The thundercoming out of the West these recent weeks is not the hoof beats of The GreatHorse Silver, nor does it have any connection with The Great Coast Storm.Rather it is the sharp running of college football teams as they batter, blockand tackle opponents from other parts of the country with vengeful fury. Aftersome years of getting slapped about by intersectional rivals, most notably theBig Ten, the West Coast is fighting back. Its list of successes this youngseason is impressive. Stanford has a win over Michigan State. Washington hasbeaten Illinois and tied Purdue, a result the outplayed Boilermakers were eagerto settle for. Southern California (USC) whipped Duke and SMU, then shut outIowa at Iowa, the first time that's been done since 1952. But the game thattruly revealed the present stature of West Coast football was UCLA's stunning9-7 upset over first-ranked Ohio State a fortnight ago. When the list of thenation's top teams appeared a few days later, three Coast teams—Washington, USCand UCLA—were included in the first eight. Never before had three West Coastteams been ranked so high.
Nor is the newpower of the West Coast confined strictly to the ranked teams. Oregon, OregonState and Washington State have admirable wins over Utah, Iowa State andWyoming. Even in defeat Coast teams have looked impressive. California, theweakest link in the Coast chain, gave stiff fights to Missouri, Pitt and, thisweek, Duke before losing. Oregon, which had Texas shaking its head for threequarters before the Webfoots finally gave in 25-13, all but left Rice for deadSaturday night as a dozen fast backs tore off 345 yards on their way to alopsided 31-12 win that was easier even than the score indicated.
Of the threetop-ranked teams on the Coast, Washington would appear to be the strongest andhave the best chance of going to the Rose Bowl. The Huskies are so quick andtough they demoralize the opposition. The line averages only 208 pounds, but itis led by 235-pound Ray Mansfield who fights like a wounded grizzly bear. Thereare half a dozen shifty backs on the team, the neatest of whom is CharlieMitchell. But good as Washington is, it is hard to imagine the team finishingthe season undefeated, for there are too many good teams on the Coast. OregonState, for instance, with the remarkable Terry Baker at quarterback, almostupset Washington last week. A touchdown run by Mitchell with less than threeminutes to play saved the game 14-13. Both USC and UCLA, with their stoutdefenses, will be hard to get past. USC appears to have the better offense,with two fine quarterbacks in Pete Beathard and Bill Nelson, but UCLA cancounter with Kermit Alexander, the best all-round back in the West. EvenOregon, paced by the fast and rugged Mel Renfro, showed in its performancesagainst Rice and Texas that it is capable of giving Washington a scare. Thereare, in fact, no soft touches on the West Coast.
The rise of theWest Coast as a football power can be accounted for in a number of ways—nonemore important than the influence of Jim Owens, the 35-year-old coach of theWashington Huskies. It is Owens who shapes the football thinking on the WestCoast. He favors rangy, fast linemen, and now there are rangy, fast linemenfrom Washington State to USC. He stresses conditioning, and the others havefollowed suit. UCLA had Ohio State's tongue hanging out in the fourth quarter,a rare trick.
"Everyone onthe Coast looks up to Washington and Owens," says Marshall Shirk, a 1961all-conference tackle at UCLA. "The other schools try to copy the thingsWashington does."
Owens is notparticularly surprised by the West Coast successes this season, regarding themsimply as the natural result of long hours and sweat.
"We're doingthe same things at Washington we've done for years," he says. "We'veusually had a good record here, but there have always been a couple of weakteams. Now all the teams are tough. I suppose it's conference pride more thananything else."
Owens came toWashington in 1957 at a time when there was no conference pride and, for thatmatter, practically no conference at all. The old PCC was disintegrating in anearthquake of bitterness, mistrust and vindictiveness involving undercoverpayments to athletes by groups such as the Young Men's Club of Westwood Villageand the Greater Washington Advertising Fund. Washington, UCLA and USC had allbeen fined and banned, thus preventing them from winning conferencechampionships for periods up to three years. The ban, of course, meant no RoseBowl participation and that, in turn, made the recruiting of players by thoseschools next to impossible. It was during these dark hours that Jim Owensarrived.
Owens had playedat Oklahoma under Bud Wilkinson and had coached at Kentucky and Texas A&Munder Bear Bryant and so he brought with him a singular devotion to hard work,although his methods were hardly as severe as those of a more recent Bryantaide, Kentucky's Charlie Bradshaw (SI, Oct. 6). His players learned to runthrough their drills with full-speed vigor, often practicing harder and withless mercy than they showed in actual games. Washington, they say on the Coast,never hits as viciously as it does in practice, and that is true.
Owens' first twoseasons at Washington were disappointing, but in 1959 the team won 10 and lostonly one, capped by an eye-opening 44-8 victory over Wisconsin in the RoseBowl. The following year Washington was again 10-1 and again it whipped the BigTen—Minnesota—in the Rose Bowl. Jim Owens had given the West Coast two straightvictories over the Big Ten but, more important, he had restored its pride.
From the rubbleof the late Pacific Coast Conference had sprung a new conference of fiveschools—USC, UCLA, California, Washington and Stanford—with the cumbersometitle of Athletic Association of Western Universities. This year the conferenceexpanded to include Washington State, and there is an excellent chance thatboth Oregon and Oregon State will soon join.
Owens' successstirred the new AAWU to meet the competition at Washington. Young coaches werehired: John McKay at USC and Marv Levy at California. They brought young ideaswith them. (A Phi Beta Kappa at Coe, Levy got his master's degree in history atHarvard.) They filmed practice sessions to help diagnose weaknesses and theyintroduced novelties in coaching techniques that have sharpened offensive anddefensive stratagems. For example, Levy has a clock scrimmage where one unit isgiven the ball on the 40-yard line with two minutes to play and the score 13-7against them. "This hones a team's ability to determine an attack to fit agiven and often desperate game situation," says Levy. At USC, John McKaysometimes starts his game units off near the goal line and orders them to passor run for a touchdown, using anywhere from 14 to 18 men on defense to makethings rougher.
Young andimaginative coaches are only part of the reason for the West's success thisseason. There are, after all, young coaches with imagination in everyconference in the country. UCLA's coach, Billy Barnes, thinks the populationgrowth in California is largely responsible. "There are simply more people,more students than ever before," he says. "With all these students youare bound to find more and better football players or tuba players or anythingelse you care to select." There are now 791 high schools in Californiaplaying football, 149 more than 10 years ago.
All of thecoaches in the AAWU agree that the quality of high school coaching has improvedtremendously in recent years.
"There ismore stress placed on making the boy understand the theories of football,"says Barnes. "For instance, why you execute a block a certain way ratherthan just teaching the boy by rote."
With the increasein potential college students in the West Coast area has come a natural rise inacademic standards in all six AAWU schools. Coaches have concentrated ongetting brighter, more adaptable youngsters and, to a large degree, they havediscovered with pleasant shock that they've gotten better football players,too. As a result, the unending worry of keeping subacademic types in school hasdissipated.
There has alsobeen a sharp increase in junior colleges in California, from 42 to 59 in 10years. The junior college system up and down the Coast has done much to providethe larger schools with better-grade football players. A system almostrestricted to the West, the two-year junior college permits a player who issubstandard academically to repair his report card while he is polishing hisfootball skills. In Washington, where the instate entrance grade point is lowerthan that for out-of-state students, the junior colleges permit a student toestablish residence and thus qualify under the instate requirement.
Junior collegeplayers have only two years of eligibility left when they transfer, but theirlevel of play has become so advanced in recent years they have little troubleadjusting to major-college football. "A few years ago," says Mel Hein,the old pro center, now an assistant at USC, "none of us expected much helpfrom a jaycee boy before the end of the year but more likely not until thesecond. Not anymore. Right now we have the finest set of linebackers we've everhad and all three played junior college football last year."
In spite of thewealth of football talent on the Coast, AAWU coaches recruit more vigorouslyand in wider range than ever before. "I think Owens' success in the RoseBowl gave all coaching staffs the incentive to go out and come up with thegoods," says George Dickerson, former UCLA coach. When Marv Levy arrived atCalifornia, he and Athletic Director Pete Newell worked night and day onrecruitment. Newell was astonished when he talked to several prominent athletesfrom other schools who said they might have attended California except that noone had approached them. Consequently, Levy has burned three sets of tires offathletic department automobiles in the last two years making runs into thehinterlands. California's recruitment program has awakened other schools. LenCasanova, coach of Oregon, praised the Levy-Newell combination this summer."Too often when we meet a good prospect," he said, "we learn thatCalifornia has already talked to him."
Stanford, whichlikes to think of itself as the Harvard of the West, has also accelerated itsrecruiting program. "We're going farther afield," says Chuck Taylor,the athletic director. "We work harder on the Rocky Mountain area [probablybecause of Coach Jack Curtice, who came directly from Utah], in Texas and inthe Northwest." The Stanford roster shows that 27 of the 55 listed playersare from out of state, and that 18 are from southern California.
Since the arrivalof Jim Owens at Washington, West Coast football teams have put great emphasison speed. Coaches are always on the prowl for linemen who can cover five yardsin nothing flat. "I don't think the West Coast compares physically with theBig Ten," says Don Clark, former USC coach. "They can still outmuscleus, but our quickness makes up the difference." At Washington the Huskiesgo through their exercises with the precision of the Radio City Rockettes,responding to the hoarse barks of the quarterbacks who stand at the rear. Inthis manner they become accustomed to the voice of the signal-caller and reactinstantaneously to the precise signal on which they are to move. It is theinitial thrust, Owens feels, that can overpower a beefier opponent.
Basically,however, the West Coast style of play is to stress defense. "I know we'replaying a lot better defense," John McKay says. "And when I say 'we,' Imean all the Coast schools. UCLA certainly showed that on those goal-linestands against Ohio State. I feel our defense against Iowa forced them into agood many errors. You've got to be stubborn to win against cop competition andthat stubbornness should begin on defense."
A West Coastoffense is generally a balanced attack. Owens, unless he has an outstandingquarterback such as Bob Schloredt, never uses the forward pass except as anintegrated weapon in a comprehensive attack. Most AAWU coaches agree withOwens. Even Jim Sutherland, the soft-spoken Washington State coach, announcedrecently that he was abandoning his emphasis on the forward pass, despitehaving a record-setting end in Hugh Campbell.
"How manypassing teams are winning?" he asked. "To be effective you must have65% completions and there isn't a college passer who can do this."
Sutherland has ayoung team and next year Washington State may be the big power on the WestCoast. California, too, has a coming team, loaded with sophomores and juniors.And, of course, there will be UCLA, USC and Washington. One thing is certain.With all the coaches intent on building dynasties, West Coast football seemsheaded for its strongest era. The big crowds that have deserted the stadiums infavor of baseball and pro football will return. When they do, they will bewatching what may be the best football in the country.