Skip to main content
Original Issue


College football coaches have always lived with certain nightmares—with intellectual linemen who jumped offside because they couldn't remember exactly what "hut" meant, with fullbacks who flunked Park and Rec, with quarterbacks who threw wobblers into the trombone section and with evil, left-leaning referees who hurled red flags on first-and-goal. These were horrid dreams, but the coach managed to erase them with some good old American hard hitting on the practice field and a reminder to himself that the danged old football just wasn't round. By Saturday everything would be O.K., and the team would go out to win one for the campus, the city, the state, the boys overseas, Mom and Pop and, just to inject a note of sentimentality, for the coach's job.

All of this was a long time ago, however. Several hours, anyhow. Enter now the fresh season of 1970, a whole new decade of the sport with so many problems of a complex and sophisticated nature that college football may never be the same again. Enter now a new kind of nightmare for the poor coach.

It begins with a newspaper headline that causes the coach to strangle on his cereal. The paper says: NCAA RULES COMMITTEE VOTES OUT FREE SUBS.

"There is too much scoring," a rules spokesman says. "Players should go both ways. It will help them become better computer salesmen. After all, this will put the foot back in football."

The nightmare continues with another story the following day, which causes the coach to strangle on his smothered steak in the training-room cafeteria. The paper says: NCAA CALLS FOR NATIONAL SCHOLARSHIP LIMIT.

"Twenty scholarships a year in football is enough for anybody," a scholarship spokesman says. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if Baptist Seminary could compete evenly with Alabama? After all, how many scholarships does gymnastics get?"

Now the nightmare turns to game day. Big game, big crowd, television. But things are not the same. Curiously every lad in the stadium wears a beard and hair like Ann-Margret. Everybody waves a pennant that says GO CANADA.

The coach notices that vandals have sneaked into the stadium the night before and painted P-E-A-C-E on the AstroTurf.

The goalposts are decorated with draft cards, the cheerleaders wear granny dresses and they give the locomotive for Ho Chi Minh. The card section spells out C-A-R-D S-E-C-T-I-O-N, and when everybody rises for the National Anthem the band plays Me and Bobby McGee.

Finally, on what is supposed to be the opening kickoff, the two teams jog casually toward one another, hug and kiss, light up strange cigarettes and romp off the field as one group, unfurling a huge banner that says: THE END ZONE IS WHITEY'S TURF.

It won't happen, of course. Not immediately, and maybe never. But the powers of college football are openly concerned about the "mood' of young people and how it might affect their game.

"All I know is, you can't talk to athletes like you once could," says Penn State's Joe Paterno. "You can't sit on 'em. They're exposed to too many things. They're too smart, too aware. If they're not convinced that self-discipline is for their own good, they're not going to perform like you want them to."

Coaches and athletic directors are also worried about money. They're afraid that burgeoning expenses may prompt the rulesmakers to throw the game back to the one-platoon era, which requires fewer good athletes. They know a move like this would only result in bringing back the quick kick.

The decade of the 1960s began this way, and it might be nice to reflect back on it briefly, since we may never know its pleasures again.

As the decade got under way, some coaches had already learned that they could platoon within the rules, with Chinese Bandits and such. Suddenly, the "wild cards" became unlimited substitution. And specialists started to mingle with dazzling new systems, all of them giving the college game more sweep and scoring than even the pros knew.

The defense still hasn't caught up with all of the full-field shifting, motion, deception, power and passing that has been generated by things called the I spread, the Pro Set, the Veer, the Shifting T and the Triple Option with Wishbone.

The only thing coaches know for sure is that they have to have a strong four-man rush and the capability of four alert, rangy linebackers, one of which ought to be a superathlete who can play defensive end, linebacker or cornerback—a roverback on the order of Ohio State's Jack Tatum.

The 1960s produced record scores, record crowds and perhaps a record number of glittering heroes. There were passers like Joe Namath, Roger Staubach, George Mira, Gary Beban, Mike Phipps and Terry Hanratty. There were runners like O. J. Simpson, Gale Sayers, Mike Garrett, Floyd Little and Steve Owens. There were defensive stars like Tommy Nobis, Dick Butkus, George Webster and Jack Tatum, who is still around, just like Archie Manning (see cover), Jim Plunkett and Rex Kern are still around among the fairy-tale quarterbacks, and the way that Steve Worster, Joe Moore, Bill Burnett and Clarence Davis are around to carry the ball.

A new wave of geniuses among coaches appeared in the 1960s, and they are the same men who begin the 1970s as the glamour figures—the Darrell Royals, John McKays, Frank Broyleses, Joe Paternos and Bob Devaneys. They have long since joined Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes and a few others as proven giants in the profession.

These were the men who consistently produced splendid teams, those that hung in year after year in the top 10, captured most of the national championships and set the strategic trends for others.

It's interesting to contemplate what they accomplished and to contemplate further if they, or anyone else, can do so well in the next 10 years when athletes can hardly be expected to dedicate themselves so blindly.

From a won-lost standpoint the three coaches who enjoyed the most success were Bryant, Royal and Devaney. Each man had six teams that won at least nine games in a season, counting bowls. Bryant got pieces of three national titles, and Royal won two unanimously. Devaney got none, but Nebraska reached a status it had never known before.

In a recent poll of national writers and broadcasters conducted by ABC-TV, Royal was voted the Coach of the Decade. Possibly Royal won on the basis of his elaborate success in bowl games—-Texas won the glittering biggies over Navy and Staubach, over Alabama and Namath and over Notre Dame. And this was quite aside from Royal's two No. 1s, his five Southwest Conference titles and the fact that he concluded both the decade and first 100 years by ushering in a new attack, the Wishbone, that will set the pace for the early '70s.

There was a good case to be made for John McKay as the leading coach. It was McKay, after all, who broke open the era of passing and high scoring with his variations on the I formation. He, too, won a couple of No. Is, went to five Rose Bowls (including a record four in succession, this could make five) and he had the added pleasure of coaching two Heisman Trophy winners in Garrett and O.J.

For all of the repetitious winning of the usual powers—USC, Texas and Alabama—the decade will be remembered as the one that saw a climb to power of new giants like Arkansas and Nebraska, as well as the restored glory that came to Notre Dame, Tennessee, Georgia, UCLA and Michigan. Even some traditional have-nots like Kansas (1968), Indiana (1967), SMU (1966) and Purdue (Griese, Keyes and Phipps) had their fleeting moments of boisterousness.

Nearly every major college coach agrees that it would be a shame for the NCAA to order a cutback on scholarships, as is silently being discussed, or for the rulesmakers to boot the game backward to the one-platoon style in an effort to achieve a balance of power.

"The haves have generally been the haves and the have-nots have generally been the have-nots," says one coach, "regardless of the rules."

It's very true. Under any style of play the top coaches and the top teams will endure if not prosper. A place like Texas under Royal or USC under McKay can just as easily pick off the best 20 recruits as it can pick off the best 40. No effort to bring down the big teams has ever succeeded when smart coaches worked at big schools with winning attitudes and winning traditions.

The answer has always been for the have-nots to drag themselves up as, say, a Purdue, a Houston, a Florida State or an SMU has done. How? In some cases clean house. In others more vigorous recruiting, especially in the area of the blacks.

"Football has to make money," says Oklahoma's Chuck Fairbanks. "It has to support the spring sports. I can show you how to have a heck of a wrestling team. Let me recruit the guys who'll get us on top in football and we'll have good everything."

As another coach says, "Some administrations expect you to invest only $30,000 recruiting and make about $2 million with it at the gate with a winner. How many other businesses do it?"

There are real fears in the collegiate world about protests and demonstrations against football and about the lack of adequate incentive among athletes.

One coach who seems to be particularly paranoid over long hair, pot, militant blacks and so forth, says: "We hear they've got four television games picked out where they'll do something."

They who?

"Well, you know," he says.

For all the fears it is still not easy to envision a group of demonstrators in a stadium at South Bend, Austin, Los Angeles, Fayetteville, Tuscaloosa, Columbus, Baton Rouge or a number of other places and see them escaping with their lives or even their revolution shirts from the Army-Navy store.

Not that there aren't indications—mild ones, at least—that places are changing.

At Texas, for example, Darrell Royal for the first time is likely to have a black athlete in the starting lineup—a sophomore roverback on defense named Julius Whittier.

But already Whittier has been quoted in the newspapers as saying he might have more in common with the campus hippies than with his teammates.

And how did that sit with Royal?

"I didn't say anything," Darrell explained. "I didn't have to. His mama jumped all over him."

Good mamas have always been the answer to nightmares. Ask any boy or college coach.