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John Cherberg's philosophy: "Boys actually going to school and maintaining required proficiency in their studies and playing football should not have to work during the college year. Meeting all college scholastic standards, boys with strong backs and quick legs are entitled to use them to get an education. They should be in college for that purpose. Football requires a great deal of a boy's time, and he should be able to devote the hours he must spend on his on-campus job to his studies. This is true for all university students interested in any comparably demanding extracurricular activities."
There was a time when the purple-and-gold uniforms of the Huskies were an ominous sight on Pacific Coast gridirons. During the days of old Gil Dobie (1908-16), when most of the California colleges were playing Rugby, Washington never lost a football game. After World War I, Enoch Bagshaw, a rugged homegrown coach, built a formidable series of teams out of the big youths from his native lumber country. Players like George Wilson and the fabled Tesreau brothers (Elmer and Louis') led Washington into the Rose Bowl after the 1923 and 1925 seasons, the golden era of West Coast football. Like Wilson, Washington backs seemed to prefer to run over rather than around anyone brave enough to get in their way. They were then truly the Huskies of football, woodsmen with Bunyanesque reputations for size and durability.
It was symbolic of Washington football that home towners considered it sissy stuff when the college put turf on the home stadium after the arrival of Coach Jimmy Phelan in 1930; the hides of the home players were so tough they weren't bothered by the sand-and-gravel surface that had sent visiting teams away whining in pain. With the advent of grass there was a long dry spell in Husky football, punctuated by only one Rose Bowl visit—in 1937, when Pitt walloped them 21-0. Not until Hugh McElhenny and Don Heinrich, later to star as pros, brightened up the team in the early 1950s did Husky rooters have anything to sing about, and their cheers were brief. The simple fact was that all the best Western football talent was coming from southern California, where McElhenny was discovered, and Washington wasn't getting its share.
Cowboy John Cherberg stepped into this football void in 1953 with a huge local reputation. From 1930-32 he had been a Husky backfield star, winner in his senior year of the Flaherty Medal as the "most inspirational player." As a high school coach in Seattle, he stepped out and won three championships. Later, as the Husky freshman coach for five years, he won 22 out of 23. When Coach Howard Odell went down the chute after a 7-won 3-lost season, the cry for Cherberg was too loud to be denied. Torchy Torrance and Athletic Director Harvey Cassill and at least one member of the board of regents would have preferred Backfield Coach Skip Stahley (now at Idaho), but the alumni would not be denied. Cherberg was hired.
Cowboy John is a man who inspires fierce loyalty among his friends. Nonetheless, even by his own appraisal, he is not always an easy man to be with. "I've been told I'm sarcastic, and I admit it," he said recently. "I bore down on the kids during the week so they'd be prepared for the pressure on Saturday. I goaded the kids and I needled them and I demanded discipline. I wanted Saturday to seem like a breeze to them.
"Let's not kid each other, there's not enough discipline anywhere today for modern kids. I think football is the last frontier of discipline."
Like any coach, Cowboy John had his share—perhaps more—of bad luck in his first two years; there were injuries to key players at the worst time, there were vital plays called back for penalties. Yet his real problem was that of most losing coaches—lack of good manpower—and he won only five of his first 20 games. Once, on a trip to Los Angeles to play USC, the Cowboy was visited at a practice session by Jimmy Phelan, his old Husky coach, then in retirement. Phelan watched a while, then said: "Johnny, you better get some ballplayers. You haven't got a guy on that field who is worth a newspaper photographer's time."
This was no news to Cherberg, or to Torrance or any of the other Husky boosters, of whom even faraway southern California has its share. The most active of them in that area—a clique that revolves around Los Angeles—soon stole some of the cream of the California junior colleges right out from under the noses of such football powers as USC and UCLA.
Among the most notable: Quarterback Al Ferguson, Halfback Credell (Incredible) Green, Fullback Jim Harryman, Tackle Pat Murphy, End Fred Snyder, Center Benny Hammond.
It was quite a haul, but as Harvey Knox, the ever-watchful father of UCLA's Ronnie and a man who knows the inside-outs of football economics, observed about Washington: "When they want a man, they get him. They dig."