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The Desperate coach
John Underwood
August 25, 1969
Is the coach, as a psychiatrist has said, "the remaining stronghold of the archaic family structure" or is he, as one describes himself, "the last chance for the preservation of dignity on campus"? In a three-part series, of which this is the first part, the coaches—bewildered, angry and disillusioned, no longer certain of their mission or, in some cases, of their relevancy—wonder if they can relinquish authority and still win
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August 25, 1969

The Desperate Coach

Is the coach, as a psychiatrist has said, "the remaining stronghold of the archaic family structure" or is he, as one describes himself, "the last chance for the preservation of dignity on campus"? In a three-part series, of which this is the first part, the coaches—bewildered, angry and disillusioned, no longer certain of their mission or, in some cases, of their relevancy—wonder if they can relinquish authority and still win

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The house fell on Coach Nichols. The BSU called for his dismissal and, while it was at it, asked the same of Football Coach and Athletic Director Frank Lauterbur and (please don't smile) Sports Information Director Max Gerber. Miller filed a suit with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission charging that his suspension violated the Public Accommodations Act. The commission ruled that the act did not apply to a basketball team and denied the suit, which was then dropped.

The questions to be answered were these: Does a coach have the right to order an athlete to attend class? Does a coach have the right to suspend an athlete who is on scholarship? Can a coach discipline disobedient athletes? Negro leaders on the Toledo campus said no to all three. When Toledo played Villanova, two of Toledo's black players refused to play. They were, however, back in uniform the next night—without punishment.

The 10-man Athletic Board of Control, a faculty-administration group, backed Nichols, if only faintheartedly. It said, in essence, it was really none of the coach's business if an athlete didn't attend class. But Lauterbur, a popular man around town ( Toledo's football team was considered better than Ohio State's in 1967), laid it on the line. If Nichols were not supported in this, he, Lauterbur, would resign. "A lot of kids were shocked," Lauterbur said later. "They didn't think an adult would stand up and risk his all for a principle."

Toledo President Dr. William S. Carlson, after meeting with student leaders, chose to back Coach Nichols. Miller was never reinstated. Although he had complained that the decision cost him a professional career, he was drafted by Phoenix.

As a result of having their authority challenged, coaches have become reluctant to act, to step into situations they once handled with the backs of their hands. Several Minnesota black football players participated in a protest that resulted in $5,352 worth of damage to Morrill Hall, an administration building. Coach Murray Warmath said it was a "protest against the administration" and therefore out of his jurisdiction.

Frank Arnold, the freshman basketball coach at Oregon, ordered two of his players to trim their hair. They refused. The school president said Arnold was in the wrong. Arnold, chastened, acknowledged his error and rescinded the order. At Portland State the track coach told a freshman long jumper not to come to practice until he got a haircut. The student paper blasted the coach. The coach changed his mind.

When a University of Washington freshman basketball star, Paul Tillman, a Negro, was badly mauled by a black Oregon player and a group of Washington blacks outside the gymnasium at halftime of a varsity game in Seattle last winter, no disciplinary action was taken by either coach or either school. The issue there was race—Tillman had come to the defense of a white teammate over a roughing incident during the freshman game and had challenged the Oregon player.

Not only are many coaches reluctant to act in their accustomed manner, some are reluctant even to talk about acting. "Holy mackerel," said one coach at a Midwestern school. "No, sir, you don't get me opening my yap on any of this stuff. I can see it now. The day after SPORTS ILLUSTRATED hits the stands, the SDS, the Afro-American Students Association and every other dissident group on this campus will be picketing my office. I don't think anyone in his right mind in athletics ought to do any commenting on the subject. Why don't you guys let things cool off for awhile?"

"No comment," said one prominent Southwest Conference football coach, adding, however, that almost every coach blames "outside factors," but that he himself didn't know how to solve the new problems. "Nobody does. The smartest minds in the world haven't come up with solutions. Any coach who thinks he has the answer is a damn fool."

Coaches who have not had serious difficulties hold their tongues lest they bring them on. "Man, when a boy's not giving you any trouble, you don't rattle the chain," says another Southwest Conference football coach. Others adopt a coolly detached pose. Cornell Basketball Coach Jerry Lace says, "I feel that what the student's activity might be off the basketball floor is his business, and right now I won't interfere." Lace says he thinks "the current problems will take care of themselves." He says it, he may even believe it, but he would never get Mel Cratsley or Ray Hanlon to agree.

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