Then one morning Duffner, the 33-year-old pupil, woke up to find the head man gone and himself in charge of a program suddenly and deeply scarred. How many years would the healing take? Tough spot. What would coach Carter have done?
That's when Duffner hit on a simple and honest idea: Why be ashamed? "We were proud of coach Carter," Duffner says. "We want people to know it." So when Duffner was given the head job, he did what nobody else would have done. He sat at Carter's desk, used Carter's system, said things the way Carter might have said them and talked about Carter all the time.
"In essence," says Pete McCarty, an assistant coach, "coach Carter still is coaching this team. It just says coach Duffner on the door."
But with Gordo, Duffner becomes more Duffner and less the Guy Sitting in the Boss's Chair. Would Carter have risked using his best cornerback at tailback? Would Carter have tried something nobody had since the '60s? "I don't know," says Lockbaum. "Coach Carter was pretty conservative offensively."
Could anybody else have kept the program so tight? Would anybody else have kept his office open until well after 2 a.m. the two weeks after Carter's death just to talk to players? Would anybody else have been as open about the suicide? He helped people understand it, helped them see beyond it. "After the way coach Duffner pulled us through, the guys on this team wouldn't have wanted anybody else taking over," says Andreoli.
No, it says Duffner on the door because it really is Duffner inside. Now the question is, will Duffner be remembered as the guy who reinvented college football? Is Gordo contagious? One-platoon football came back for several seasons in 1953 after having been extinct for 12 years. Could college football stand up and do a new wave?
Yes, says Perry: "Gordie is getting to do what a lot of kids could do if they were only given the opportunity. I think it'll catch on."
Assistant Kevin Coyle says, "Coaches call all the time. Mostly they say, 'How do you do it? One hundred forty-three plays? How do you practice him? Who the hell is this kid?' "
This Age of Specialization business is overrated, anyhow. Who wants to plop down $16 to see somebody like Lorenzo White of Michigan State wear headphones for half the game? Maybe you should get half your money back.
Imagine Oklahoma's Brian Bosworth at linebacker and fullback. Or vice versa with Miami's Alonzo Highsmith, who, by the way, played defense in high school. Would Alabama have beaten Penn State with Cornelius Bennett at tailback? In 1929, Bronko Nagurski, one of the best fullbacks in history, made All-America as a defensive tackle. You think any coach ever told him, "Nice tackle, Bronk. Now catch some time on the oxygen tank and we'll call you in about 15 minutes." Nagurski would have pounded the guy flatter than a hashmark.