The Sanctity of a Contract

One more article on the move of Paul Dietzel from Baton Rouge to West Point. This writeup by Anthony Marenghi concentrates on the sanctity of a contract or the lack of it when it concerns a college football coach.

By Anthony Marenghi

A minor catastrophe resulting from the cynical or practical approach (take your choice) dividing coaches between loyalty to college or cash may be the end of the hallowed frivolity known as the dressing room pep talk.

Imagination creates a scene in which a coach is pulling all the tear-jerkers while exhorting his team to an inspired effort. At which point a bored senior impudently interrupts: "What's the pitch, coach, you got a better offer some other place if we win?"

Moralists currently are exploring the nuances of Paul Dietzel's shift from Louisiana State to West Point. He had four years remaining at $18,500 per on his contract.

College jumping is a nancient practice but it's sharply limned now by the prestige of West Point's code of honor. If there's any stigma attached, college presidents share it by coolly bidding for another college's character-builders while still under contract.

Tampering in baseball brings immediate penalty. Even in boxing the practice is deplored via a slug on the snoot. Army denies any breach of manners. In the furor over the switch, Rep. F. Edward Hebert (D-La.), described as long a significant figure in Louisiana sports, spoke to West Point officials and reported they said they had done nothing unethical in that they "had talked to LSU."

We are not fault-finding either way. We are sure Dietzel wrestled with himself before making his decision. Before arriving at it, he said:

"Any decision will not be something I jumped at. It will be something I have thought over many hours and many days."

The AP quotes Dietzel in addressing an alumni banquet a few months ago: "I love LSU, and I'll never leave for another coaching job."

In the crticism among some LSU board members Tom Dutton said:

"Frankly, I don't believe Paul will break his contract. I don't believe Paul will be happy in joining the fiddle-footed coaches who walk off the Job and have no respect for the sanctity of a contract."

Dutton declared he would oppose release from the contract but it was granted on the grounds that refusal would leave a disgruntled employee in the ranks.

Shot board member C. J. Dugas: "It's time these coaches realize they have moral obligations as well as character building obligations. Most of them regard contracts as just another piece of paper to scratch on and it's time somebody takes a stand against them and teaches them of these moral obligations they assume when they sign a contract."

Dietzel reported that he had a year left on a previous contract at Army when LSU offered him the post as head coach. He brought out this point, he said, to answer LSU criticism. Further:

"Members of the board of supervisors at that time knew I had a contract with Army and there are a couple of members of this present board who were members then."

The barb is timely but the circumstances were different, plus the fact two wrongs do not make a right. He was an assistant to head coach Col. Earl Blaik when the latter was asked to relieve Dietzel. Blaik replied he would not stand in the way of Dietzel's promotion. Manifestly, he, too, did not desire a disgruntled employee.

The request for release has been proven in other cases to be perfunctory. Contracts could be fought in, court, of course, but who wants a coach who wants out?

Dietzel is taking four LSU assistants with him to West Point. All of which, to repeat, may hereafter drain conviction from future dressing room tirades, to the distress of a delightful bit of Americana.

In time these may reach the climactical let-down of a famed baseball talk in which the manager was warning his young batterymen on the perils of letting Johnnie Evers steal second.

"Evers is so smart that if he gets on second where he can look at the catcher, he will steal every signal you got." Then noticing that a veteran pitcher was sitting on the floor with has cap visor over his eyes, half asleep, he snapped: "You don't seem interested in what I'm saying, Pete."

Pete spoke up: "You just let me pitch, boss, and that guy won't get on first to steal second."

There are those who will question the morals involved in Dietzel's jump and more practical others upholding better financial returns against the sanctity of contracts, and it soon will be forgotten.

But college presidents and athletic boards, responsible for their coaches' action, will continue to give consent by silence to the race for another institution's winning coach and hence a better box office. Presumably, they see no violation of ethics.

The Dietzel case was a sports page topic mostly all of last week and undoubtedly was known throughout the country. But on Saturday the AP carried this story out of Lincoln, Nebraska:

Nebraska today tapped Robert S. (Bob) Devaney as the man it wants as new Cornhusker football coach, but held up formal action until Devaney is released from his head coaching contract at Wyoming. Devaney is being offered the job and wants to come.

"Athletic Director Glenn J. Jacoby indicated Devaney would be released from his five-year contract but possibly not until Feb. 2, when the Wyoming board of trustees meets. Devaney would succeed Bill Jennings, released after five losing seasons at Nebraska. Nebraska's new athletic director, William Dye, and Chancellor Clifford M. Hardin tried to reach Wyoming administrators by telephone this morning in the hope of getting a quick go-ahead to hire Devaney. But the call could not be completed."

Did Wyoming really have a choice, and will it now rephrase the state slogan: "Stop roaming, come to Wyoming?" Top Stories