'A LITTLE EXTRA EFFORT'
Biggie Munn is great. Protest as he will, he is convicted by his favorite maxim, a line of his own coinage that is to be found on the walls of his office, at strategic spots around Michigan State University's campus and above the autographs he signs in his book,
Michigan State's Multiple Offense. It pops up in most of the speeches he makes. It is a simple line. "The difference between good and great," it runs, "is just a little extra effort." No one—and certainly not Clarence Lester Munn—can say that in his 40 years as player, coach and athletic director he has failed to make the little (large would be the better word) extra effort.
In the making of the effort down through the years (he is 54 now), Biggie has won for himself almost every honor that can come to a player and coach of collegiate football. As athletic director at Michigan State, he has done a superlative job of providing intramural sports facilities for the more than 25,000 students enrolled at East Lansing. And the best for Biggie may be yet to come. He seems almost certain to be invited to succeed 67-year-old Ike Armstrong as athletic director at the University of Minnesota. Many people say that an offer to return to Minneapolis and to his a'ma mater as top man would represent the realization of what has long been Biggie's secret dream.
One day recently Biggie Munn sat behind his desk in the enormous corner office that goes with his job at East Lansing. He accepted a cup of instant coffee from Dorothy Miller, who has been his secretary for 14 years. He took a sip and leaned across the desk and eyed the pilgrim who had come a thousand miles to see him. "I have not been approached by Minnesota," he said, "and so I see no point in making any comment of any sort. But I will say this. It's been a real pleasure being here at Michigan State while this athletic department has been built to its present level. I feel I'm part of this place. It would take a pretty darn good offer to get me away."
Dorothy Miller set a cup of coffee before the visitor and sat down at a corner of the desk with a cup of her own. She drew the telephone toward her and from time to time responded to the flashing lights with, " Biggie Munn's office. Biggie is tied up right now, but may he call you back?" Occasionally she would tap the keys of a stenotype machine, noting telephone calls or some remarks by Biggie that she considered worth preserving for the record.
The pilgrim squirmed in his chair and tried to hold the clear-eyed gaze of Biggie Munn, remembering another such audience in which another great name in collegiate football, Frank Leahy of Notre Dame, had confided, "I do not trust a man or a lad who cannot look you in the eye." In this case, it was too large an order. The pilgrim's eyes dropped to the monogram on Biggie's shirtfront. It spelled out "Biggie." His eyes moved to the clasp on Biggie's tie. Framed within it were the silver figures of a beaver and an antelope. The figures represented two separate awards to Biggie by the Boy Scouts of America for "distinguished service to boyhood." He has always found time for a wide variety of activities: for civic affairs, for the blood drives, for the Red Cross fund-raising campaigns, for the U.S. Olympic Committee, for the crusade of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Biggie Munn leaned back in his chair, and his sun-tanned face relaxed into the broad smile that is almost always there. He was the picture of rugged good health, all 230 solid pounds of him. (He plays golf three or four times a week, hunts pheasant in season, fishes at his summer camp in Canada, where he has MSU's president, John A. Hannah, as a neighbor.) He glanced around the walls of the great room. They were filled with plaques and citations and photographs of teams he had coached and individual players who had won fame on the football field (and, in many cases, fortune later on) as a result of his tutelage.
"Now," said Biggie, standing up behind his desk, "let's not talk about me. As for what we have been able to accomplish in our intramural program, the construction of three buildings at a cost of $6.6 million, the enlargement of our football stadium to accommodate 76,000 spectators, the building of our 18-hole golf course, the things I have been able to have some part in, shall we say, since I quit as head football coach and took over as athletic director nine years ago—well, that's something else again. I don't think there's a finer intramural sports program in the nation. Every boy and girl who attends Michigan State has an opportunity to experience sports competition. We have 14 varsity sports, and last year more than 17,000 students took part in intramural sports. There's something for everybody. We even have a sports program for the physically handicapped. Our budget for all this is $1,163,000 a year. We have to make most of that out of football, but we also receive a $10 fee from each student for the use of our facilities—the indoor and outdoor pools, the 40 tennis courts, the handball, paddle ball and squash courts, the touch football fields, so on and so forth."
Biggie," said the visitor, "there's another subject I've been intending to bring up. It so happens that on the newsstands right now are several articles denouncing college football. One of the articles says that big-time football should be de-emphasized to the point where all publicity directors would be fired and that the stadium press boxes would be eliminated altogether. Of course, this sort of talk comes up every fall, but it occurs to me that there's no man better qualified to defend college football than Biggie Munn."
Biggie reached down and opened a desk drawer. He pulled out a box of pipes, selected one and then put it down and picked up a package of cigarettes. He glanced at his empty coffee cup and then at Dorothy Miller, who promptly provided refills all around.