And within days the Atlantic Coast Conference had a second house fight on its hands—the University of Virginia basketball team tried to unload Coach Bill Gibson. "They licked their chops over the Maryland thing and decided it was their turn," said Gene Corrigan, then a member of the Virginia athletic department. "But they were sloppy about it. They tipped their hand."
Gibson wasn't fired; 106 Virginia athletes (none basketball players) petitioned on his behalf and condemned the school paper's sports editors for basing opinions "on hearsay and grumbling heard in the closets of fraternity houses." A rival coach, a witness for the defense, said, "Is Gibson a bad coach? He had the sixth best talent in the league. He finished sixth. His crime may be that he has not been wise in his choice of recruits. He may have given scholarships to boys who can't play in the ACC."
So, for the moment, peace returned to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Why did Oregon State's Great Pumpkin succeed and Maryland's famed No. 28 fail? It is easy to say that the answer rests in the personalities of the men, that one was more able to cope with a difficult situation than the other. Or that one was liked and the other was not. Or that the revolt at Maryland was different from the turmoil at OSU. But none of these things gets to the heart of the matter and none of them is quite true. The cold fact, which Bob Ward knows and Dee Andros knows and every college coach in the country knows, is that Ward was faced with trouble plus two wins and 17 losses, while Andros was faced with trouble plus 26 wins, one tie, 13 losses and the two most exciting upsets of 1967. Andros stayed because his team was a winner. Ward left because his team was a loser.
As far as the coach is concerned, it almost always comes back to winning and losing. Faculties, administrations, students, athletes, they all can criticize, say the coaches, but as long as schools insist winning is necessary, we can't coach to please the pressure groups, we must coach to build the best team we can.
But that is not enough, either, in these extraordinary times and to believe so is to be fooled again and again. It is no longer so simple an equation. Winning might have saved Dee Andros' job, but it didn't save him the torment. Winning didn't help Jim Owens, either, when the lights went out at Washington. It might have saved Owens his job, but only a man of his strength would have wanted it in the end. He emerged a shaken man.
Jim Owens had been the wonder boy of West Coast football. He not only had played under Bud Wilkinson but had six years' exposure to Bear Bryant as Bryant's assistant at Kentucky and Texas A&M, and in short order his Washington teams were beating everybody. Washington went to the RoseBowl in 1959, 1960 and 1964.
Owens began to notice a change in his athletes in 1964 or 1965, but it was not until two years ago that his program went under siege. The BSU, which is strong in Seattle, accused him of running a racist department. His trainer was charged with racist remarks. Owens was told he did not communicate. He was told he had unreasonable regulations.
Owens is a tall, handsome, intelligent man of considerable charm and presence. At 42 he may be a little less taut around the middle and his hair is grayer, but friends say the big difference in the last two years is in his demeanor. He has lost the crisp self-assurance that characterized him. But he is a man of massive will. He could have quit, gone on to greater financial reward in another field. He chose to stay at Washington. "I am," he said, "a man committed to college athletics." He said he hated what had happened, "hated it more than anything, but it led to a hard look at our problems and that was good."
Owens set about putting his house in order. He allowed his trainer to "retire." He hired one of his former players, Carver Gayton, a Negro, to serve as coach and intermediary, and relinquished much of his direct authority over black football players to Gayton. Gayton soon had more to say than any four assistant coaches Bud Wilkinson or Bear Bryant ever had. Gayton spoke of a "relaxing atmosphere," of a softening of Owens' "irrational" old standbys like crew cuts and uniform street dress and the "reaming out" of guys who come late to practice. In the days when he played, said Gayton, " Coach Owens was up on a pedestal. Nowadays there is more effort to relate."