Oldtimer's Take: Legendary Lessons

Coaching college football isn't about time as a coach all alone watching film and planning schemes or watching the other guy and what he is doing. College football is about what you teach your players to do and be. It isn't about what you learn. It is about what they learn. It is about the boys.

It's been a month of change and transition at USC with a new head coach and a new class of recruits signed. I've been following USC recruits since I went with my dad and grandfather to see Jon Arnett play at Manual Arts High School in 1952. Chicago Bears head coach George Halas said that Jon Arnett was the best back he ever coached. That's saying a lot considering Gayle Sayers played for Halas.

Arnett deserves to be mentioned among the all time greats who have ever played for USC. I was 9 years old in 1956 when USC was put under penalty by the PCC for giving players extra expense money. Jon Arnett was allowed to play only half of the games that year. Arnett would have won the Heisman trophy in 1956 if he had played the entire season.

Arnett could have left USC to play in Canada for a lot of money in 1956, but he stayed and played half the games and then practiced with his teammates and finished school. He was my first great sports hero. He still is. I've always felt he was star crossed and never received the recognition he deserved.

Arnett was hurt by what was going on in the PCC at the time, and it put a shadow on his playing career he didn't deserve. He was part of the NFL's greatest draft in 1957. The Los Angeles Rams took him as their #1 draft choice ahead of Jim Brown. I still remember Arnett bringing a kickoff back for over 105 yards in his rookie year with the Rams. What happened to Jon Arnett and other players at the time would never have happened if schools had been thinking about the players first.

A couple of weeks ago I started to work on an article about what I thought were the qualities that made a great college football coach. I was thinking about USC's transition to a new coach. I've seen so many great college football coaches in my lifetime, and they do share certain characteristics. But as I began to work on the article and take a look at the great coaches, I began to see what I already knew.

The great coaches knew it was all about the players. It was all about the boys. Maybe USC and the PCC forgot about that when they offered Jon Arnett, and so many players in the PCC conference, a little extra spending money during the 1950's. College football isn't about the coaches, it's about the boys. USC was created to give young people in Southern California a good education and help them grow to be productive young men and women.

I remember reading years ago an article on Vince Lombardi as a football coach. It said he had the will of a perfectionist, the mind of a fundamentalist, and the heart of a father. I couldn't help but think of those words when USC coach Lane Kiffin said Wednesday, "It's not about the status of the boys coming in, it is how you develop them."

There is a great book that was written back in 2004 called. "A season of life: a football star, a boy, a journey to manhood." It is written by Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Marks.

In his book Marks describes a high school football team in Maryland that's huddled together before their biggest game of the year. The head coach asks the team, "What is our job as coaches?" The team replies, "To love us." The coach then asks, "What is your job as players?" The team replies, "To love each other."

The coach of this Maryland high school team is named Biff. Before the season started Biff is asked by a mother how successful the boys are going to be. He tells her he had no idea. I won't really know for 20 years. Mark says the mother is puzzled by Biff's reply.

The book doesn't tell us, but Biff's statement was also made by one of college football's all time great coaches Amos Alonzo Stagg. Stagg made that statement clear back in 1891 when he had his first football team at Springfield College.

Stagg said he wouldn't know if the team was successful until he found out what kind of husbands and fathers his players had become and what kind of contributions they had made to their communities. He said the job of a coach was to love his players.

At the end of his coaching career Stagg admitted he didn't always like what his players did, but he never had a boy play for him that he didn't love. It was because of this Knute Rockne said, "All football comes from Stagg."

Stagg went on to coach at Chicago University from 1892-1932. He formed the Western conference which became the Big Ten. Chicago's rival was Michigan. If you listen to Michigan's fight song it ends with the line, "The Champions of the west." Stagg won 7 Big Ten conference titles.

Stagg was born in 1862 and was forced to retire at 70 years old from the University of Chicago in 1932 with a 242-112 record. But he wasn't done coaching. He then went on to coach at Pacific in Stockton for 16 more years and formed the Far West conference. He won 5 conferences titles there.

After Pacific, Stagg went to help his son at Susquehanna College in Pennsylvania as an assistant coach. After his son retired Stagg was was an assistant coach at Compton Junior College until he retired at 98 years old in 1960. After reaching 100 he said he might never die because statistics said few men die older than 100 years.

It was Stagg who said, "It is all about the boys." The great sports writer, Grantland Rice said it was coaches like Fielding Yost, Knute Rockne, Robert Zupkke and Pop Warner, along with college football's greatest booster Walter Camp, that established the game of college football. But it was Amos Alonzo Stagg that, "Led the way."

Stagg was on the first college football All-American team as a player. He is in the college football hall of fame as a player and coach.

It was Stagg who developed college football's formations, the huddle, blocking and tackling techniques, the man in motion, helmets and other equipment. Stagg even invented the batting cage for baseball.

But most of all Stagg developed honesty, discipline, unselfishness, sacrifice and love into the lives of his players. He could do this because he was all heart. "It was all about the boys."

Coaching college football isn't about time as a coach all alone watching film and planning schemes or watching the other guy and what he is doing. College football is about what you teach your players to do and be. It isn't about what you learn. It is about what they learn. It is about the boys.

Bear Bryant said, "If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes good, we did it. If anything goes really good you did it." That's what it takes to win football games and that is what it takes to win in the game of life as well.


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