Tommy Prothro, who will have those deviations to contend with this year, is in agreement. "Curtice can hurt you a lot if you rush too hard." And Curtice's eyes gleam merrily behind his half-rimmed glasses when the subject comes around to rushing the passer. "I'm a great believer in throwing off the running action," explains Curtice. "We got some plays where we like for them to rush." He believes that the straight drop-back pass is made to order for a rush. Consequently, as his Utah pass-pattern film reveals, Curtice has few plays where the quarterback tries to run backward faster than linebackers can run forward. "When you got people on that drop-back and them other guys, they're stunting on you in the line, why, Lordy, they're just liable to eat the buttons off your vest. But since we trap a lot, we kinda like to use the rollout, and if I can get a one-step lead on the corner man, why, hell, my man will go and run for it."
But the measure of a modern coach is not all in his pass patterns—or pass defense. His relations with the community, particularly the press, are of paramount importance to a school like Stanford, struggling to preserve its unique academic and cultural identity in a state (and a nation) where virtually cost-free state schools offer strangling competitions for scholars—and football players. It costs a Stanford student—football player or no—$1,000 for tuition alone.
Added to these natural hazards of the private school in the football market is the supercharged atmosphere of Pacific Coast football generally. Just beginning to emerge from the vale of penalties and recriminations of three years of name-calling and vengefulness, the Pacific Coast Conference currently is a truncated band of five schools which already have voted to dissolve by next June 30 in the face of the defection of four former members, UCLA, Cal, Southern Cal and Washington. These schools have loosely confederated in a quasi conference all their own, known grandly as the "Athletic Association of Western Universities."
Stanford is the only really puissant football school remaining in the shattered Pacific Coast Conference, and has taken the position it will not jump to the aborning AAWU until it sees what it is jumping into. Since the secessionists, who have been talking in grandiose terms of a new national conference to include such heavyweights as Notre Dame, Army, Navy and the Air Force Academy, do not at the moment have any headquarters, published code of ethics or enforcement machinery, Stanford is sitting tight, not about to do business with any group which carries its office around in its pocket. Stanford, it is to be assumed, will ultimately throw in with its traditional rivals but only on clearly defined terms—probably Stanford's terms—and it pretty much resists any pressure attempts to trigger its entrance into the game until it can cut the cards and count the pot itself.
With this in mind, Stanford's Liebendorfer squired his new coach through the reef-ridden shoals of press conferences in hostile Los Angeles with a fervent plea for a no-comment type of approach on the part of Curtice. But Curtice, characteristically, was not interested in defense. "When the questions got sticky," recalls one newsman who attended Curtice's introductory interviews, "old Jack talked three times as fast and said three times as little." "Jack takes your questions seriously—but not very," confided another.
Instead of saying "no comment," Curtice simply offered no comment-several hundred words of it. He was asked, for instance, how it was he gave up a post as athletic director and coach to accept one as merely coach. A familiar, crinkly grin spread across his features. "You know," he said chummily, "that was the funniest thing—I mean my being both coach and director of athletics, don't you see? Say, I used to have some fun with those old boys up there at Salt Lake City. I'd like to get up before the Quarterback Club and all that, don't you see, and I'd say to 'em, 'Ya know, as athletic director, I'm 'bout half-thinkin' I ought to let that li'l ole bald-headed coach of ours go.' But then I'd pretend to think a minute and I'd say, 'Oh, hell, I guess he's adoin' the best he can. I mean, bein' a family man and all that, we ought to keep him on. He's not very bright but he's atryin'.' Yessir, I had me a lot of fun with those folks up there."
So far as Cactus Jack was concerned, this was directly responsive to the question and, having answered it at least to his own complete satisfaction, he would lean forward and smile disarmingly at his questioner. Another man wanted to know what he thought of the future of Pacific Coast football. "Oh, Lordy, as the woodchuck said when the hawk grabbed him, I expect football is like the li'l ole cat who kept falling off the ladder. He just kept comin' back up again." And so it went. Time and again, the old (Transylvania College) quarterback stepped out of the cup and got the ball away just before the interviewer could bring him down.
"I think the thing that sticks out in your mind about Jack's coaching," observes Coach Prothro slowly, "is the way he keeps it loose and funny—but with effort. By that I mean with effort on the part of the players and coaches. He doesn't believe in pampering anybody but he manages to make it pretty pleasant out there just by his own personality. He talks a little country to the boys but just to try to be humorous. He can sound like he's lecturing on Shakespeare if he wants to. But his great plus is that when he starts talking to the boys he starts to get more and more excited and enthusiastic, saying, 'Now, fellas, we're goin' to do this and then we're goin' to do that,' and by the time he gets through he's got them to thinking, 'By gosh, that's the way we're goin' to do 'er.' "
"I'll never forget when we went back to West Point to play Army last year," reminisces Grosscup. "We were in the locker room and, frankly, we were just like a lot of country boys. I mean, to tell the truth, we were a little scared. I mean, there's this big crowd and there are cannons going off and the Cadets are marching and all that.
"And then, here comes old Jack into the locker room and he's rubbing his belly and kind of laughing to himself. He turns to us with a perfectly straight face and says, 'Now, fellas, the first time you get the ball I want you to line up in a double-flanker right and run a 30-late. Next play, you fake a 30-late and you, Lee, hit Vaughan on a wingback middle pattern. Next play, another double-flanker right and, Lee, you're going to run a down-and-out to Stuart Vaughan. Next play, you're going to hit your end with a shovel pass and lateral to the fullback.