If the material seems only average, however, Schwartzwalder and the veteran staff he has had around him now for more than 10 years bring out whatever talent there is by skillful coaching and a shocking amount of physical labor. "We make up for inferior numbers and sometimes inferior material," he says, "by conditioning. We believe in hard work."
Ben Schwartzwalder (only his mother calls him Floyd) is one of the nation's finest coaches, and in a part of the country which has never produced great teams he has done a remarkable job. He came out of the University of West Virginia, where he played center at 152 pounds for Greasy Neale, to coach winning high school football teams at places like Sisterville and Parkersburg, W. Va. and Canton, Ohio. During World War II he jumped into Normandy with the 82nd Airborne and again across the Rhine. He was hit in the hand by shellfire and returned home with a handful of decorations, including a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. "I always told myself," he says, "that if those guys would just quit shooting at old Ben I'd never be scared of taking a football team onto a field again."
At Muhlenberg he coached with such success that he had to leave; the administration was unhappy that some of Muhlenberg's oldest opponents were threatening to quit playing Ben's teams. Syracuse, which wanted to scare somebody for a change, was happy to get him.
Some of the tactics and techniques Schwartzwalder has devised—and which have sometimes been credited elsewhere—are now copied across the country: a system of punt protection, drills involving a large blocking machine, jump switching in the line on defense. Perhaps Schwartzwalder even invented the wing T with the unbalanced line; at least, he discovered it for himself 12 years ago and has been using it ever since. "Like Topsy," he says, "it just growed."
He is a short man of 50 years with light blue eyes, close-cropped gray hair and a strong jaw. Wearing glasses and smoking his pipe, he looks more like a Dutch banker than anything else. The veterans of his coaching staff—like Bill Bell, who played under Ben both in high school and at Muhlenberg, and Ted Dailey, who once broke Ben's leg playing against him in a Pittsburgh-West Virginia game, and Rocky Pirro, once a pro with the Steelers and Buffalo Bills—insist that Schwartzwalder has mellowed with age. Yet he is still a fighter, a tough coach, and he works his boys hard. Only a brand of folksy humor helps smooth the rough edge.
"On the field," he says, "horse play is out of order. Oh, maybe on Thursday before a game, we let up a little and let the kids laugh. I guess you could call Thursday levity day. But you've got to be serious because these boys are serious. You don't kid college football players any more.
"Knute Rockne was the greatest coach that ever lived, but if he tried to fight-talk a team today they would laugh him out of the dressing room. I can remember when Greasy Neale told us three Saturdays in a row that his poor sick old mother was in the stands and that a West Virginia victory might make her well. It worked twice, when we were playing in Morgantown, and I guess it would have worked again if we hadn't gone to Milwaukee to play Marquette. Good Lord, someone finally said, if the old gal's that sick what's she doing way out here in Milwaukee? Greasy never tried that again. He did threaten to jump off a bridge a couple of times, though. Now, I wouldn't want to suggest that myself, not today. The kids might be all for it. You don't fool them any more."
Whether Ben Schwartzwalder has fooled his Syracuse ball club into thinking it is one of the best in the country, or whether he has worked them so hard that they are one of the best, or whether, like Topsy, they just growed that way, no one really knows. Just how good they are, no one knows yet, either. However, five teams—Kansas, Maryland, Navy, Holy Cross and West Virginia—will be glad to testify in the Orange behalf. The Syracuse football team looked pretty good to them.