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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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Among the many targets of campus movers and shakers, the coach is unique. Everybody is gunning for him: students, faculty, administration—even his athletes. At the University of Maryland a losing football team had the coach fired. Among other things, the players accused him of physical abuse. "Don't they know what it takes to win?" the coach said. At Providence College a winning track coach got canned when he confiscated a TV set. He said he wanted the athletes to study. They said they wanted to watch TV. A small Pittsburgh college fired its basketball coach because he "did not listen to his players." A 17-year-old freshman had told him he wouldn't change from a zone to a man-to-man defense.

Spurring the athletes on are the student activists, who regard the coach as a neo-fascistic racist. A student referendum recently killed intercollegiate football at the University of California at San Diego. By 3 to 1, the student body voted to abolish the one-year-old football program. At San Francisco State the Associated Students (who administer the activity fees) allocated $15,339.19 to the Third World Liberation Front, $22,072.59 to the Black Students Union and cut the athletic department's allotment from $48,000 to $0.00. When it was pointed out that the athletic department had certain contractual obligations, it was granted $12,500.

Organizations such as Students for a Democratic Society and the BSU go after the coaches because they make instant headlines. At Oregon State, for example, Football Coach Dee Andros was a better target than James H. Jensen, the college president. Andros' offense was that he had asked Fred Milton, a black linebacker, to shave off a three-week-old beard and mustache. The athletic department's rule was no facial hair. Milton, who, it was rumored, had no intention of playing football that season anyway, refused to shave. Andros kicked him off the team.

The BSU called for a boycott of the Oregon State athletic department and was joined by other BSU chapters, as well as various SDS chapters, in demanding sanctions against Oregon State. When Oregon State's basketball team played Washington State, a Washington State Negro refused to play. The only response by Washington State Coach Marv Harshman was to say he was surprised. When Oregon State played Washington, Washington Coach Tex Winter let Guard Rafael Stone sit out the game, saying he didn't want "undue pressure" on his Negro star. When Oregon State closed out the season with two games at Oregon, all four Oregon blacks sat out.

Working more or less in concert, SDS and BSU have similarly rattled athletic departments up and down the West Coast, putting heat on coaches and athletic directors, forcing the cancellation of games, threatening and coercing uncommitted athletes.

Black athletes have their own problems (SI, The Cruel Deception, July 1, 1968 et seq.), and to these must now be added a new kind of pressure—that of militants demanding that athletes serve as symbols in the black struggle. During a boycott at San Francisco State, football player Tony Williams was told to quit or get shot. Williams quit. Another San Francisco State player carried a gun to practice for three weeks.

Many black athletes read race into almost everything a coach says or does. Often mistaking discipline for discrimination, they have compiled an inventory of incidents that reinforces their belief that a lot of coaches are racists. These blacks challenge rules whenever they are contrary to their emerging cultural pride, especially as they relate to hair, and demand retribution, or more.

Football Coach Ray Nagel of Iowa refused to allow two of his Negro players, one of whom had been arrested on a bad-check charge, to take part in spring practice. The other blacks on the team asked Nagel to apologize for things he had said about the two suspended players, which he did, but the blacks were unappeased. They said Nagel was "not sincere." Because of this and other grievances, 16 Negroes on the squad boycotted the opening of spring practice at Iowa this year.

Nagel, fed up with threats and intimidations (one morning he found two of his tires slashed), said the 16 were off the team—"self-dismissed." Four other black football players didn't boycott. Nagel's black assistant coach, Frank Gilliam, supported his decision. So did his school. But the newly formed National Union of Black Athletes has vowed to continue its "struggle against racist athletic programs," most notably Iowa's.

In many cases, however, coaches have found that the administration is reluctant to support them. "Too many administrators are weak in the face of pressure," says Basketball Coach Jack Gardner of Utah. Alabama's Bear Bryant has always contended that a coach needs an ironclad contract to protect him against his superiors—"so that the president, or whoever is in charge, can't lose his guts when the going gets tough."

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