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Not the least of Washington's athletic harvest was Jim Sutherland, who coached Ronnie Knox at Santa Monica High School. Originally Sutherland had left Santa Monica to go to the University of California with Ronnie in what the cognoscenti call "a package deal." When Ronnie defected to UCLA, Sutherland remained at Berkeley for another year, frequently criticizing Head Coach Lynn Waldorf's methods to the other coaches. When Washington hired him as an assistant for Cherberg last spring, Sutherland was given an enthusiastic farewell by his fellow coaches at Berkeley. For Washington he represented an attraction and a pipeline to top high school players in southern California.
When the Washington varsity lined up against ineffectual little Idaho last September 17 for an easy opener, it was obvious to anyone who knew the ABC's of football in Seattle that this was the make-or break year for Cowboy John Cherberg. For the first time he had real talent on the squad. As the game progressed, Cherberg could hardly believe his eyes. The team fumbled 11 times for a new conference record and barely eked out a 14-7 victory. Not until the coaches had studied the game movies did they discover that the center had been snapping the ball a half-count too soon, and some quick detective work revealed that he had done so on the instructions of Jim Sutherland. "I was just trying an experiment," Sutherland explained.
"I wanted to fire Sutherland immediately," says Cherberg, "but Harvey Cassill advised me to wait."
For a while the Huskies seemed to have regained their poise, rolling over Minnesota 30-0 and upsetting powerful USC 7-0. Then followed two mediocre weeks against Baylor and Stanford and finally defeats by Oregon State and inept California. By this time it was obvious something was wrong. "I find out," says Cherberg, "that Lederman [Quarterback Sandy Lederman, a demoted first-stringer] is trying to persuade the most promising young quarterback on the squad to leave school. I bounced Lederman off the squad. But I wound up taking him back when Torrance played sweet music on my heart strings by telling me that Lederman would lose his sponsor and he'd be evicted from his home. So I took him back, after he apologized to the squad, but he went right on spreading dissension."
Testifying for Cherberg are three expert witnesses who call Sutherland the main cause of the discord. A man with a strong drive to be a winning head coach himself, Sutherland is pictured by these observers as a restless No. 2 man. Some of their observations:
" Sutherland was strictly a rule-or-ruin guy, undermining Cherberg all the time."
"He put the hooks into Cherberg every place he could, particularly with the players."
"As a shill for Torrance, Sutherland was perfect. He would confide to second-and third-string players who weren't seeing much action that if he, Sutherland, were head coach, these second-stringers would be properly recognized and would play a lot of football."
Says Jim Sutherland, who last month finally got his first collegiate head coaching assignment, at Washington State College: "I believe I have been made the fall guy in the thing. Any transgression of mine in this football situation was an unwitting, well-meaning thing. I feel that I have been made a scapegoat for a problem that existed before my arrival."
The first explosion came at the end of the season when a group of Huskies marched in to see Torchy Torrance to complain of Johnny Cherberg's coaching (SI, Dec. 5). Torchy passed them along to the athletic director, Harvey Cassill, who passed the complaint to the board of regents, who finally decided to rehire Cherberg with the injunction to "straighten out his differences with his players." Anyone who knew Seattle and Washington football could have told you then that Cowboy Johnny was through. He patched up a peace with most of his players, but he was still out of grace with Cassill and Torrance. What he could not patch up was his 5-4-1 record for 1955.