RENFRO, AUSTIN RAY
RENFRO, AUSTIN RAY (1929–1997). American football player Ray Renfro played twelve seasons in the National Football League as a wide receiver with the Cleveland Browns. Nicknamed “the rabbit,” Renfro dominated as one of the fastest men in the NFL at the time. As a dominant deep threat, he caught a touchdown out of every 5.6 receptions throughout his career.
Born on November 7, 1929, in Whitesboro, Texas, to Jewel Floyd and Dolly D. (Preston) Renfro, Ray attended Leonard High School in Fannin County and played on the Leonard Tigers football team. After graduating in 1948, he played college football and ran track at North Texas State University (now University of North Texas) in Denton. As a running back, Renfro scored fifteen touchdowns in twelve games his senior season of 1951. He also amassed 1,043 yards on 127 carries. These accomplishments helped him earn First Team All-American recognition—the first player from North Texas to do so since 1937. His accomplishments led the Cleveland Browns to draft Renfro in the fourth round of the 1952 NFL draft.
With the Browns, Renfro found himself a part of one of the most successful teams in the NFL. Besides playing for Pro Football Hall of Fame coach/owner Paul Brown, Renfro also teamed with several future Hall of Fame players, including quarterback Otto Graham, kicker Lou Groza, and running back Jim Brown. Furthermore, the Browns played in five NFL championship games during Renfro’s first six seasons in the league and won the 1954 and 1955 games. In the 1954 game, Renfro, who Brown made as a receiver, caught five passes for ninety-four yards and two touchdowns in a 56–10 victory over the Detroit Lions.
During his career, Renfro made three Pro Bowls, in 1953, 1957, and 1960. He also held the Browns’ career record for yards per catch with a 19.6 average. His 5,508 career receiving yards ranked second all-time in team history, and his 281 receptions ranked eighth.
Following his retirement from playing in 1963, Renfro ran a dry cleaning business in Cleburne, Texas, before going into coaching. He spent the 1965 season as the running backs coach for the Detroit Lions before becoming the wide receivers coach for the Washington Redskins for 1966 and 1967 and then wide receivers coach for the Dallas Cowboys from 1968 through 1972. As a coach, Renfro continued to experience success and helped take the Cowboys to Super Bowls V and VI. The team won the latter game.
In his personal life, Renfro was married to Sandra Renfro. His three sons—Mark, Mike, and Mitch Renfro—all played Texas high school football, as well as college football. Mike Renfro went on to follow in his father’s footsteps and played in the NFL with the Houston Oilers and Dallas Cowboys.
In 1988 the University of North Texas inducted Ray Renfro, one of its inaugural group of inductees, into the UNT Athletic Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1995. Renfro died of cancer at All Saints Hospital in Fort Worth on August 4, 1997. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach delivered the eulogy at his funeral at First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth. Renfro was buried in that city in Greenwood Memorial Park. Posthumously, he received several more honors. In 2000 UNT retired his number, 33, and in 2001 the Cleveland Browns made Renfro a “Legends” inductee.
Bob Barnett and Bob Carroll, “Ray Renfro: Speed Story,” The Coffin Corner 7 (1985), originally published in Dallas Cowboys Weekly, May 1984 (http://profootballresearchers.com/archives/Website_Files/Coffin_Corner/07-02-220.pdf), accessed August 3, 2016. Dallas Morning News, August 6, 1997. “Legends of the Mean Green: Ray Renfro #33,” Exhibits, University of North Texas Libraries (https://exhibits.library.unt.edu/legends-mean-green/ray-renfro-33), accessed August 3, 2016. New York Times, August 6, 1997. Pro Football Reference: Ray Renfro (http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/R/RenfRa00.htm), accessed August 3, 2016.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Rob Fink, "RENFRO, AUSTIN RAY ," accessed October 20, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fre75.
Uploaded on August 4, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.