The late Bob Waters, former Western Carolina head football coach and athletic director, is among the 2014 inductees into the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame. Waters joins eight others in this year’s induction class, including former Robbinsville High football coach Bob Colvin ’62 MAEd ’69.
“The achievements of this year’s class of inductees enrich North Carolina’s remarkable sports heritage, and they certainly earned the honor of joining the 300 men and women who have been previously enshrined,” said Fredrick Reese, president of the hall.
Waters was inducted into the S.C. Athletics Hall of Fame in 1987, is enshrined in the Florida Citrus Bowl Hall of Fame, and was among the fourth induction class into the WCU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1993. The playing surface at E.J. Whitmire Stadium was renamed “Bob Waters Field” in his honor in 1985. Beginning in 1991-92, the Southern Conference named its Male Athlete of the Year Award after Waters.
Waters attended Presbyterian College, where he had a successful three-year career as a defensive back and quarterback before being drafted by the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and the AFL’s San Diego Chargers in 1960. Signing with the 49ers, Waters is considered the league’s first-ever “shotgun” quarterback.
He spent five seasons playing professionally – four as quarterback and one as defensive back. However, injuries mounted and, in 1965, he opted for a career change, trading his cleats for a clipboard as he joined the coaching staff at Presbyterian. After two years, Waters returned to the West Coast as wide receivers coach at Stanford University in 1968.
Though he had just three years experience as an assistant coach, Waters was hired as head football coach at Western Carolina prior to the 1969 season. It is widely considered one of the best decisions made in university history.
Waters served notice of things to come in his first year. He guided the 1969 Catamounts to a 9-1 record with an exciting pass-oriented offense. A national ranking followed at the end of the 1972 season and, in 1974, WCU advanced to its first NCAA playoff appearance. The crown jewel in his coaching career was his 1983 team, which continues to serve as the standard bearer as one of the school’s best , with the team reaching the NCAA I-AA championship game.
In 20 seasons at the helm of the football program, Waters guided the Catamounts to 116 victories and produced 13 All-Americans and 54 first-team All-Southern Conference selections. Prior to his arrival, WCU had posted only five winning football records in 20 seasons, while 13 of Waters’ 20 teams turned in winning ledgers.
During his 15-year tenure as athletics director, Waters led the growth and played a key part in the school’s membership in the Southern Conference. He cultivated and rallied support for a new football stadium that became a reality in 1974, and for an impressive basketball arena as part of a multipurpose Ramsey Regional Activity Center, completed in 1986.
His coaching and administrative successes as well as his courage in his fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) were recognized throughout the country as his story was chronicled by major print and electronic media outlets. He was forced to step down as head football coach in March 1989 and passed away less than three months later at age 50.