Oregon State Coach Tommy Prothro, who assisted Curtice, is still a little taken aback by it all. "We didn't spend but about 20 minutes on defense," Tommy, a man who normally spends 20 minutes out of every half hour of practice on defense, says. "He wasn't interested in fundamentals and his technique depended awfully heavily on the forward pass. Of course, in an all-star game, you just got to get the boys in a frame of mind to play. And Jack was excellent at that. His demeanor on the field was great. He's got a lot of confidence in himself and he's serious about the game and expects an all-out effort. But he injects a lot of fun into it and I doubt the boys realized he was getting all-out effort out of them."
In a collegiate sport which has become increasingly a coach's medium, Curtice is an anomaly. In the first place, it has become customary for a coach, when he moves to a new job, to bring along his own iron gang of assistants to staff the football program his way right from the start. Jack Curtice brought only one coach with him, a personal friend, Andy Everest. He agreed sunnily to Stanford's recommendation that he retain the incumbent staff of assistants.
Their complicity in Stanford's so-so past record did not disturb him in the least. "I could never fire anyone anyway," he told the surprised San Francisco press.
He agreed to a lesser status than he had had at Utah, where he was athletic director as well as coach, because the university already had a perfectly acceptable one, and he found no quarrel with the fact that his predecessor as coach, Chuck Taylor, was elevated to the post of assistant athletic director.
He carefully canvassed Stanford's prospects and decided it was "great" that the school's academic requirements were such that not even a 10-flat, 200-pound fullback could get in without passing college boards. "Intelligence breeds intenseness," he proclaimed cheerfully.
Although he himself is intense and intelligent, Jack Curtice, who was nicknamed "Cactus Jack" by a reverent press during his tenure at Texas colleges even though he was raised in Kentucky and Canada, is a man who likes to act in public as though he had gone barefoot until the draft caught up with him. His speeches are larded with Bob Burnsian colloquialisms and corn-pone homilies and he often mortifies his ex-schoolteacher wife by shaking hands with distinguished visitors and exclaiming, "Glad to have saw ya." It is Jack's private joke. Actually, Cactus Jack—who never saw a cactus except in a pot until he was a grown man—is a holder of a master's degree in physical education from Columbia University. He is a full commander in the Naval Reserve and well knows which fork to use for salad despite his protestations that he is really "just a li'l ole Kentucky boy whose folks were too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash."
At a recent football clinic on the West Coast a coach from another part of the country blandly advised his fellow lecturers, "If you run across any students who are good to their mothers and like to play a little football now and then, send them to the Pacific Coast Conference, but if you run into any gin-drinkin', women-chasin' athaletes and football players, send 'em down to us." Curtice not only ignored this gibe, but closed his own lecture with an impassioned plea to the coaches present to "make the game of football fun for your guys."
As if to demonstrate this thesis, Curtice shyly screened a half-hour film, a fine, festive three-reeler showing his successful 1957 University of Utah team in action. In the film, Curtice's quarterbacks—usually the incomparable Lee Grosscup—complete a bewildering assortment of passes, mostly for touchdowns, the whole time seeming to be having the time of their lives. As an entertainment for rival coaches, it is somewhat reminiscent of the Stuka bombing pictures Hitler used to show foreign ambassadors just before he asked them to hand over the keys to their countries. Some coaches refer to it as the Jack Curtice production, You, Too, Can Learn to Scare Army.
Curtice ordinarily narrates the film from the back of the room, with a twinkle in his eye and a quip on his lips. For instance, after Passer Grosscup has completely succeeded in bamboozling onrushing linemen on the screen, Curtice will sigh and announce: "Fellas, that boy is sure going to miss me this year!"
Grosscup himself is no man to low-rate Curtice's contributions to his All-America status. "I thought old Jack was just the greatest," he said recently. "I think he is one of the two geniuses of college football as far as passing is concerned. [The other is Grosscup's old Santa Monica High coach, Jim Sutherland, now at Washington State.] I feel the reason I had such a high percentage of completions last year was because I didn't get a real rush put on me all last year. And the reason I didn't get a real rush was because Jack's got so many deviations in his pass patterns that the opposition never gets a chance to rush."