”

And for Gudger, he also knew well Stas’ techniques for keeping his players challenged.

“Just when you thought you were a good football player,” Gudger said, “He’d say, ‘Hey, what’s your name?’”

In his redshirt junior season, Gudger needed no name tags to be identified on the football field.

“I 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.”

Gudger’s senior season was anticlimactic as Stasavich turned over the head coaching reigns to former Duke and NFL great Mike McGee.

“Stas 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.”

Defensive line: George Wheeler, Jamie Louis,
Jim Gudger, Walter Adams. (Photo: ECU SID)

Gudger’s memories of his playing days are less defined by his moments on the field and more by those people he lined up beside.

“It is 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.”

Gudger recalls some of them.

“I 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.”

And Gudger’s teammates garner equal respect.

“Harold 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.”

The closest of all of them — Butch Colson.

Gudger and Colson, still teammates, only now
in business. (Submitted Photo)

“Me and 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.

"Butch 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.”

Gudger’s 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.

Gudger 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.

“After I 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)

In 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 since.

“You 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).”

The 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 own dreams.

“Girls 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.”

Gudger 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 school.

“Do you 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

Gudger 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.

And it is a safe bet that no matter what that next step is, Gudger will be among Pirates.

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Jim Gudger

(Photo: ECU SID)





Years at ECU:


Position/Jersey No.

Defensive Lineman/ No. 73


Cullowhee, NC

Currently Resides:

Chocowinity, NC

  • Owner, brokerage firm in Greenville

  • BS Physical Education, East Carolina University

  • MAT, Western New Mexico University

Marital Status:

Married - Marcia

  • Brandi, 27

  • Tara, 23

  • James Robert, 17


“Family… that’s the whole purpose for being around. My kids are the greatest joy of my life. And my old buddies from 1966. I don’t have any friends from high school and have had many friends since college, but those guys (from the freshman team) are my friends… always.”


1. Who is your favorite current Pirate and why?

“I gotta like Paul Troth. He is a great quarterback. He’s had bad luck and he still goes in there and stands in the pocket. He has great field vision. I’ve seen him complete passes (that are amazing). People who don’t know football might not see it, but he is a talented quarterback. And of course, Brian Rimpf. I saw him block the vaunted Julius Peppers and he (Peppers) wasn’t a factor. Rimpf has got big-time feet. He is impressive.”

2. What do you miss most about ECU?

“The camaraderie of the team. We were like a bunch of brothers. The only undefeated team in ECU history was our freshman team (1966). It was such a neat combination of players. (The closeness) was truly unique and it was a time when you could really (win) with character. Like Bear  Bryant used to say, ‘You can run more character on the 2-yard line than anywhere else.’ You didn’t have to be faster or stand taller… that’s the kind of guys on that team. I miss that.”

3. Where is your favorite spot on the ECU campus?

“The Elbo room, I hate to say it. A true story for you: Me, Grover Truslow, Richard Peeler, (Alex) Monroe took off to Ft. Lauderdale one spring. It was when that movie, ‘Where the Boys Are” with Connie Francis was big. In the movie, down in Ft. Lauderdale, everyone went to the Elbo Room to hang out. Well, we decided to go and jumped in my ’65 Ford Fairlane and headed down and hung around at the Elbo Room. Well, when we get back to Greenville, the Coach and Four – which I think was one of the greatest place in eastern NC at the time – had started to go down and everyone was going to the Buccaneer. A friend of ours, Steve Rhodes, had bought the Coach and Four and was asking, ‘What do I do to bring back the business?’ I pulled out my pictures of the Elbo Room and he said, ‘That’s what I’m going to do.’ He named it the Elbo Room and it became an institution for 30 years. That’s right, we named it.”

4. What was your dorm room and favorite dorm story?

“Scott Dorm my freshmen year was a special group of guys. I shouldn’t say anything about anything as far as stories, but I’ll tell you one. I remember the Chief of Campus Police, Chief Webb. He was a great guy who had a lot of bird dogs, and in December/January, he would come pick us up and we’d go shoot ducks or quails. The thing was, we used to keep our shotguns and rifles right in our door room closet. Can you imagine trying to walk in a dorm anywhere in the country today with a rifle? There was another time at a Junior Walker and the All-Stars concert where some of us… no, I can’t tell that one…”


5. Greatest Moment as a Pirate football player?

“Of course, the undefeated team, freshman year. I’ll share a couple of memorable moments, though. One time, we played Louisiana Tech in Ficklen and they had this ole boy at quarterback named Terry Bradshaw. He was good. They would keep nine guys in and send out one receiver so you had to fight through two or three guys to get to the quarterback. I have never played against a quarterback who threw the ball so hard you could hear it going over your head… the threads whipping around. One play I whipped a few guys to get at him and I put my hand up and tipped the ball. It hurt so damn bad and it didn’t phase the pass. The next time I got in, I pulled my hands down ‘cause I didn’t want to get hurt. Bradshaw was really on another level. Another story: Again, we were in Ficklen playing against West Texas State and they had an ole boy running the ball by the name of Mercury Morris. In the third quarter, they had many points, we had few points and Coach told me to go in at defensive end. They told me on the snap to box in 10 yards and don’t let him get outside. So, the ball was snapped and I go about 10 yards in and they toss Mercury the ball and he sees me and turns his shoulder up toward the line of scrimmage. I did my job… and then I turn my shoulder in and just like that, he dips the other way, goes around me to the outside. I had to sprint down the field just to get back for the extra point. He was fastest player I have ever seen.”.

6. Most disliked opponent?

“Well, as a coach and not as a player, I’d have to say the University of North Carolina. They are cowards. They want to be (seen as) the best, but they won’t take on all comers. You got to give Florida State credit. They take on all comers. They want to play the best — to be known as the best. My opinion is that (North Carolina) they are cowards. People don’t want to see them play Furman and William & Mary, not when you have a Division I program (in Greenville). In 1980, we go up to Kenan Stadium and played the Tar Heels and they had an ole boy there named Lawrence Taylor. We decided to run an unbalanced wishbone to one side and just leave him alone. We had a running back named Tony Collins – pretty damn good football player. We would run a toss sweep away from (LT) and he would catch Tony on the other side of the field before he could get back to the scrimmage line. That might have a lot to do with why I hate Carolina.”

7. Athletic Influences?

“Henry VanSant. He is a man’s man. He could be as demanding a man you ever met and also as gentle a human being as you ever met in your life. He could talk with anyone and then put on a tie and be Dr. VanSant in the boardroom. He was the kind of man who molds young men’s characters. He has saved so many lives – it’s amazing. One of the few men in your life time you encounter that makes a difference in your life.”.

8. Favorite coach?

“Obviously, Henry VanSant.”

L to R: Gudger, Van Sant, Don Tyson
at VanSant retirement.

9. Best Locker Room Story

“There used to be a field right across College Hill Drive from Scott Dorm. I think that there is a cafeteria there now. But we used to practice on that field. Sometimes we would practice three hours – hard practice. You would, now and then, look over and notice some players – sometimes really good ones – slinking off to the back of the group and then run down the hill to (Brewster) where we used to change for practice just to get out of practice.”.

10. Best Emerald City hangout?

“The Elbo."


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02/23/2007 02:08:41 PM

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