Dowhower Has Grown Into His Job (1979)

Jim Harbaugh's move from startling success at Stanford to the NFL's San Francisco 49ers has understandably drawn comparisons to a similar set of circumstances more than three decades earlier in 1979, when Stanford OC Rod Dowhower took over for Bill Walsh, who had taken over the 49ers job. Spotlighting this vintage Glenn Dickey column is an attempt to refresh folks on those fascinating days.

Dowhower Has Grown Into His Job

 

Original column San Francisco Chronicle by Glenn Dickey from October 26, 1979


Ed. - The Bootleg requests that our readers visit www.sfgate.com and www.glenndickey.com, whose site charges a very reasonable $12/year for his columns)


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Dowhower Has Grown Into His Job

Behind the resurgence of the Stanford football team is the maturation of its young coach, Rod Dowhower. Dowhower has had to follow a tough act at Stanford. Bill Walsh was not only
a successful coach but a magnetic personality; charming everybody from us marshmallows of the sporting press to the president of the university.

 

Rod is not that kind of personality. He is a quiet, introverted man who tends to talk in clichés, as most coaches do. He is ‘guarded' in his comments to the press but honest - which not all coaches are. It took some time for his players to adjust to his personality, but they have. "He seems, hard," one player told me, "but he's really a softy. He really cares about his players."

 

Aside from image, the big difference in their approaches has been physical. Dowhower was determined that his team would be tougher physically. He stressed weight-lifting programs, and his pre-season workouts were rugged; one scout told me they were the roughest he'd seen.

Dowhower has since eased up somewhat on practices, but those workouts were important. "We matched up well against USC this year," a player told me. "Those big USC linemen were really tired in the second half."

 

Dowhower showed early that he had the flexibility he needs for success.

 

His most obvious change in approach was at quarterback. When Turk Schonert faltered in early games, Dowhower backed off from the one-quarterback system he had planned to use and started playing freshman John Elway quite a bit. But he stayed with Schonert as the starter, and Schonert has responded with brilliant games against USC and Arizona. "He's playing now as I had anticipated he would before the season started," Dowhower says.

Dowhower has made several position changes, most of which have gone unnoticed because of the quarterback fuss: After one game, Vincent White and Mike Dotterer started splitting the time at tailback, replacing LaMott Atkins.

In the offensive line, Dowhower replaced both guards, Paul Hibler, and Chuck Bedford, with Mike Neill and John Delmare, Defensively, for the last game, he brought in Steve Ballinger to play tackle and moved tackle Duker Dapper to nose guard, replacing Doug Rogers.

 

Some psychological changes have been at least as important as the physical ones.

 

"I put a lot of pressure on our younger players at the start because I thought they needed it," says Dowhower, But when the Cards lost two of-their first three games, he knew he had to change his approach.

 

After the Army game, he met alone with his players and asked them for suggestions and criticism. Then, he brought in his assistant coaches to talk some more. "We were all frustrated because we weren't doing what we should be doing," he says, "and I felt this was a way to relieve the anxiety, to get everything out in the open."

 

Those meetings seem to have brought the team together. Previously, there had seemed to be a division between the senior players and the freshman-sophomore, group. "When you playing a lot of freshmen (as many as 11 have played in a game), you're going to get resentment from seniors, who feel they've put in their time and deserve a. chance," Dowhower says. "But you have a responsibility to the team to play your best players. I think after that meeting, our seniors realized that."

 

The Army game also taught Dowhower another lesson, He had gambled in that game, passing up almost certain field goals in fourth-down situations, going for first downs and failing. "I learned in that game that it's a battle for survival out there. We couldn't pass up any opportunities for points.

 

As Ron Thomas' Sporting Green story reported at the time, the Boston College game which followed was the turning point in the season. The Cards have played very well since; if they continue, they have a good chance to play in a bowl game. But none of this would have been possible if their coach hadn't been willing and able to learn from adversity.


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