Bowling Green, Ohio is the kind of inconspicuous midwestern town where a man, if he spent a lifetime at it, could make a name for himself that would not exceed the city limits. Peaceful, pleasant, humdrum Bowling Green never meant harm to anybody and never had any done it. Even the things that might have brought it attention always happened someplace else. The name itself happened someplace else. The most persuasive of the city fathers of 1833 was a man who thought Bowling Green, Ky., his home town, was worth repeating. Consequently, Bowling Green, Ky. (pop. 23,338) is the metropolis that Bowling Green, Ohio (pop. 13,574) most often gets mistaken for. The wife of the assistant dean of the business school at Bowling Green State University was in the national headlines in 1934 when she was held at gunpoint by John Dillinger on the running board of a getaway car after an $18,000 bank holdup, but—bad luck—the big event happened 25 miles away in Fostoria.
Actress Eva Marie Saint went to school in Bowling Green but has not talked it around. The mayor of Bowling Green, native son Gus Skibbie, a bright, bright-eyed, gum-ball-jowled little man who doubles as high school history teacher and has been known to make a historical chip shot or two to win $2 Nassaus from pigeons at the Bowling Green Country Club, achieved a measure of notoriety in 1961. Officiating in a football game between Syracuse and Notre Dame, Gus called a roughing-the-kicker penalty that gave Notre Dame a chance to kick a field goal after the game was over. Notre Dame did, and won. Syracuse boiled. Its fans petitioned for a Notre Dame forfeit or for Gus Skibbie's pink-and-white scalp. Gus Skibbie happily carried on the argument—and carries it on convincingly to this day—in the sanctuary of the mayor's office across the street from Bowling Green High. He is safe in Bowling Green because the game was not played there. It was played in South Bend, Ind.
There usually are exceptions to sweeping generalities, of course, and it would be unfair to say Bowling Green has swept all its treasures under the rug. Dr. C. J. Hochanadel, a Bowling Green graduate, is a leader in the study of the peaceful use of atomic radiation. Dr. Paul Wood-ring is an education editor for the Saturday Review. Dr. Kermit Long has, in Phoenix, the largest Methodist congregation in the West. At home the Heinz Tomato Ketchup factory is known not only around and beyond Wood County for the size of its operation, second-largest catsup factory in the world, but also for its aroma. At this redolent time of year a traveler coming into Bowling Green on U.S. 6 or U.S. 25, 20 miles south of Toledo, can only imagine he has entered a nether world of ziti alla Siciliana. But the most prominent and most beloved exception is Doyt Leatherman Perry.
Who is Doyt L. Perry? As a starter, you could say he is the most successful college football coach in the country. You could say this with fear of contradiction, because Doyt Perry's Bowling Green teams never won a Rose Bowl game, never even went to a bowl game except one that was already on its schedule. They never had an All-America. They never beat a team from a major conference, or even played one. Doyt Perry never received a Cadillac or a swimming pool from his loyal fans, or had his picture on a magazine cover, nor has he written a book about his special gift for coaching football. He has never been mentioned for Congress or sued The Saturday Evening Post, and he is so shamefully unambitious that he has been heard to wish aloud for those rewarding days when he coached high school teams and taught 1lth-grade history.
September 27, 1964
What is incontrovertible about Perry's credentials for success is his record: 68 victories, nine losses and five ties in nine seasons at Bowling Green. That is a .860 percentage, and in the higher mathematics of college coaching that, sir, is coaching. Bud Wilkinson, Paul Bryant or Johnny Vaught cannot touch it. Doyt Perry has won the Mid-American Conference championship four of those nine years and has never had a team that lost more than two games in one season (no coach can touch that, either). People who know him, and those who wish they did, queue up to sing his praises. At Bowling Green, now accustomed to his genius, they say that won-lost records are gauche, that if it is figures you want, check the real record. Check to see that Doyt Perry has never had a player transfer to another school. Check the graduation lists—Doyt Perry's football players not only attend school, they graduate.
Doyt Perry has never been hanged in effigy—what on earth for? He has retained, at age 54, the unlined, uncomplicated look of a born winner and looks 40. He has established a private rapport between himself and everybody in town. They all call him Doyt, even freshmen, after a respectful period of awkward first attempts. "We call him Doyt," says a former player, "but we think of him as mister." It is a special point of pride at Bowling Green that the football department is not autonomous and that Doyt mixes with all manner of people, including professors. His assistants do, too. "Here," says Line Coach Jim Ruehl so that his listener knows what is about to follow might not be true just anywhere, "here we are accepted. And we are well organized. For example, Bob [Dudley, Perry's chief assistant] over there goes down to the faculty lounge every Monday morning during the season to tell the professors why Doyt doesn't order more passes."
Among his players Perry inspires a special allegiance. They describe him as if "honesty" and "integrity" and "sincerity" were qualities peculiar to him, and they say he is almost unbeatable at golf, pool, poker or the word games that enliven bus trips home. He leads them in song at his traditional night-before-game gathering known as the Hot Chocolate Hour, or Sing Along with Doyt. The song is usually a nonsensical number called I Ziggy-Zumbah-Zumbah-Zumbah that requires little song-leading talent, which is what Perry has. "And one more thing about Doyt—when he tells you something, he means it," says Chuck Perry, a former Bowling Green quarterback now in the school's administrative offices. Chuck is not related to Doyt; he only sounds like it. "When he tells you you've got a four-year scholarship, brother, that means four years," says Chuck. "And when he tells you to suit up, shower or sit down, you suit up, shower or sit down."
Bernie Casey, now a halfback with the San Francisco 49ers, was All-Conference his junior year at Bowling Green in 1959 but had his sitting time increased sharply enough in 1960 to make him suspicious of Perry's good judgment. "Do you like Perry?" Casey was asked that fall. "I do more than like him," answered Casey. "I respect him."
Ralph W. McDonald, the former president of the university and the man most responsible for the current building and academic boom at Bowling Green (a boom, coincidentally, that is conference-wide), once said of Doyt Perry: "He is the finest addition we have made in this administration." McDonald hired Perry off Woody Hayes's staff at Ohio State. Known for his impetuosity, McDonald was also a man who was willing to put the school's money where his foresight was. He gave Perry three salary increases before the first football season. Bowling Green went from last place in the Mid-American in 1954 to second (4-1-1) under Perry in 1955. Thereafter the conference had to get better to keep up.
The Mid-American is, essentially, a seven-member league of bus riders that received major status from the National Collegiate Athletic Association only two years ago, and only after some strong lobbying on the part of Ohio State's Hayes. "Bowling Green, Ohio and Miami," argued Hayes, "are playing better football right now than Dayton, Cincinnati or Xavier. Why shouldn't they be major league?" Five member schools are located in Ohio: Toledo, Miami (in Oxford), Ohio University (in Athens), Kent State (in Kent) and Bowling Green. They are linked on the southern Ohio border by Marshall of Huntington, W. Va., and on the north by Western Michigan in Kalamazoo, spanning as they do an area from the Allegheny foothills through the undulating soybean and corn fields to the industrial Lakes region. The schools are at short-hop intervals of no more than 250 miles, and scholastically and physically they are practically homogeneous. Student bodies range from 14,500 at Kent State and Western Michigan to 5,500 at Marshall, and their smallish football stadiums seat from 18,000 at Ohio University to 10,000 at Marshall. Bowling Green is medium-size in this general grouping, and its character is consistent with it: 9,000 students, a football stadium that seats 14,000 (a larger one is on the way) and a fully accredited curriculum offered by good colleges of business, liberal arts and education but no medical, dental or law school. Entrance requirements in the Mid-American are not uniform and, unlike other major conferences, the MAC does not require college boards and will allow a student in the bottom third of his graduating class to enter college early for preliminary study.
The Mid-American was formed in 1946 and suffered through a traumatic series of dropouts and fill-ins until 1955, when the present membership was stabilized. Of the charter members only Ohio University remains. The league was never particularly strong because, while proximity cut down expenses, it also kept the league provincial and unpublicized. Nevertheless it acquired two remarkable reputations: a deserved one for the excellent football coaches turned out by Miami, and an inflated one for upsetting Big Ten teams.
Earl Blaik, Sid Gillman, Woody Hayes, Paul Dietzel, Ara Parseghian, Stu Holcomb, Johnny Pont, George Blackburn—all played football for, or coached at, Miami. The oldest school in the league (founded in 1809), 155-year-old Miami also turned out The McGuffey Reader and the country's 23rd President, Benjamin Harrison. From 1948 to 1958 Miami's football teams were the best things to be said for the conference. They won the championship or finished second every year, but the school was always put down as "the other" Miami because Miami of Florida, without a reader or a President to call its own (and a babe of only 39), outstripped it in football. Miami's designation in record books is therefore always followed by the parenthetical (0.), a slight that one sports columnist lamented in a poem: "Miami's Nemesis—Parenthesis."
The Mid-American's large reputation for knocking off Big Ten teams is overblown. In 49 meetings, Big Ten teams have had 40 victories, MAC teams eight, and there was one tie. Each MAC victory, however, has been worth its weight in newsprint and invariably sent tremors up Big Ten spines. The predictable consequences for the Big Ten team: 1) hire the coach that perpetrated the upset, or 2) don't be so naive the next time you're casting around for a schedule filler. After successive victories over Indiana (6-0) in 1954 and Northwestern (25-14) in 1955, Ara Parseghian was hired away from Miami to coach at Northwestern in 1956. But Miami has also lost 16 times to Big Ten teams. Its last—and the league's last—victory in interleague play was in 1962, over Purdue 10-7. In 1963 Miami lost to Northwestern 37-6; this season it will play Northwestern again, and Ohio will play Purdue.
Bowling Green, Marshall and Kent State have been unsuccessful in attempts to bully and /or con their way onto a Big Ten schedule. Assistant Coach Dudley of Bowling Green once spent a summer writing 60 letters of inquiry—feelers—to teams in the Big Ten, Southwest, South-eastern and Big Eight conferences. He said he received five "favorable" replies but no commitments. When Wisconsin had an unexpected opening in 1963 as a result of Marquette's discontinuing foolball, Bowling Green Athletic Director Dr. W. Harold Anderson immediately petitioned for the date on the logical grounds that Bowling Green would make a worthy opponent and in hopes that sentimentality would take hold of Wisconsin Athletic Director Ivy Williamson, a Bowling Green grad. Williamson, however, filled the open date with Western Michigan. Safety-first Wisconsin won 41-0. Privately Williamson told a Bowling Green friend, "Be truthful about it. What would we gain by playing you?"
The day is not far off, however, when a defeat by a Mid-American team will embarrass no one. Certainly professional teams have felt no embarrassment over the more than 60 MAC players they have signed, most notably Bob Schnelker, Don Lisbon and Bernie Casey of Bowling Green, Vince Costello of Ohio University, Mel Triplett of Toledo, Bob Adkins and Frank Gatski of Marshall, Dick Mostardo of Kent State and Bill Triplett, Bob Jencks and Tom Nomina of Miami. And certainly every coach should have the right to be a good loser to such as Doyt L. Perry.
Born winner Doyt Perry came to Bowling Green as an undergraduate out of the tiny Licking County, Ohio farm town of Croton, which can barely stand much coming out of. The last census showed Croton holding on with a population of 397. In that unspectacular setting, little Perry showed his mother the spectacular inability to recognize—or accept—adversity. His mother recalls that when she was giving him a spanking for some chore he had forgotten in favor of playing ball, Perry would say "Mummy, is you spanking me or is you petting me?"
From Croton's Hartford High, three-letterman Perry advanced on Bowling Green, where he was a 5-foot-8, 140-pound quarterback remembered by teammate Beefie Bortel for sealing secret surefire plays into his helmet. Beefie now runs a glass and mirror company in Bowling Green and enjoys ratting on Perry. Doyt was also the shortstop on the Bowling Green baseball team and a regular guard in basketball. In each sport in each of his three varsity seasons, 1929 to 1931, Perry led winning teams. His mind was made up: "I wanted to coach."
For 11 years Perry coached winning high school teams in Lorain (Clearview High) and Columbus (Upper Arlington). He coached everything he could lay his enthusiasm on—football, basketball, baseball, track. Most members of his first football team at Clearview had never seen a football game. But they became winners, and so did every team Perry ever coached except one—the 1947 football team at Upper Arlington. Actually, that was only half a team. Perry ran off the other half for breaking training rules. He is, to this day, a purist: no smoking, no drinking, no swearing, no late hours, no back talk.
Woody Hayes hired Perry as his assistant at Ohio State in 1951 and was abused for it almost immediately by an Upper Arlington mother. "I've made up my mind not to like you," she said. "You took away the best teacher my daughter ever had."
Perry was in charge of Hayes's defense in 1954, when Ohio State won 10 straight, including the Rose Bowl, and was voted national champion. He was a sort of easygoing, pipe-puffing, imperturbable buffer to Hayes's gruffness, and was his all-hours-of-the-night sounding board if Hayes became inspired with an idea or was lonely. There was something Hayes could not resist about Perry's sinister half sentences. "Doyt would sit there in a squad meeting," says Hayes, "puffing that pipe, and he'd say, 'Now, I think...,' and he'd puff. 'Naw, forget it.' I'd practically jump out of my chair. 'For crying out loud, Doyt. Say it!' "
Perry has had his say at Bowling Green. His teams bear some resemblance to Hayes's in that they are, first of all, good housekeepers. Doyt will not tolerate fumbling, and players who do have been known to remove themselves from a game voluntarily. "A 'perfect game' is one in which you do not fumble, do not have a pass intercepted, draw a penalty or yield a point—such as," Perry points out, "our 28-0 victory over Kent State in 1960." Also like Hayes, Perry is partial to power sweeps that appear to smother opposing ends and tackles in a cascade of blockers. But after these obvious similarities, easy comparisons with Hayes break down. While Hayes and Perry are close friends and every Easter vacation Perry shoots up to Columbus to see what is new in Ohio State football, not in structure, style or philosophy are they alike.
Doyt Perry, short and sturdily built, wears horned-rim glasses and his graying hair in a crew cut. His lip corners drop from the weight of his pipe, and he squints a lot. He looks not unlike a tough Mr. Peepers. "How old do you think I am?" he asks, and smiles when you say the expected 40. His players say that of all the coaches on the staff he looks least like the head coach. In conversation his voice rises and falls from the edge of eloquence to the depth of inaudibility, and if he is engrossed he is liable to walk away from you, and come back, or talk out the window. He says "gee-munny Christmas" and "goldurn" and "shoot" when he is mad, and he says he talks too much. He also says: "I'm funny, I guess, but I think coaching is an important job." This is the essence of the man.
If Perry's arrival brought immediate success to Bowling Green football, the sophistication that comes with success was not as prompt. A reason for this is the student body, which draws heavily from Ohio farmlands. When Doyt took the team to Texas for a game in 1960 he discovered that only one boy had ever ridden a train. And there were moments on the field when the game he appreciates as being "the most scientific of all" was not at all scientific. Late in the 1957 game against Drake, Perry put Quarterback Chuck Perry in. "When I got in the huddle," said Chuck, "I immediately forgot the play. So I said to the halfback, 'You know that one where I pitch back to you and you throw one? Well, that's it.' Finally I got them to the line of scrimmage—and realized I hadn't given them the count. So I shouted, 'O.K., guys, on two. Ready. Set. Hut-one...Hut-two.' The play gained 29 yards."
What Doyt Perry also meant immediately to Bowling Green football was organization. He issued complete-to-the-last-verb written directives for his coaches ("Our players have the right to expect the same consideration, treatment and leadership we would desire for our own son.... You will be held responsible for their mistakes....") and for his players ("Remember, if you are criticized then you are important...."). His practices began on the first day with a "Life Is More Important Than Football" lecture from the Rev. Loyal Bishop.
The Bowling Green football budget tripled from $20,000 in 1954 to the present $66,000. The Falcons won the small-college national championship in 1959, defeating top-ranked Delaware by a shocking 30-8, and before long every assistant on Perry's staff was earning more than $10,000 a year, exceptional for a school of that size. Perry's salary is now up to $15,500, and in four years he will have completed 36 years in the Ohio school system and be eligible for a pension of $8,000 to $10,000.
In the evening a hep student at Bowling Green can go dancing on a glistening ballroom floor that is a third of an acre, drink Coke on the rocks at an on-campus nightclub called the Carnation Room and bowl and play pocket billiards at the Student Union till his senses blur. (Bowling Green girls are pool sharks—they have won the intercollegiate pocket billiards championship three years in a row.) But Doyt Perry's favorite diversion is the one that takes him down a dirt road to a beautifully tailored unused football field squared off between the soybeans and corn on an undeveloped plot of university real estate east of the campus. Every day for two years the field has been soaking up 5,500 gallons of water so that it will be ready whenever the new football stadium rises around it. The stadium, a new field house (the old one is four years old and already obsolete) and a complete athletic plant will soon be under construction on 500 acres. The stadium will seat 18,000 as a starter, with plans to go as high as 40,000. "Then," says Perry matter-of-factly, "maybe we'll get a Big Ten team in here—if it's good enough."
Perry has found that, with continued success, recruiting against Big Ten schools has become, if not easy, at least less difficult. Where once he got none, he now bats 1 for 5 in a battle for the better players with, say, Woody Hayes. His staff—Ruehl and Dick Young from Ohio State, Bob Gibson from Youngstown and Bill Mallory from Miami—has been good at fighting the odds. Occasionally, however, they run afoul of Doyt Perry's own special regard for truth and clean hands. They could not, for example, get close to Tackle Tom Nomina five years ago because Nomina had sent an application for a grant-in-aid to Miami. The application was not binding, and Nomina thought he would like to talk it over with Bowling Green, but Perry said that to him it was as binding as an engagement ring and ordered hands off. "Last year," says Ruehl, "we had Mike Luettke from Toledo's Rogers High all lined up—the best high school fullback in the state. Doyt comes in and tells the kid, 'Son, you might not play fullback for us. You might play guard or tackle.' I almost died. This kid wants to carry the ball and Doyt's talking about the line, and we don't even have him in school yet. He's that way. Once I heard him tell his son Dave he'd probably never be good enough to play for Bowling Green. Well, anyway, I knew we'd lost Luettke. So what happened? We got him."
Bowling Green gives an average of 15 football scholarships a year, or about half that of most major conference schools. Each scholarship can be divided into thirds if Perry wants to parcel them around, but the better player will not settle for a third of a scholarship. The sad figures on recruiting, however, are generally the before-and-after figures: 40 freshmen football players enter X university on scholarship in 1950, two of them are still around to graduate in 1954. Perry fights this attrition as if it were a dark spot on his soul. "Your grades keep you in school," he tells his players, "not your football. Football only got you here."
Perry is not above pleading his influence to get a borderline case through the admissions office, but high pressure is not his style and more often than not he loses out. Doyt Perry losing out is an excellent source of lunchtime hilarity at Bowling Green. "I turned Doyt down once when I was admissions director," laughs Chuck Perry, the former quarterback who is now director of development at Bowling Green. "He said, 'Oh, shoot, Chuck. You don't even appreciate good football anymore.' " "The time I had to refuse him," says Alumni Director Jim Hof, near to tears, "he said to me, 'Goldurnit! I hope you get promoted!' "
There is a saying at Bowling Green, "Doyt can beat it." The saying is portable and applicable to any feat of man. Stories are told of Doyt sitting down with the boys in a penny-ante poker game in Canada and cleaning them out in short order. There is another of a night in Des Moines when he walked into a billiard room just as the balls were being racked. With his overcoat on, his pipe jammed to one side of his mouth and his hat pulled down tight, he picked up a cue and ran off all 15 balls. The boys say he has one of the lowest handicaps at the Bowling Green Country Club, lower even than Gus Skibbie's, but Doyt waves his hand. "I don't play golf too well," he says, lying.
Doyt Perry believes in placing blame where it is due, and where it is due, he figures, is usually on Doyt Perry. A holding penalty against Tony Lawrence, a 295-pound junior tackle, wrecked a touchdown drive against Miami last year. "It was all my fault," said Perry afterward, astounding his listener. "How in hell do you figure that?" asked the man. "I should not have had him in there at that stage of the game," answered Perry.
"The thing about Doyt Perry is that he cares," says Bill Violet, co-captain and guard on the 1963 team. (Violet made Who's Who on College Campuses last year.) "He cares about everything. His whole family cares—Mrs. Perry, the two boys, David and D. L., his daughter Judy. Judy got me through freshman English. But the time I won't forget was the night he found out our oldest daughter Ronnie had a tumor on the brain. Bills and operations staring us in the face, we didn't know which way to turn. He came to my house and said, 'Bill, don't worry about getting through school. As of now you've got a full scholarship.' I didn't have to ask or say anything."
In his office the other day Doyt Perry leaned back in his chair and said he had a few things to say and, if he talked too much, to please stop him. He grinned, squinting. "You know," he said, "I'm not the best coach in the world. But, shoot, I'm not the worst either. I believe this about my coaching: I love kids, and I love this work. It's hard to.... Why do I win? Gee-munny Christmas, I don't know. I think—I believe it's true when they say success breeds success. Every coach on this staff has been a winner, and every kid on this team expects to be a winner. Now you ask me, will it stop? Sure, it'll stop. When I'm not doing the job it'll stop. When I'm too old—when I'm not bright enough to keep up."
He stood up and stared out the window overlooking the tennis courts.
"My whole theory.... I don't think I have brought this up. I think there's a winning formula, and it consists of five things. One, players. Two, organization. Three, hard work. Four, morale. Five, desire to win. Most of all, goldarnit, a boy has got to be happy. If a boy is happy, he'll work his butt off. So our job as coaches is to have happy kids. And a lot of that—"
His visitor said he hadn't heard that last part. Perry sat down and increased his volume. "Maybe I'm talking too much," he said, "and you stop me if—but it's like a business, football coaching. Gee-munny Christmas, you have to work at it. You're a teacher—nothing but a teacher, except you have to put your show on the road every week, and the student has got to get it or you're on the spot. The minute you get lazy and lose your enthusiasm you start going, and when you go, you go very fast in this profession.
"Listen, let me say this. I've enjoyed coaching. I enjoyed it at Clearview High, and I enjoyed it at Upper Arlington and I enjoy it here. To me there is no greater lure, not.... The only mistake I might have made was leaving high school, because there you can really have a great effect on molding a boy's character. Here I sometimes think I'm getting the boy too late, maybe. I think I probably did a better job in high school."
The job Doyt Perry has done at Bowling Green has brought him more than a few chances to coach at other schools, supposedly bigger, brighter, more important. Missouri, for example, tried twice to get him. There has been periodic talk of his being the logical successor to Hayes at Ohio State. Nevertheless Perry has stayed at Bowling Green and says now he will never leave.
"You're going to be disappointed in me," he said in his office. "I'm not very ambitious."