Black History Month: Tom Vaughn Player, Coach
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Vaughn grew up in Troy, Ohio. A highly recruited prep star, Vaughn was not initially aware what a school like Iowa State had to offer. Cyclone head coach Clay Stapleton persuaded Vaughn that Ames was the place for this promising prospect to grow as an individual.
"I loved Iowa State," Vaughn said. "Coming from Ohio I needed to simmer down. But at Iowa State it was seven guys to every one girl. I told Coach Stapleton to go out and recruit some girls when I arrived."
Iowa State proved to be quite a change from Vaughn's hometown of Troy, Ohio. But Vaughn has fond memories of his teammates and of his classmates and professors. He recalls a particular moment in a speech class.
"I had a professor who would pick on Tommy Vaughn every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday," Vaughn said. "I remember her assigning impromptu speeches and the first topic was blue. I ducked down knowing she was going to call on me. Six people got up there and talked about blue for three minutes before I thought to myself 'Blues, BB King, Righteous Brothers' and sat up tall just begging her to call on me. Next thing I know, she was saying 'Now we are switching the word to mukluk and Mr. Vaughn you are first.' I got out of the chair walked up and got my three minutes in and I said, 'We had a 1-8-1 record in 1964 and it was due to mukluk.' I walked off the stage. It wasn't funny because nobody knows what a mukluk is (soft boot made of reindeer skin). But she taught me how to be confident that day."
Vaughn did not experience the on-field success he was used to until his junior year (1963). He finished the season having rushed for 795 yards and nine touchdowns. The rushing total was good enough to be ranked 11th nationally. Vaughn had been voted onto the first-team all-Big Eight Conference squad alongside running back great Gale Sayers of Kansas. The two first-team all-Big Eight running backs then were named first-team All-Americans.
Vaughn was the leader for a very inexperienced team during his senior season in 1964. He was a contributing factor for the Cyclones on both sides of the ball. He finished the season rushing for 497 yards with four touchdowns and was named first-team all-Big Eight as a safety during his senior year. Outside of having an outstanding season on the field, Vaughn also stepped up in the classroom. He earned academic all-Big Eight honors and became the second Cyclone to ever earn CoSIDA Academic All-America honors. To cap off his many accolades, Vaughn was named Iowa State's Student-Athlete of the Year in 1965.
Vaughn ended his Cyclone career as the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (19), kickoff return yard average (25.63), and punt return yard average (13.83). Vaughn's performances helped earn him a roster spot in the National Football League. Vaughn was drafted in the fifth round of the 1965 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions. He played seven years at safety for the Lions, eventually finishing his career with nine interceptions and nine fumble recoveries. Vaughn continued his excellent special teams play at the professional level and is still ranked in the Detroit Lions' top-10 in both kickoff and punt return yardage.
Vaughn returned to the gridiron for Iowa State in 1975, but this time on the sideline.
"I came back and coached for Earle Bruce. We won some games and we beat Nebraska twice," Vaughn remembers fondly.
Vaughn served as the running back coach and helped mentor Cyclone All-American Dexter Green. Vaughn was a part of a coaching staff that led the Cyclones to consecutive eight-win seasons in 1976 and 1977. It wasn't always good times on the sideline, however.
"(In 1975) We got beat 52-0 at Nebraska. Earle and I were back in the locker room and I remember Earle crying," Vaughn said. "I asked what was wrong; he responded 'all I can do is coach.' I told him I think I can be a school teacher because I don't know if I really like coaching or not."
Vaughn coached through the 1977 season, leaving his mark on the program for good.
Vaughn went on to become a high school teacher in Phoenix, Ariz. Iowa State provided him an opportunity to showcase his athletic skills while setting a standard for athletes in academics at the university.
"I climbed the football ladder and it was good," Vaughn said. "Something else is going to come up and I'll climb another ladder. I appreciate each person for what they have to go through."