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Football: the making of a college coach.


One of the nicest immortals I've ever known is Red Grange, old No. 77, "The Galloping Ghost" of Illinois, a product of the "Roaring '20s," when hero consciousness first came alive in the minds of Americans.

"Do you have any piece of equipment that you wore on the football field?" an old friend once asked him.

"No," Grange said. "I don't have anything. I don't even have an 'I' sweater."

There was silence for about three paces. "You know," Grange said, "I'd kind of like to have an 'I' sweater now."

Naturally, such a man with such a talent for carrying a football and scoring touchdowns would make a splendid coach, would he not? The answer is, he would not, something he best explained himself.

"I can't take much credit for what I did running with a football, because I don't know what I did. Nobody ever taught me and I can't teach anyone," he said. "You can teach a man how to block or tackle or kick or pass. The ability to run is something you have or you haven't. . . . The sportswriters used to try to explain it, and they used to ask me. I couldn't tell them anything."

So Red Grange, when his running days were done, went into insurance and broadcasting and did well. What, then, does go into the making of a coach, and why is it that so often it's the little defensive back, the obscure lineman, or the benchwarmer who becomes the big-time success in the campus game? The question is no more easily answered than Red Grange trying to explain how he runs, but we shall, here, take a look at some coaches and how it came about.

It just so happens that last season's "National Coach of the Year" is a vivid example of those who have coached their way out of the boondocks. Fisher DeBerry, who grew up in the small town of Cheraw, South Carolina, and played football at the small college of Wofford in Spartanburg, South Carolina, was coaching in the obscurity of Appalachian State when he was hired to coach offense at the Air Force Academy. Last year, DeBerry finished his third successful season as the head coach, with the loss of only one game, and came to know the feeling of instant celebrity. As all the renowned names in American head coaching sat in the audience, DeBerry marched forward to be awarded the trophy as the best of them all at the annual national coaches convention.

Coaches who hardly played the game have managed to succeed. In fact, Frank Murray, the man who brought the greatest fame to Marquette University before the school abandoned the game, never played football at all. Dick Crum, a professorial little man who's now the head coach at North Carolina, was only a junior-varsity player at Mount Union, a small college in Ohio. When Lou Holtz pursued education at Kent State, he was listed as a third-string 158-pound linebacker. "And you can imagine how m uch a third-string 158-pound linebacker played, even at Kent State," he has said.

Always in Holtz' mind, though, was the ambition to coach the football team at Notre Dame, to the point that one of the clauses in his contract at Minnesota allowed for his escape should the Notre Dame job become open. It did at the end of last season, and now, after stints at William and Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas, and Minnesota, the former 158-pound linebacker is indeed the head football coach at Notre-Dame.

Frank Leahy, who served not long before him at Notre Dame, was no more than a journeyman lineman for Knute Rockne. He spent more time recuperating from injury than performing but made it up to the Irish as one of their most dynamic coaches.

At Ohio State, another journey-man followed legend. Earle Bruce came down injured as a freshman and spent the rest of his college days on the house, due in no small way to the generosity of Woody Hayes, the man in whose shoes he now walks.

A coach unusual in this day is Dick Sheridan, who makes the transfer from Furman University to North Carolina State this season. Like Frank Murray, Sheridan never played college football. He was bound for West Point but needed some preparatory courses, which led him to South Carolina for a year, at the end of which he had lost his military fervor. He spent the rest of his academic years looking over Paul Dietzel's shoulder and preparing himself for what he knew he wanted to be--a football coach.

Miami of Ohio has been a greenhouse for major-college coaches. Young men who coached there a few years and enjoyed some success would then be plucked from the vine by some larger school. At one time, four head coaches in the Big Ten had done their apprenticeships at Miami: Hayes of Ohio State; Ara Parseghian of Northwestern (later Notre Dame); John Pont of Indiana (later Northwestern); and Bo Schembechler of Michigan. Today the last of the group, Schembechler, has been joined by another Miami "alum": Bill Mallory of Indiana.

A newly open ed pipeline between the pro leagues and the campus has triggered a reverse flow: Retiring players come back to coach, and with better-than-average success. Joe Morrison, Bill Curry, Ray Perkins, and Joe Kapp all spent long careers as professionals: Defying the trend stressed above, all had been stars of some caliber. Morrison has brought new prosperity to South Carolina. Both Curry and Perkins returned to their alma maters, Georgia Tech and Alabama, respectively. Kapp came home to the old school to coach the California Bears, but not all has gone well.

This is not to say that greatness as a player always stands in the way of greatness as a coach. Bud Wilkinson, a star at Minnesota, was later a coaching legend at Oklahoma. Bobby Dodd, an all-American at Tennessee, was later a coaching legend at Georgia Tech. Johnny Majors, a few votes away from winning the Heisman Trophy as a halfback at Tennessee in 1956, has since coached a national champion at Pitt and a conference champion back where he was "Mr. Touchdown."

Of all Heisman winners, though, only one has been a college-football head coach. John David Crow, who won the statue in '57, later coached football at Northeast Louisiana, though not for long.

The most prolific winner of all college coaches came from farthest back in the pack. Eddie Robinson played college football at Leland, a small school in Louisiana where football is no longer played. He has won all his 329 coaching victories at Grambling State University. True, several of his victories have been over less-than-recognizable names, but when he put his team on the field it was presumed to be among equals.

In fact, you would not recognize Grambling by its old name today, and a story goes with that. While Robinson was still a young coach, the president of the school went before the Louisiana legislature and pleaded to have the school's name changed from "Louisiana Normal and Industrial Institute." "Gentlemen," he said, "last week we were playing an opponent who had our team backed up to our own ten-yard line. Our cheerleaders started to lead our students in a cheer, begging our team to hold that line.

"Before they could get out the cheer, 'Hold that line, Louisiana Normal and Industrial Institute,' the other team had already scored."

The compassionate legislature allowed the change, and that is why today Grambling is Grambling.
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Title Annotation:why do obscure players become the best coaches
Author:Bisher, Furman
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Dec 1, 1986
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