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Original Issue


Jim Tatum, rebuilding at North Carolina, tells how it's done—only he hasn't yet figured out how to win 'em all

If indeed, as some preseason commentators would have had us believe, there exists a multitude of otherwise sane persons who have spent the past months waiting with gnawed knuckles and bated breath to find out whether the new conversion rule is going to drastically change the face of American college football this fall, they may now be advised to relax. The 1958 season got under way around the country last Saturday and the results are now on record.

In a sampling of some two dozen major college games only one was decided by an extra point. Texas Tech came from behind in the fourth quarter to tie Texas A&M 14-14—and then won the game 15-14 with an old-fashioned place kick.

There were 135 touchdowns scored in those games, and in 71 cases the new two-point bonus for a conversion by run or pass was ignored; they stuck to the old one-point kick and connected 49 times. In the other 64 cases the gamble paid off 26 times which netted the more daring 52 points. In other words, you takes your chances and you makes your choice—and you're just about going to break even. Apparently the rules makers have established some pretty solid odds.

There is one additional factor which should be borne in mind, however. In many cases the team essaying the two-point play did so only as an experimental gesture; they were, at the time, running away with the game. Maybe this is what Duffy Daugherty, the sage of East Lansing, Mich., meant when he said some time ago: "As Confucius say, team which scores many touchdowns need not worry about extra point."

Since half a dozen of the opening week's biggest games were in the South—where they look upon stories of Midwest domination of the sport as carpet-baggin' Yankee propaganda—it seemed like a fine opportunity to drop in at Chapel Hill and see how Sunny Jim Tatum was coming along with his rebuilding program at the University of North Carolina.

Sunny Jim wasn't so sunny. He had a cold and a sore throat and could hardly talk, and to Jim Tatum this is a fate worse than being hanged in effigy. Still, between luncheon courses at the Monogram Club (and there were several, since Tatum must watch his weight—if it drops below 250, his clothes won't fit) he managed to croak out several thousand words on a subject to which he has given some thought.

"In four years after he takes a job," he said, "a coach who knows his business should be able to produce as good a team as he is ever going to have. Of course, if you come up with a Justice or a Kazmaier, you can do better. But the general level of your teams should balance out. If you can't do the job in four years and then keep on doing it pretty consistently after that, you should quit."

Tatum has been at Carolina three years now and, with the game against North Carolina State still a couple of days away, he admitted that things were going pretty good. For a while, in 10 postwar seasons as head coach at Oklahoma and Maryland, he had almost forgotten what it was like to lose a football game—his teams were undefeated three times in regular-season play, went to six bowl games and won a national championship—and he had to admit that the past two seasons hadn't been too pleasant, but things were looking up.

"We won only two games in '56," he said, demolishing a sandwich constructed from two slices of rye bread, two pieces of ham, a slice of roast beef, some Swiss cheese, a liberal dose of mustard and some black-eyed peas, "but that was as good as they had done down here since Charlie Justice left. Hadn't had a winning season in seven years. Never beat anybody that beat anybody else. Then, last year we did all right. We won six out of 10. We beat Navy when they were undefeated and won the big game with Duke for the first time in seven years.

"Now I got a ball club that is 100% better than last year—more depth, more experience, better defense, better passing, better receiving, better everything. Of course," he added quickly, as if he had spent the entire summer listening to Fred Haney, "that doesn't mean we'll win a game. Everybody else is improved, too."

The manner in which Tatum went about assembling this representative group of young student athletes, as he will tell you himself, is exactly the same as would have Bear Bryant or Bud Wilkinson, his old assistant at Oklahoma, or Woody Hayes or the late Red Sanders or any one of a dozen other topflight professionals: by devoting every single waking hour—and quite a few when he should have been sleeping—to doing what had to be done. A man of gargantuan size and appetite to match (he has kept the black-eyed-pea growers of the South solvent for years and hasn't hurt the distillers, either), Jim Tatum is also a man of prodigious energy. He has been called an organizational genius and perhaps he is; certainly his vast concern with what others might consider the less important elements of his operation have contributed to his success.

He finds his players through a far-flung scouting system which includes having members of his staff assiduously read, clip and file Pennsylvania papers ("There are 800 high schools playing football in Pennsylvania while about half the schools in this state—I think there are about 400—don't even have a football team. Where would you look for football players?"). He attracts them by surprisingly low-pressure methods and by offering exactly the best deal the NCAA will allow and not a penny more. North Carolina takes justifiable pride in the fact that the school has been under no suspicion of illegal recruiting despite Tatum's past reputation (to which Tatum replies: "If I thought I could get away with it, I would").

As for coaching technique and strategy, Tatum refuses to consider himself a genius—although he will admit that he is pretty good—nor does he even believe that such a thing as a coaching genius exists.

"Look," he croaked last week, "we all know the same things and use the same plays. All this talk about one offense or one system being so superior to another is nonsense. The thing that wins football games is defense. It stops the other team and gives your offense a chance to move the ball. All the top coaches know that now. Look at how Bryant works or Shug Jordan down at Auburn or Woody Hayes. Look at Bud. Here is perhaps the man with the greatest flair for offensive tactics I've ever known. But you watch Oklahoma these days. The thing that kills you is their defense."


"That's what enabled coaches like Wallace Wade and Bob Neyland and Bernie Bierman and Jock Sutherland to dominate the game 25 years ago. They discovered this before anyone else. Remember the kind of football they played? Of course in those days most coaches were in the business because they weren't smart enough to do anything else, and a really outstanding man could get a big jump on the rest. Now just about every coach is a lawyer or a doctor or an engineer or a professor, and you can't outsmart them any more.

"All you can do is outwork them—or at least that's all a big old dumb country boy like me can do. That's what makes the difference. Dedication to the job. You eat and sleep and live football 12 months a year, every minute of the day, and you come up with a winner. You have to sacrifice everything to that. And if you feel that it's too much of a sacrifice, you ought to get out of the business. I don't feel like I'm making any sacrifice at all. I love it. I wouldn't want it any other way.

"I'm going to give them good teams here at Carolina. That's what they hired me for and that's what they have every right to expect. We'll have some 7-3 years and maybe some 8-2 years. Maybe we'll get to some bowls. But we'll never have a national champion. The school is too tough academically. You can't get every boy in that you might like to have and you can't always count on keeping those you do.

"But I'll tell you, everyone down here is pretty reasonable. At Maryland if you lost one game, they were after your job. At Carolina they don't do that. I suppose that's because they haven't been spoiled. Last time they had an undefeated team here was in 1898.

"Even the alumni," grins Tatum, "are pretty reasonable. I guess if a coach can say that, there isn't much more that he can ask."

If Tatum is happy at Carolina, certainly Carolina is happy with Tatum—which is quite a switch from 2½ ago. His arrival on the campus back in 1956 was greeted by an editorial in the Daily Tar Heel, which screamed that "Professionalism in athletics has come home to roost in Chapel Hill." Tatum, in characteristic fashion, defended the student editors' right to criticize his methods but disagreed wholeheartedly with their viewpoint. "If they didn't want big-time football here," he said, getting right to the heart of the matter, "they wouldn't have hired me."

Today everyone at Carolina, including the student editors, the student body, the faculty and the alumni, have to admit that Tatum has accomplished what he started out to do without seriously disturbing the status quo. Fears that his football program would dominate the school have vanished; critics who claimed that he worked on the premise that overexposure to study could be ruinous to a good football player have been hushed. There are still the books and undisturbed are the traces of Ivy—southern Ivy, that is—but there is a pretty good football team, too.

Perhaps most important of all, there exist today across the lovely tree-lined campus, in the stately old red and white brick colonial dormitories and classrooms, a sense of spirit and pride and enthusiasm which represents the finest thing that intercollegiate football can really ever do. At Carolina football has become a respectable—and important—part of campus life once more.

Carolina didn't even mind so much the fact that its team, favored by two touchdowns, blew the season opener to State. After all, the entire Atlantic Coast Conference seemed to be a bit confused last Saturday.

At least the 1958 North Carolina football team demonstrated that it wasn't going to quit. While Tatum paced the sideline like a taunted tiger behind bars, his ball club gave the ball away deep in its territory four times in the first half, and then danged if they didn't come out right after the half and do it again. It was a wonder State led by only 21-0.

But then they began to roll. Playing good football, they scored twice in the last quarter to make the final score 21-14, and this was nothing to be ashamed of at all. There are other games ahead and Carolina is going to win some of them. This is more than they could have said at Chapel Hill three years ago.

While Tatum was losing, more than a thousand miles away the University of Texas beat Georgia partially because of the presence on its coaching staff of a rather dignified, introspective gentleman of 43 named Lan Hewlett, who never won a varsity letter in football nor, for that matter, even pulled on a cleat. Despite his nonathletic background—his undergraduate Saturday afternoons were spent tootling a clarinet in the Longhorn band—horn-rim glasses and professorial air, Hewlett's credentials are in perfect order. At Texas they do not consider it important that he knows little or nothing about the fine points of the split-T and couldn't tell a red dog from a Doberman pinscher. Lan Hewlett is the "brain coach."

Brain Coach Hewlett is, in a manner of speaking, the brain child of Darrell Royal, the successful young man who quarterbacked Oklahoma back in the days of Jim Tatum, no less, and found himself a spot deep in the heart of Texas last fall by leading his sophomorish Longhorns into the Sugar Bowl in his first attempt.

Upon his arrival in Austin in the spring of 1957, Royal discovered that the university was embarked upon a program to raise its academic standards to new and formidable heights. With understandable dismay he also discovered a byproduct of this otherwise admirable venture: 15 scholastically ineligible football players. Royal, only 34, has been known in his youthful idealism to suggest that big-time football and high academic standards can co-exist on the same campus. To be perfectly honest, however, there is no record that Darrell leaped into the air and clicked his heels in mounting joy over the chance to put this somewhat revolutionary theory to the test. What he did do was ask Dr. Logan Wilson, president of the university, to give him a man who could spend all of his time helping the boys with their problems. That man turned out to be Hewlett.

"I guess you would have to say," Hewlett says now, "that Darrell invented me."

A father—his youngest son is drum major of the Longhorn band—and a grandfather, Hewlett has a master's degree in bacteriology, spent six years in public health work, was a major in the Army and taught high school science before joining the coaching staff last fall. But right now he says he is doing the most interesting—and quite likely the most valuable—work he has ever done.

"Actually," says Hewlett, who has a friendly smile, crew-cut brown hair and looks much younger than most grandfathers, "I am more of a counselor than a teacher." He does conduct a study hall four nights a week on the second floor of the new air-conditioned English building, but most of the actual instructional help in specialized subjects is done by tutors who are standing by for consultation in the surrounding rooms. Hewlett advises the players on their courses of study and registration procedures, helps them work out a balanced schedule, keeps a constant check on grades and informs them of various campus services, such as the testing and guidance bureau.


"You see," Hewlett says, "the problem is not primarily one of lack of knowledge or intelligence among football players. The day of the dumb athlete, if it ever existed, is definitely over. Records show that the average grades of athletes here are slightly higher than for other students. And this is not a result of crip courses. Most of our football players are majoring either in engineering or business administration."

Hewlett feels that his duty extends even to the brilliant student and his best example is Maurice Doke, the outstanding Longhorn end who makes high honor marks in the tough school of chemical engineering.

"Sometimes," says Hewlett, "students with Cadillac brains want to putter along in the low-priced field. I encourage them to take a bigger bite. 'If you carry an average work load,' I tell them, 'and make straight A's, so what?' "

Does Hewlett think the idea will spread? "Well," he says, "Jess Neely down at Rice sent a scout around here last spring and I think they are trying it on a part-time basis this year. I don't see how it can keep from spreading. It's like religion. Everyone should have some of it."

This fall, when Royal checked on his squad, only three varsity players were scholastically ineligible.