Paul Dietzel, young, blond, tall, lithe and supercharged, leaped onto the stage of Thayer Hall at West Point a couple of weeks ago, a microphone looped around his neck, and announced he had a surprise. Head coach at Army since last January and called by some the Mike Todd of college football, Dietzel (see cover) emcees weekly meetings of the Point's Quarterback Club, attended by cadets, officers and friends of Army. Dale Hall, Dietzel's unhappy predecessor (he lost three out of three to Navy), started the club but seldom handled the program; Dietzel, a witty speaker, a chart man, an organizer, an inveterate coiner and borrower of aphorisms and, these days, the busiest man at the Point, delights in leading it. The purpose of the mass get-togethers is to explain game strategy and allow the coach to answer questions. Two panels sit on the stage and read questions. Here and there are signs like "Bean Boston" and "Muzzle the Mutts." For Navy it was "Mothball the Fleet" and "Crumble Crabtown." Under Dietzel, Army is strong on signs, slogans and epigrams. He posts them in the team's locker room and does the artwork himself. Some of his favorite ones are scattered throughout this article.
The surprise was a genuine Republic of China coolie hat. Sixteen hats had been sent to Dietzel from Formosa by Colonel Stuart O'Malley. The imagery was clear and a roar went up. Coolie hats suggest Chinese Bandits; the Chinese Bandits are Dietzel's and now the Point's main trademark.
The Bandits idea—thought up by Dietzel at the University of Cincinnati, popularized by him when he was head coach at LSU and transported by him to the Point—may be the greatest piece of football psychology since Rockne's 1928 plea to the Notre Dame team at half time in the Army game to "win this one for The Gipper." The Bandits are defensive specialists, reveling in their cruel name. While they are not always the best players on the squad, they usually develop into the fiercest.
"The Bandits are getting wilder and wilder," Dietzel murmured after a recent practice, his blue-gray eyes alight with visions of what they might do to Quarterback Roger Staubach and the Navy offense. A few members of the staff had objected to the designation as being undignified, but Dietzel overrode objections. "I could have called them Rough Riders," he says, "but that wouldn't be Paul Dietzel."
The two other Dietzel teams—the 11 best players who play both offense and defense, and the strictly offensive team—are called the Regulars and the Go team. They are more sophisticated. The Bandit uniform has a bandit on the jersey, of course, and a red Chinese bandit with a hatchet stenciled on the socks; the Go team wears rockets on its fronts and a gold stripe around the socks; but the Regulars, presumably the senior citizens of the team, play in dignified plain jerseys (with numbers, of course) and are distinguished from their fellowmen by a black stripe on their socks.
It is the Bandits, naturally, who have captured the wild enthusiasm of the corps (as they captured the enthusiasm of LSU rooters) and who inspired a scary LSU chant that went:
Chinese Bandits on their way,
Listen to what Confucius say!
Chinese Bandits like to knock,
Gonna stop a touchdown, CHOP! CHOP!
Applause welled up from the Quarterback Club audience as Dietzel produced one of the hats from a box and bounded down the aisle with it. He presented it to Colonel Russell (Red) Reeder, assistant director of athletics—"the chief Chinese Bandit," Dietzel called him. Reeder donned the hat, and an alert corps photographer jumped into the aisle and snapped his picture.
Bounding back on the stage, Dietzel cued the Army-George Washington film, spicing explanations of the plays with throwaways like, "I don't know how we kept from scoring on that play, but we did," and, about a reverse that failed, "One of the officers gave me that play." The audience chuckled, Army having won 14-0. The first non-West Point graduate to become head coach since 1911, Dietzel finds that sly pokes at the military go over big. So do references to Navy.
Tongue in cheek, he wondered how poor Jimmy Stewart, the Navy halfback, was. Stewart was the player who feigned injury in the game against Pitt, limped to the sideline, where he was disregarded by Pitt pass defenders, and sprinted downfield to catch a pass that gave Navy its first touchdown—a trick play often used by sandlot teams. Pitt appeared shocked by the duplicity and folded. "Well," summed up Dietzel in a kind of moral tone, "at least that shows what we're up against." The partisan audience was amused.
Beating Navy has never seemed so important to West Point and is the main reason why Dietzel was hired. At LSU, during even his lean years, his teams always managed to beat or at least tie the school's traditional rival, Tulane. Dietzel does not predict a Navy victory. Indeed, in the manner of all coaches, he high-rates his opponent, casting scorn on comparative scores that give the analyst grounds for thinking Army is stronger: Army 9, Syracuse 2; Navy 6, Syracuse 34; Army 9, Penn State 6; Navy 7, Penn State 41.
"We're not a catch-up football team," he says in outlining his strategy against Navy. "We have to play plodding, defensive football because we can't afford to get three touchdowns behind, hoping to explode for five. In football you don't win—you keep from losing." As has been the pattern at West Point in the past few years, Army is suffering grievously from injuries as the Navy game approaches, having lost, among others, its captain and right end, John Ellerson, and Linemen Marty Ryan, Al Scott and Dick (Dusty) Rhodes. A fullback succumbed to bad marks.
Quite reasonably, Dietzel is worried about Navy Halfback Johnny Sai ("a squirting type of runner who seems to float past tacklers"), Quarterback Staubach ("an amazing quarterback for a sophomore—big and runs and passes well. Staubach makes them go") and Fullback Pat Donnelly. He credits Navy with having greater depth than Army ("Three athletes come to Navy for every one that comes to Army—I take my hat off to their recruiting program"), a deathly passing game with Staubach and Ron Klemick throwing ("We've been an easy team to pass against") and a great deal of spirit. "Navy will have lots of momentum going for this game," he says. It will also have actor-player Stewart, who is, despite his lack of height (he is only 5 feet 8 inches tall), the team's best pass catcher.
Army does not have a skittering breakaway runner, though Halfbacks Ken Waldrop and John Seymour are fast and Fullback Ray Paske is sometimes hard to stop on plunges. But Army also has the Bandits, who many people think are a better defensive team than Navy's best; and, a team which depends on kicking as a tactical maneuver, it has one of the country's best punters in Dick Peterson, who kicks for distance or out of bounds with equal facility. "We may rely a lot on Peterson," says Dietzel, pointing out in the next breath that Navy has a good punter, too.
To add to his problems, Dietzel expects a wily trick to come from Navy Coach Wayne Hardin who, besides fooling Pittsburgh with his fake-injury play, fooled Boston College passers a few weeks ago by having his team show up in uniforms almost identical with Boston's, collecting more than enough interceptions to win the game. In last year's game against Army, the Navy halfbacks, fullbacks and ends wore helmets painted with orange fluorescent paint so they would stand out for the Navy passers to spot.
Last week, possibly trying to gain a psychological advantage over tough Southern California, Hardin shocked USC's Coach John McKay by accusing the latter's team of using a number of illegal maneuvers, including one to draw the opponents offside. "I will be very surprised," says Dietzel, "if Wayne does not come up with some gimmick in Philadelphia. Maybe it will be a platoon of Waves parachuting onto the field to disconcert my boys. The only way to handle a psychologizer like Hardin is to expect anything and stay loose." If Dietzel has something up his sleeve to disconcert Navy, it is, naturally, a top military secret.
Dietzel, in fact, is full of gimmicks himself, most of which are calculated to inspire and some of which boost his team's efficiency. At "the proving grounds" (as Dietzel calls the practice field) is a board on which the names of the players are hung in their proper positions on the team they have qualified for. The Bandits' names are on a red background, the Go team's on gold, the Regulars' on black. At games the Bandits sit on a red bench, the Gos on gold and the Regulars on black. The position of each player is indicated on the bench, so that the right guard, say, always sits in the same spot.
Dietzel is the first coach to use a color system for rating his players. Monday morning a Christmasy chart is posted showing players how the coaches rated their performances in the previous game.
When films—on which Dietzel relies even more than most coaches—are shown, members of each team sit in specified locations in the projection room, near the coaches most concerned with their particular platoons. (Dietzel's coaches are called associate rather than assistant coaches.) Between halves of games, rather than give pep talks, Dietzel shows quickly developed still pictures of players' moves (the bad ones, mainly) made during the first half. "A picture is worth 10,000 words," he says pleasantly, quoting a phrase attributed to Confucius. "You can tell a player what he's doing wrong and he may not believe you. Show him a photo and he'll believe you."
Whatever criticism may be leveled against Dietzel—his breaking an earlier Army contract to become head coach at LSU, his breaking an LSU contract to become head coach at Army, his allowing (or so opponents claim) Army cheers at the Point's Michie Stadium to be amplified, demoralizing visiting teams—his teams do seem to have fun playing football. This is partly because of his three-platoon system, which guarantees nearly every player a chance to get into the game; it is partly his outgoing, peppy personality, unusual in a football coach and particularly in an Army football coach; and it is partly his reliance on gimmicks, which former Head Coach Earl (Red) Blaik, an occasional user of them himself, deplores (SI, May 28).
For all his glad-hand and courtly ways, Dietzel is a hard loser, brooding about a lost game for months afterwards. After Michigan beat Army in early October, Dietzel was extremely depressed and refused to read the papers about the game. "It was like having a bright new shiny car and seeing it plunge to destruction into an abyss," he says. Losing to a supposedly weak Oklahoma State 12-7 two weeks ago was even harder to take, but Dietzel blamed himself for not getting his team up and feels Army may be the better for it—come Navy.
Dietzel, who neither smokes nor drinks and is an enthusiastic member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which frowns on smoking and drinking, set up pins in a bowling alley as a youngster for clothes money (his parents were divorced when he was 7), was an assistant butcher while attending college and at one time thought of becoming a doctor. However, after being selected to the Little All-America (he was center on the Miami University, Ohio team and its captain) he was persuaded by his coach, Sid Gillman, to take up coaching football. Dietzel went to West Point as plebe coach in 1948, to the University of Cincinnati in 1949, to the University of Kentucky (under Bear Bryant) in 1951, to West Point a second time in 1953 and to LSU in 1955. "We never thought of Paul as anything but a West Point coach," says Colonel Emory Adams, athletic director at the academy. "It's as though he's finally come home."
It is safe to say that Dietzel, with his effusive personality and sporty pepper-and-salt jackets, has changed the Point more than it has changed him. After the Penn State game—-Army's biggest win of the year—where cadets in the stands wore coolie hats, a cadet captain was heard to remark that the place was getting to be more like a college campus every day. In one game the cadets were even using the phrase "To hell with Tech" as a cheer. Dietzel himself never says anything stronger than dad-burn.
To the end of beating Navy, Dietzel works a 16-hour day, watching films, planning game strategy, overseeing scrimmages in his briskly competent way ("Let's fire up there, Gos!"), urging some of the players to improve their grades, coloring his charts and sketching his signs ("'When the going gets tough, the tough get going" is one of the latest).
Whether his gimmicks—or Wayne Hardin's—are worthwhile or not will not be determined, by Army's stern criterion, until after Army plays Navy. At another recent Quarterback Club meeting Dietzel discussed Army's schedule—which some criticize as being too easy—and concluded with uncharacteristic grimness: "That last game, you understand, is fairly important to me." It sure is.