The soliciting of more menacing types was left to Bill Miller, a former high school assistant coach who presided over Stangeland's offensive line. A loyalist, Miller's oft-repeated credo was, "I'd do anything for The Man." The best thing he did for Stangeland the first season was corral Leon Burns, a 230-pound running back from Oakland. "I sold Leon one bill of goods," says Miller, "that we would 'be using the I formation at Long Beach and he would be the big shot. He bought it."
A weight lifter, Burns gained a degree of notoriety when he grabbed a handy fullback and effortlessly cleaned and jerked him for the benefit of photographers. He earned more lasting fame in 1969, Stangeland's first season, when he led the NCAA college division in rushing with 1,659 yards and in touchdowns with 27 to pace Long Beach to an 8-3 record.
With Burns playing hurt the following year, a 9.4 sprinter from Des Moines named Jim Kirby took up the slack by scoring seven touchdowns from 25 or more yards out. His longest gainer was a flashing 82-yard run that helped Long Beach State break San Diego State's 31-game unbeaten streak and clinch the PCAA title for the 49ers.
So Athletic Director Fred Miller got his winners—seven conference champions in 11 sports in 1971, to be exact. But fan support was so minimal that he occasionally took to padding attendance figures. Looking to upgrade the basketball schedule without depleting the budget, Miller tried to intercept class teams traveling to the Los Angeles area. If UCLA, for instance, guaranteed a team $5,000, he would offer $1,500, "since you're going to be in the neighborhood anyway."
Miller says that, as a recruiting tool, "Stangeland wanted to schedule some blue-chip opponents to impress blue-chip prospects. So we signed a no-option contract for an away game at Ole Miss. We agreed to $25,000 and no percentage of the gate, and Ole Miss gladly kept the rest, about $175,000." If the deal was profitable for Ole Miss, it was prestigious for the 49ers, even though they lost 29-13. "That's called new math," says Miller.
To get coverage of 49er games on a local country-music station, Miller had to sell advertising time himself. A chef who had some experience slaving over a hot mike was hired to do the play-by-play for $50 a game. To shave costs further, Miller sat in as color man on the program. Chef-Commentator: "What's your analysis of that last scoring play, Fred?" Fred: " Yahoo!"
At Miller's urging, local merchants helped out. Place mats at Phillips' Original Chicken Pie restaurants carried 49er schedules; game tickets, according to the plug on the back, were printed compliments of the Dilday Family Funeral Home. But lots of little things seemed to go wrong. To hype the gate for the big intrasquad game one spring, Jumping Joe Gerlach agreed to do his "death-defying leap from a hot-air balloon into a sponge." After the game, when Jumping Joe dropped 40 feet onto a portable bed, he flopped in more ways than one. There were only 400 spectators in the stands. When arrangements were made to have the football team burst through a paper hoop and come charging onto the field, the 49er captain got through the hoop all right, but then crashed into a bench someone had forgotten to remove.
Most distressing was the fact that the pep rallies looked like they were catered by the Dilday Family. "We'd sit out there in the quadrangle," says Miller, "band, players, coaches, cheerleaders, and we came very close to outnumbering the students. We finally stopped holding rallies because it got too embarrassing."
Seasonal gate receipts were no more encouraging. In 1971 average attendance for home football games was 5,400, for basketball 3,600. Also, by then Stephen Horn, at best only a casual sports fan, was in his second year as president. Assistant to the Secretary of Labor during the Eisenhower Administration, former dean of graduate studies at American University in Washington, D.C., vice-chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a crack administrator and a man said to have political ambitions, Horn was not interested in building any cockamamy domed stadium. He wanted to score a big gain for social awareness by erecting a day-care center.
Still convinced that "if we were going to build a winning program at Long Beach State we needed something unique like a domed stadium," Miller recalls, "the time came to again ask myself: Will Long Beach support a winner? The answer was no—at least not right away." Miller left for Arizona State in April 1971.