I am not deaf to these things, and I am not naive," said Paul Dietzel. "I know what they are saying, the things they expect and hope for. This does not frighten me. The prospect of losing does not concern me. I've been down that road. I know what it's like. Golly day, I didn't come up here to lose! These people think this will be a new era in Army football. They are right. This is a new era."
It has been four months since Paul Franklin Dietzel quit Louisiana State University and came to West Point to be its football coach. A fortnight ago his first team, a hand-me-down on which he had done some effective sculpturing, gave a creditable performance in a scrimmage that ended spring practice at the academy. There was room for improvement, but no room for more enthusiasm. Of that there was a surfeit. If the practiced eye could see flaws in the new Army team, the eyes of West Point could see only stars. " Paul Dietzel," said one unconstrained second classman, "is the greatest thing that ever happened to this place."
There were 3,000 people at the scrimmage. General Douglas MacArthur was there in a black Homburg. Ex-Army Coach Red Blaik sat beside him. A few years ago they might have been as big an attraction as the blond Dietzel, the man some people at the academy were calling a messiah and against whom others had already begun a tacit harassing movement. These latter were an influential few who fought the last great despot of Army football, Red Blaik, and see in Dietzel a return to the Blaik tyranny.
But on the surface the interest was sanguine and spectacular. The team that is expected to bring back Army football and to beat Navy slaughtered the scrubs. Dietzel and his staff chortled and cooed, corrected and chastised. The crowd, predictably, reacted with cheers.
Dietzel, in fact, rides a wave of cheers. From the beginning he has shamelessly wooed support, and it has come lapping at his feet. He stood in the cadet mess hall the first night and said that every one of his 33 team positions was wide open. Later he had to send his equipment manager to Jersey City to get enough uniforms to outfit the swarm of 140 candidates, one of whom was a 135-pound swimmer. Practices were attended as never before and bleachers had to be set up to accommodate the crowds. A West Point officers Bible study group delayed its weekly meeting 40 minutes to speculate on the terrible things Dietzel would do to Navy. A group of telephone company executives was enraptured for an hour as Dietzel charmed them off his conversational cuff at the Bear Mountain Inn. The dewy-eyed secretary in the gymnasium office said you just had to be impressed—"I mean you don't swoon, exactly. But there's something about him. Like Billy Graham. You know, powerful. And clean clear through."
Dietzel's reputation as a winner has had much to do with his acceptance. His LSU teams went to three major bowls in four years and he was 1958 Coach of the Year. Army, by contrast, hadn't beaten Navy (and a lot of other people) in three years under Dale Hall, Blaik's successor.
Hall was fired in December. Dietzel came in January. It was late for a remodeling, but Dietzel is an incredible organizer. The team quickly showed an urgency of mission, a distinctive willingness to hit. From its lungs poured an uncommon sequence of chirps and yells, most of them coming from the Chinese Bandits, a name Dietzel always gives to his third, or defensive-specialist, team. The Bandits are incurably loud people. They are his football philosophy, and though they are out of place in the West Point lexicon they are there to stay. "The Bandits were mine from the time I was at Cincinnati," Dietzel told skeptical Army officers before he signed his contract. "They go where I go."
Dietzel, who once had coached at West Point under Blaik, dealt hard with Army brass to get what he wanted. But he also suffered personally under the controversy that surrounded his leaving LSU. Both sides were severely criticized—Dietzel for abandoning LSU with four years still on his contract, West Point for pirating away another school's head coach.
"My integrity was attacked," says Dietzel, "but the whole story was never told. I was first approached for the job when Colonel Blaik resigned in 1958. My wife and I had long ago decided that West Point was where we would ultimately like to be. It's a wonderful place to raise a family. But I turned the job down. I wasn't about to follow Blaik. Blaik is a legend. It is not healthy to succeed a legend.
"When Dale Hall took the job we kissed it goodby for good—he was young and smart and his future was bright. It was then that I said I'd never leave LSU. I had to eat those words. I'll never get trapped into a statement like that again.