There are approximately 500 small colleges in the United States that will field football teams this year. It is no more possible to generalize about these schools than it is to compare, say, the American history department at the University of Texas with the physical education course offered at Springfield College in Massachusetts. Some of the schools aren't even small. The standards at one or two are as high as those in the Ivy League. Graduates of others would have a hard time passing at a good city high school.
No more is it possible to generalize about the football they play. A majority of the small colleges would be humiliated by their big neighbors. But a few—Southern Illinois, Fresno State, Florida A&M, among others—would do better than the legendary hero of all small colleges, Centre, which defeated mighty Harvard in 1921, 6-0.
In this age of standardization, however, it is possible to generalize about the majority of small-college coaches. Usually easier going than their major college compatriots, they nevertheless employ the same systems and methods, they say the same things, have the same mores and accept defeat as gracefully as a child does a dose of castor oil.
To be sure, these are not the ways of Dr. Norris Patterson (above), the enormously successful head coach at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., 15 miles northeast of Kansas City. But then conformity never was. For instance: Patterson worries during the summer as much about how to make football more fun for his players as he does about recruiting. This year he is thinking of changing his offense to the split T because everybody else is giving it up. He believes that watching film is virtually useless in sizing up promising high school players. He would prefer not to give NCAA-type full athletic scholarships, even if he had them to give. He refuses to use weight and isometric conditioning programs and would quit coaching if he had to use them.
What has this oddball approach to coaching meant to Jewell since Patterson arrived there 12 years ago? Wins—87 of them, to be exact—against 23 losses and seven ties. Under Patterson, Jewell has won three Missouri College Athletic Union championships, shared three and been runner-up three times.
Patterson earned a doctorate in education at Columbia in 1958. Behind every one of his seeming idiosyncrasies lies a well-reasoned argument. Of his permissive practices, for instance, he says: "It doesn't follow that the grimmest-looking football squad is going to be the most successful. I've been to pro camps and you'd be surprised how much fun they have.
"Football coaches, in fact, are finally getting educated. They have more knowledge of science and of the physiology of the human body. As a result we don't have as many stale players as we once did. I try to make a game out of work. I let my linemen play soccer and have them play touch football during the season.
"The trouble with football is that we coaches are losing our creative abilities. Everybody uses the same terms and has the same drills. My older brother Cecil, who is one of the most successful high school coaches anywhere [at Kansas City], won't read a book on football. He does his own thinking and creating."
Patterson is one of a splendid minority of fine football coaches in small colleges today. Some others: Carnie Smith at nearby Pittsburg ( Kansas) State College, Edgar Sherman at Muskingum in New Concord, Ohio (102 wins, 34 losses and seven ties in 17 years), John Potsklan at Albright in Reading, Pa. (23 wins, three losses and a tie in the last three years) and Paul Durham at Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., 40 miles southwest of Portland. Smith at Pittsburg has won two NAIA championship bowl games. No other small-college coach in the country can make that statement. In his 13 years at Pittsburg, Smith has won 91 games, lost 33 and tied five. Currently Pittsburg is on a 15-game winning streak.
Like most other successful small-college coaches, Smith recruits football players, but almost entirely in his own area. Like others, too, he can't offer much in the way of scholarships and relies mostly on graduates and friends to direct promising boys his way. The best, of course, go to the big schools, but Smith gets the next best, some of whom eventually far outshine the most sought-after prospects.