Cynics believe that national championships, even the small-college variety, can be won only by football factories. They should take a close look at the University of Delaware. Last year the Blue Hens were 10-1, and for the fourth consecutive year they plucked the twin bouquets of college-division football in the East—the Lambert Cup and the Boardwalk Bowl. Since 1968 the team has won 36 and lost only eight. This has been accomplished in defiance of the fact that, as Athletic Director Dave Nelson puts it, "the throttle has not been pushed forward all the way." If Nelson and Coach Tubby Raymond have anything to say about it—and they do—it never will be.
Nelson and Raymond, both refugees from the Big Ten, believe in education first, football second. At Delaware there are no grants-in-aid or fund-raising campaigns among alumni or students. Football players draw financial support only if they qualify for a share of the mere dozen available need scholarships. Despite this, the football program accumulates annually a dazzling six-figure surplus and has made Delaware, in its particular pond, as big a fish as Nebraska or Ohio State.
For instance, last year, following a 40-7 loss to the Blue Hens, former New Hampshire Coach Jim Root informed his athletic director that either Delaware be left off the schedule or he would leave the school. "They are absolutely overwhelming," said Root. "I wouldn't subject my team to that again. They should play against teams like Ohio State, Notre Dame and Alabama."
That is going too far, but with every player suited up and every ankle taped, the team is probably equal to anything the Ivy League or Southern Conference can offer.
Occasionally, a diehard supporter like Alumni Director Elbert Chance will push to even higher ground. "Last year," he advises, "we would have cleaned Maryland's clock."
Delaware was indeed overpowering in 1971. The offense led the country in rushing and total offense and was second in scoring. The defense allowed fewer than 10 points a game, fewer than 60 yards rushing, intercepted 25 passes and dumped opposing quarterbacks for losses 60 times. In the Boardwalk Bowl, played in the very auditorium where Miss Americas are crowned, Delaware crowned C.W. Pest 72-22.
The Blue Hens' all-embracing defense lost only two starters to graduation, although two other defensive players will move to end positions on an offense that suffered seven departures. Nevertheless, the feeling is that the offensive newcomers, when meshed with returnees like Halfback Glenn Covin, who rushed for more than 900 yards, will maintain Delaware's place among the nation's top ground-gaining teams.
The reason lies with the Wing T system. Tubby Raymond learned the offense as an assistant under the man who invented it, Athletic Director Nelson. To that basic form Raymond added finesse and deception while still maintaining its simplicity. "We knew the plays," wailed one rival coach, "we just couldn't stop them."
Everyone knows the plays—the belly series, the tackle trap counter and the end sweep. And a defense may show any formation it likes but the Delaware quarterback will run precisely what he ordered in the huddle. Every play has built-in blocking contingencies that work.
"Running the Wing T is a science here," says Scotty Reihm, who becomes the team quarterback this year. "It's all in the technique." The story is told of the halfback who was out of position until an assistant coach stopped practice to move him forward half an inch.
Those are the demands made of football players at Delaware. "All we want to do," says Raymond, "is have a program where the kids can get the thrills and excitement I know college football offers. It's ridiculous to make a kid run wind sprints if he drops a pass. And if you get tired in practice, stop and rest. This isn't to say we don't care about winning. We just want to succeed within a certain framework."
The matter of winning stirs Raymond no less than any other coach. "It's possible that I should sleep better because I know I won't lose my house if I don't win," says Tubby, "but the fact is I don't sleep better."
Insomnia has not dulled Raymond's creative spirit. Before every game he paints a caricature of a deserving senior and adds an inspirational "Go Team Win" homily. The players consider this recognition high honor. When a national championship seemed possible toward the end of last season, the gimmickry reached a pulsating crescendo. In the locker room before the Bucknell game Raymond displayed the 1963 national championship trophy won by Dave Nelson, and the Blue Hens romped 46-0. To arouse the troops for the Boardwalk Bowl he taped the picture of C.W. Post Quarterback Gary Wichard on every locker. Delaware's fourth straight victory in the Atlantic City Convention Hall sealed the national title and presumably earned the Blue Hens permanent possession of Bert Parks.
Delaware's program began to acquire its current low-key look under Nelson, a scholarly type who harbors a "fear of what big-time athletics can do to a university." Early in his successful 15-year tenure as a coach, Nelson moved the football players out of Mechanical Hall and into the mainstream of campus life, and the football games from a minor league baseball park to the school's very own stadium. Today that stadium seats 22,000 on a campus with half as many students and is 85% filled on autumn Saturdays.
Still, the visibility of fan support does not go much beyond game attendance. There is no athletic fee attached to student tuitions, and last year the extent of alumni contribution to the best college-division team in the country was $400.
"That's just the way it should be," says Nelson. "As long as we are successful and have money in the bank, how can we rightly ask for more? Besides, contributors often feel they should have a say in running the program. I don't want that. And if we solicit the alumni we divert money from other university programs. Let them give to the philosophy department. To accept money from an alumnus and call him a Chief Chicken or something is simply demeaning."
While Delaware does not have any Chief Chickens, it does have Philadelphia Phillies' Owner Bob Carpenter. It is Carpenter's Friends Foundation that annually provides 12 full scholarships to be parceled out among financially deserving students. The aid is actually less than the NCAA allows, since it excludes the cost of books and laundry. As it is, nine of the 22 starters last year had no financial aid at all.
With such enticements minimized, players must have more personal reasons for coming to Newark. "Staying in Delaware should help my business opportunities when I get out of school," says Reihm. "I wasn't looking for a big-time school because I didn't want to be lost in the shuffle," says Defensive End Joe Carbone. "I didn't think I could play at a major college," says Center Jim Bennett. "My personality isn't the right kind. You have to want to make a name for yourself, to be an adventurer." And there is Dan Morgan, a 6'3", 245-pound tackle who says meekly, "I'd be scared to death of a place like Penn State."
Delaware players believe that major football programs can be dehumanizing. "I don't really know," says Reihm, "but it seems as though football at a big-time school is a big-time job. Here there isn't as much pressure. Our success is not so much the result of the coaches pushing us as the players wanting to do it themselves."
It is a point of pride to many at Delaware that for all their successful college players—in each of the last four years, Delaware's fullback has gained over 1,000 yards—none has ever played in the National Football League. This year's team may have a legitimate pro prospect, however, in 6'5", 270-pound Defensive Tackle Dennis Johnson. He is something of a rarity in that he had several other offers but chose Delaware anyway. This in spite of the fact that Raymond didn't exactly outrecruit anyone. As Johnson tells it, "The people at Delaware put less pressure on me than anyone. They weren't calling all the time or making promises about what they'd give me. I guess that's why I decided to come. Football is like a course here. You just don't get credit for it."
With just enough quality players like Johnson to build upon, Raymond is able to make do within the context he favors. "You don't have to play Notre Dame to be big time," he points out. Nevertheless, along with its formidable won-lost record there are other earmarks of a burgeoning program—a computer that does pregame analyses of opponents, an assistant coach who informs the admissions office of "desirable" enrollees.
Delaware's concept of low-key football cannot remain unchanged, however, because it has outgrown its opposition. In the middle of this decade the school will take a halting step into the major college ranks.
"It will be interesting to see if we can do it without changing our principles," says Raymond. "We'd prefer not to give athletic scholarships, and I want to see if we can win without spending a lot of money. Even if we do well we won't put in what it would take to reach Nebraska's level."
A few years ago University President Edward Trabant asked Nelson what it would take to win the Lambert Trophy, which goes to the best major college team in the East, instead of the Lambert Cup. Nelson told him "about $300,000." That's one investment no one at Delaware is willing to make.
Unlike Delaware, Akron (8-2 last year) is one school with no reservations about stepping up in class. The Zips are eying the Mid-American Conference but for now they remain a formidable college-division threat. The attack will open up this year since Eric Schoch is taking over complete quarterbacking responsibilities. Most of the team's eight player losses were on defense, where End Bruce Walker shines. Boise State's Camellia Bowl champions (10-2) have a big vacancy at quarterback, but Eric Guthrie's successor will find a good receiver in Don Hutt and a dependable ballcarrier in Fullback Ken Johnson.
Pioneer Bowl winner Louisiana Tech (9-2) faces a similar problem. Denny Duron, formerly a reserve flanker, succeeds a long line of All-America quarterbacks. Charles (Quick Six) McDaniel was' a sensation as a freshman halfback and Roger Carr and Eric Johnson are fine pass targets. The defense is headed by Tackle Ted Dean, the school's best ever. Newcomer McNeese State (9-1-1) presents a strong challenge to Louisiana Tech in the Southland Conference. The Cowboys have not one but two starting quarterbacks, pass-minded Greg Davis and run-oriented Allan Dennis. The offensive line needs experience. Another conference with a two-way battle should be the North Central where North Dakota State (7-2) was unseated after seven straight titles by North Dakota (6-3-1). Both teams are loaded with veterans and the defenses are particularly strong. The Oct. 21 game at North Dakota should decide.
Tennessee State (9-1), Grantland Rice Bowl winner over McNeese State, lost outstanding Quarterback Joe Gilliam. Running Backs Alfred Reese and Fred Lane will open up the ground game behind the blocking of Tackle Robert Woods. Without Gilliam, but bolstered by an improved defense, the Tigers probably won't play many games like the wild 41-35 defeat of Grambling. In fact, Tennessee State might not even win the rematch. The Black Knights (9-2) are veteran-rich and may be Coach Eddie Robinson's best team in years. Defending Ohio Valley Conference champion Western Kentucky (8-2) could be supplanted by Tennessee Tech (8-2). The offensive backfield is solid with Quarterback Leo Peckenpaugh and some fine runners, but the offensive and defensive lines are green, green. Tennessee Tech needs a quarterback to balance a ground game led by Fullback Jeff Axel. The defense has All-America Linebacker Jeff Youngblood.