Alarmists have hinted that, should Coach Paul Dietzel lose again to Navy, he is through at West Point. If this is true, then the men of Army are throwing up the most effective smoke screen since pre-embarkation days in World War II. After the 28-0 battering by Pittsburgh two weeks ago, the cadet corps turned out almost to a man to welcome the team home. As Dietzel stepped from the bus they burst into cheers, slapped his back and shook his hand. "He may not beat Navy this year," said one wide-eyed cadet, "but next year and years after that Army will be top dog."
There is nothing in Coach Paul Franklin Dietzel's contract that says he must beat Navy, but losing, even with an understanding employer, is a crushing experience. "I cannot accept defeat," he said last week. "Each time it is harder on mc. My saving grace is that I drive myself hardest. I will drive myself to death to succeed."
Success, cither in beating Navy or retrieving Army's lost football prestige, is not as easy as Dietzel had expected it to be when he arrived on the Hudson two years ago. He now admits to having been naive in his outlook. "I confused the situation with what it had been in Coach Earl Blaik's glory days," he says. "I didn't realize how far Navy had widened the gap between the two schools. They have an exceptional program, and they get the good boys and lots of them." Dietzel does not document these program differences. He is, however, emphatic in his intention to wipe them out.
An excellent recruiter, Dietzel has eight or nine exceptional players on his plebe team, and hints that the bumper crop is coming. But not all goes swimmingly. First, there is a growing tendency among student athletes to shun the military life. Then there is the West Point admissions division's preoccupation with eggheads. ("We've gotten so nutty over who has the best German scientists, we or the Russians, that we have gone overboard on the egghead and have forgotten the sound, solid athlete-leader.") Finally, there is the crudest cut of all, the changed substitution rule that deprived Dietzel of his third-platoon Chinese Bandits.
To win against Navy, one rival coach has said, Dietzel will have to accept fully the loss of the Bandits and give up his relentless tactical approach to football, born in the three-platoon era. Army admittedly has suffered severe losses, among them Curt Cook, its best passer, and Tom Smith, its fastest back, and has had to play a patched-up first unit longer than planned. Dietzel, a rival coach says, will have to open up his offense.
Maybe that is just what he will do. Cook was used for the first time against Pittsburgh in what could have been a warmup for Navy. Always charming, even gracious and smiling in defeat, Dietzel says, "No excuses, they were just the better team—today." But do not be fooled. He hates saying the words, particularly about Navy, even more than he loves his Chinese Bandits.