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Just before I left Baton Rouge I felt that a parting statement was necessary. I wrote an open letter to the people of Louisiana and asked Ace Higgins, the LSU sports publicity director, to put it in the paper for me. He and Jim Corbett thought there had been too much fuss already and they decided not to release it. The decision hurt me deeply. In it I had explained how I had been released from my contract, and thanked the people of Louisiana for the warm way they had accepted me and my family. I also highly recommended to Jim Corbett that Charlie McClendon be given the coaching job at LSU.
These are the actual circumstances under which I left LSU. They have never before been made public.
The first six months at West Point, things couldn't have been any nicer. The red carpet was out all over the place, the corps was screamingly wild and everything was superduper, colossal, great! Then SPORTS ILLUSTRATED did a story about me and the caption under a picture of me with General Omar Bradley and General Westmoreland said, DIETZEL CHARMS THE BRASS. From that moment on, things changed markedly. Of course, one thing I had never realized was how much the situation at West Point had changed since 1955, too. There were two things that I felt were the hardest blows at the academy. First, the number of years a boy has to serve after graduation had been raised to five. Second, the pros were throwing around so much money that blue-chip athletes were forced to think about that first.
Nevertheless, my years at Army were enjoyable. I am very much in favor of the mission of the academy to provide trained and dedicated military leaders for careers as officers in the Army. But there's no way to figure how that has anything to do with big-time football. Last year, during the season, it became obvious to me that the lack of depth really was catching up. We had the first good freshman team since our staff took over, and there were possibilities for the future. But during the season I and the whole coaching staff became very discouraged. It didn't look like we were gaining enough ground.
This spring, we had another superintendent, General Donald Bennett—the third in my four years at West Point. When he took over, I prepared a "white paper." I spent a month working on it, explaining how, in my opinion, Army athletics could be improved. And I really did not feel that anything I suggested would in any way detract from the moral fiber, the academic standards or the mission of the academy. I got an appointment with General Bennett, and I went over the paper with him for three hours, then I sat and waited for about a month. The longer I waited, the more I realized they just weren't interested.
Then I got a call from an official representative of the University of South Carolina. His first words were, "Before you say 'no,' let me tell you what our problems are." And so I listened. Then I said, "Before we say any more, you've got to contact my superintendent."
He did, and General Bennett wired back immediately: BY ALL MEANS, I WANT YOU TO TALK TO PAUL DIETZEL.
I went to see the Supe. He showed me the wire and said, "What about this?"
"Well, General," I replied, "I don't really know what to do."
Then General Bennett said, "Well, Paul, it would work a hardship on us, but I want you to know that you must think about what is best for Anne, the children and you. Now, Paul, I can't really say whether you're a good football coach or not and I don't know whether you're good for the corps or not. When I talk with Army people they are almost evenly divided about Paul Dietzel. I would strongly recommend that you talk with the South Carolina people and listen very seriously to what they have to say. And you know, Paul, I've always used this credo. If I didn't think that I could add something to a place, I would leave."