Prothro feels he
probably has picked up some of the Sanders method. Ron Siegrist, his chief
assistant at UCLA, who came with him from Oregon State, describes Prothro as a
kind man but "no palsy-walsy." "He is more the scientist type,"
says Siegrist. "Quiet and retiring. His efficiency amazes you. When we made
the conversion at Oregon State from single wing to T, Tommy talked to T experts
all over the country. By the time our season opened, he knew more about the
technical operation of the T than a lot of guys who had been using it for
On the field his
coaches always address him as "Coach Prothro," and Prothro insists that
his players are not to be on a first-name basis with any of the coaches.
more," says Quarterback Beban, "we are always to respond, 'Yes, sir,'
and, 'No, sir.' Some guys may resent this, but most of us don't, because we
feel Prothro is fair. He demands respect but he gives it, too. He never
degrades a player and almost never raises his voice. And he is honest. He
doesn't build up a poor opponent, as most coaches will. When an opponent is a
stiff, Prothro says so. He is objective, and we trust his evaluations of other
Another member of
the UCLA squad is not so impressed with his coach. "A player is nothing
more than a piece of equipment to be used by Prothro in furthering his
ends," the boy says. "The human quality isn't there. I would call his
efficiency almost ruthless."
takes the position that his players have been disciplined for combat and are
able to talk objectively at all times, rarely closes the dressing room doors
after a game. In retrospect, he probably wishes he had kept reporters away that
day in Memphis when he blasted the South after his 37-34 loss to Tennessee.
When he had simmered down and the cataclysmic effect of his words had dawned on
Prothro, he fired off a letter to four Tennessee papers in which he apologized
to Memphis and the rest of the South. Reflecting on the matter today, he says,
"My feelings on the officiating haven't changed, but my remarks weren't
The 1966 season
was, for the most part, trouble-free for the UCLA coach until the Stanford
game. The Bruins had won seven of their first eight, losing only to Washington
promised us a competitive game," says J. D. Morgan, "and he delivered
one. It was a rainy day, but Jim still permitted a kids'-league game on the
field before the main event. The chopped-up turf didn't figure to help our
seemed well on its way to another Rose Bowl bid if it could beat Stanford and
USC. It handled Stanford easily, but the aftermath was a rumble recalling the
one at Penn State. A photographer for the
Santa Monica Outlook snapped pictures
of three UCLA assistant coaches on the sideline. In one photograph, a coach
held a hand over his eye, another held a hand at his right breast and a third
pressed hands over both breasts. In a second picture one coach had a hand atop
his head, another a hand at his right breast and the third both hands behind
his neck. The third photo was a variation of the first two. Confronted with the
photographs, Prothro observed dryly, "If you take pictures of any coach
during a game, you are apt to find him in unusual positions."
UCLA, 8-1, next
met USC, 7-1, in the game most people felt would decide who went to the Rose
Bowl. X rays disclosed that Beban had broken an ankle against Stanford—meaning
that Prothro would have to face USC with Norm Dow, a substitute quarterback of
scarce experience. "Before the game," confesses Prothro, "I threw
up three times. That never had happened to me before."
Prothro need not
have worried. Dow was surprisingly good, and UCLA, an eight-point underdog,
upset USC 14-7. Most of the country assumed that the Bruins would go to the
Rose Bowl, but conference members picked USC. There was never an explanation
for the vote, although it could be argued that, with a league record of 4-1,
USC was conference champion. UCLA was 3-1. A more likely explanation is that
conference rivals, searching for any excuse to stop Prothro, found one.