USC coach known as a rare hero at quiet blood drives

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJuly 24, 2012 

Jim Carlen lived a rare life -- coaching three major college football teams and winning the Heisman Trophy.

The roars could be deafening at the University of South Carolina when the coach ran George Rogers right into the record books.

By the time he got to Hilton Head Island in the 1980s, Carlen had been running with the big dogs since 1951, when he left Cookeville, Tenn., for Coach Bobby Dodd's Georgia Tech football team. While Carlen was there, the Yellow Jackets shared a national championship, won 31 games in a row and brought home trophies from the Orange Bowl, the Cotton Bowl and two Sugar Bowls.

Carlen was comfortable as the center of attention as head football coach at USC, Texas Tech and West Virginia University.

But there were no cheering crowds in the church halls of Hilton Head where Carlen pecked away at his rarest achievement: monumental blood donation.

When blood drives were held at Christ Lutheran Church near his island home in Shipyard Plantation or in the Fellowship Hall at First Presbyterian Church, Carlen was always one of the first in line.

The Island Packet ran a front-page story when he hit the 19-gallon mark of lifetime donations in August 1988. He'd been giving since Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta called the 18-year-old freshman, asking for a pint of his A-negative blood. He gave until his health no longer permitted it.

Carlen died peacefully Sunday after a long illness at age 79.

His blood-donor card wasn't immediately available at his Columbia home Tuesday, but a friend of the family said Carlen might have become one of the nation's top blood donors.

It was a quiet act that got less attention in four decades of consistent giving than a single Saturday-afternoon touchdown. One of Carlen's closest colleagues in Beaufort County told me he never heard the coach mention blood donation.

Michele Kamet sure knew him. She's been with the regional office of the American Red Cross for 15 years. She counts Carlen among the rarest of the rare -- the biggest givers among the 4 percent of people in this region who ever give blood.

"It's a special little band of people," she said. "They're silent heroes. They don't want their name in the paper. They just give time and blood, and they don't know who they're giving it to. Each pint can save up to three lives. They're just wonderful humanitarians."

As Carlen passed away, and the South was counting down the days to a new football season, the American Red Cross quietly sent out this dispatch:

"Red Cross blood donations are the lowest they have been in 15 years."

Related content

  1. Former Gamecocks coach Jim Carlen dies at 79
  2. Lowcountry chapter, American Red Cross

The Island Packet is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service