'I HAVE NEVER BROKEN A CONTRACT'

South Carolina's new coach, twice the center of strident brouhahas, agrees with Bear Bryant that most pacts are a one-way street. He tells why he left LSU and Army, and says 'I have never broken a contract'
September 18, 1966

I have been criticized by some sports-writers for my moves from Louisiana State to Army and, more recently, from Army to South Carolina. I have been called a carpetbagger and a contract jumper and have been accused of showing bad faith. I feel obligated now to say something in my defense, since these writers never bothered to learn the true facts. I have never threatened to break, nor have I ever broken, a contract in my life. The facts are that before I ever talked to representatives from other schools, I was promised my release by both LSU and Army. To understand my motives for leaving LSU, you must understand that all my life I have had only one speed—full speed. In everything I attempt I try to do it better than it has ever been done before. Now, I don't always achieve this, but it is what I strive for, and when the challenge is gone I lose interest.

The most important thing in my life, outside of my church and family, is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I first became associated with the FCA in 1959, and since then I have become deeply involved. I decided that I was either going to adhere completely to FCA's principles and teachings or get out. I couldn't stand to be a hypocrite, telling boys to do one thing, then doing something else myself. When my motives are questioned, those boys deserve an explanation.

When I first went to LSU I was an unknown assistant coach from Army. They wanted to hire me on a one-year basis, but I said, "Well, gee, I think I ought to have at least a three-year contract." They gave it to me reluctantly. The longer you have been around and the more established you are, the longer contract you can demand. After I had proven myself at LSU I insisted on a much longer contract at Army, and when I came to South Carolina I was given a 10-year contract, with an option to renew negotiations every two years. I think that it is very true that a contract is, in many ways, a one-way street. And the more successful you are, the better your contract will be.

The first contract I ever signed was for two years as line coach for Colonel Earl Blaik at Army in 1953. Before the 1954 season several assistant coaches, among them Vince Lombardi, left. Then the LSU job became open. I called Charlie McClendon, who was on the LSU staff, to help him get a job if he needed one. We had coached together at Kentucky. "Charlie," I said to Mac, "I know Bobby Dobbs at Tulsa and George Blackburn at Cincinnati real well. Which one of those guys would you like to work for? I'll do my darndest to get you on their coaching staff."

Charlie thanked me but said he wanted to stay at LSU and why didn't I try to get the job? I replied, "I don't know anything about LSU and I don't know anybody down there. You can't get a job by just applying for it."

But Charlie insisted and suggested I get in touch with Biff Jones. Jones had coached LSU during the Huey Long days and was one of my good friends. I called him and he said, "Paul, it's a heck of a fine job. Let me nose around."

One day Biff telephoned and told me that he had just turned down the athletic directorship at LSU, but in doing so he had recommended that the Board of Trustees ought to "look into this Dietzel fellow." He said, "So, if they should call, act properly surprised."

Sure enough, a call came. I said that I was very flattered but first I would have to talk to Colonel Blaik, because I was under contract. So I went to see Colonel Blaik, who was sick in bed with flu. When I walked in he looked at me and said, "Not you, too, Paul?" "Well, Coach," I said. "The people at LSU have asked me to come down for an interview. I would like to go down and just talk with them."

Colonel Blaik really lit into me. "I'll tell you one thing, Paul," he said. "The idea of even considering this job is ridiculous. You know that you have an obligation to live up to. We've already lost three coaches this year and this could be the worst thing you've ever done."

I told Colonel Blaik I wouldn't go since he felt that way, and I meant it.

Then he said, "Now, wait a minute, Paul. I was talking to you as an athletic director. Now I want to talk to you as a man. That LSU job is a fine one and I think you're ready to be a head coach. You go down there and if you can get that job, you take it."

I went, and after a lengthy interview I was offered the job. Naturally, Charlie McClendon was to be my first assistant. We won three games, lost five and tied two, and at the end of my first year they tore up my three-year contract and gave me a new one for four years.

I was first approached about the Army job after we had won the national championship in 1958, when Colonel Blaik retired and before Dale Hall was given the job. But I told the Army people I wasn't interested. I said that I had just signed a new contract at LSU and I was obligated. Furthermore, I had not yet accomplished what I had set out to do. We had one winner in four years, but I wanted to make sure we were on solid ground.

In 1961 we had a 9-1 record and accepted an invitation to play Colorado in the Orange Bowl. By then we had won so much that it was obvious to me there was nothing further I could do at LSU to improve on that record. In 1962 we were going to have more than 30 letter-men back, and there wasn't any way I could coach them badly enough to lose. The challenge at LSU was gone for me, and We got to have a challenge.

For that reason I had begun to consider several jobs outside of coaching, among them national executive director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The only coaching job that appealed to me was at Army, and I figured that Dale Hall was set for life there.

Anyway, my wife and I were having breakfast one morning in Baton Rouge and I picked up the morning Advocate. DALE HALL FIRED AT WEST POINT, a headline blared. I showed it to Anne. We looked at each other and we both knew we wanted to go to Army. There wasn't any doubt about it. I felt that the question of my future had been answered.

Since I had so seriously thought about leaving coaching, I had announced publicly "I don't plan to coach anyplace else other than at LSU." When I said it, I meant it with all my heart! As it turned out, saying that was a mistake, and I've been much more careful since.

That very night I called Joe Cahill, then the sports publicity director at Army. He said, "Paul, would you be interested in this job?" I replied that I really didn't know, but I would like to hear a little about it.

A couple of days later Hank Adams, the athletic director, called and asked if I was interested in talking. I said yes, but before I did I would have to speak with Jim Corbett, our athletic director, and get permission from LSU.

I buzzed Jim on an interoffice phone and told him, "Jim, I just got a call from Army. I'd like to talk to them." Corbett then said, "Oh! You're not interested in that job, are you?" My answer was, "Jim, I don't know." There was a brief pause and then he said, "Come on over to my office!"

I went over and Jim said, "Paul, you know you've still got four years to go on your contract." I replied, "I know that, Jim, and if you won't release me from this contract, if there is going to be a nasty situation, there is no sense in me talking with the Army people."

His answer was, "Paul, I'll tell you right now there's not going to be any fuss. You know I don't want you to go and I don't believe you will go, but I'll assure you that if you would like to leave, I'll release you from your contract."

That night I called back Colonel Adams and told him that I had received permission to talk with him. His reaction was, "Gee, that's great," and he went on to say that they were presently considering three people for the job.

I said, "Wait a minute, Hank. I want you to understand that I'm not a candidate for the Army job. I already have a fine coaching job which I'll not jeopardize. If the board wants to offer me the job and you're going to talk to me and no one else until I accept or decline, fine. But if you are considering other candidates, I'm not interested."

Adams called back to say that the board had agreed to talk to no one else until "you have decided yea or nay." So, while our team was at home during the Christmas holiday, I flew to New York to meet General William Westmoreland, superintendent of the academy, at the International Hotel near Kennedy Airport. He asked me if I was interested in the Army job.

I replied, "General, I'm still coaching the LSU team and I can't get too deeply involved until after the Orange Bowl game. But if we can work out the details we've talked about, I think this is what I'm looking for."

Before we left for Miami, word of my possible departure leaked to the newspapers and I was tried and convicted in the press before I ever accepted the job. It got really rough. I had talked with General Troy Middleton, president of LSU, till this day one of my dearest friends, and he told me, "Paul, this is a great opportunity. I don't want you to leave LSU, but you've got to weigh the great impact that the Army job has."

The night before the Orange Bowl game, a headline proclaimed, LSU TO GIVE COACH GOODBY WIN! Our players saw it and some of them were wondering and mumbling. I told them the truth. I said, "Men, I don't know what I'm going to do. I am going to talk to the Army officials, but that hasn't anything to do with our game. We have paid a tremendous price to get this far and we have a lot at stake. Do you want to throw everything down the drain we've worked for all year long because of something that is written in a newspaper? You're not playing for Paul Dietzel. You're playing for LSU and yourselves." They went out the next day and played like a bunch of wild people.

Well, we beat Colorado, and I remember telling Anne right after the game that we had been forced to leave LSU. It had become so nasty in the newspapers around Louisiana that I didn't really know that I had a choice. I really believed that I had to go.

When I told Jim Corbett that I had decided to take the job at Army if he would release me from my contract, he said, "Paul, I'm surprised. I never thought you'd leave." He went to the Board of Trustees, and apparently there was a pretty good amount of conversation there. But Jim prevailed, and I was released from my contract.

Just before I left Baton Rouge I felt that a parting statement was necessary. I wrote an open letter to the people of Louisiana and asked Ace Higgins, the LSU sports publicity director, to put it in the paper for me. He and Jim Corbett thought there had been too much fuss already and they decided not to release it. The decision hurt me deeply. In it I had explained how I had been released from my contract, and thanked the people of Louisiana for the warm way they had accepted me and my family. I also highly recommended to Jim Corbett that Charlie McClendon be given the coaching job at LSU.

These are the actual circumstances under which I left LSU. They have never before been made public.

The first six months at West Point, things couldn't have been any nicer. The red carpet was out all over the place, the corps was screamingly wild and everything was superduper, colossal, great! Then SPORTS ILLUSTRATED did a story about me and the caption under a picture of me with General Omar Bradley and General Westmoreland said, DIETZEL CHARMS THE BRASS. From that moment on, things changed markedly. Of course, one thing I had never realized was how much the situation at West Point had changed since 1955, too. There were two things that I felt were the hardest blows at the academy. First, the number of years a boy has to serve after graduation had been raised to five. Second, the pros were throwing around so much money that blue-chip athletes were forced to think about that first.

Nevertheless, my years at Army were enjoyable. I am very much in favor of the mission of the academy to provide trained and dedicated military leaders for careers as officers in the Army. But there's no way to figure how that has anything to do with big-time football. Last year, during the season, it became obvious to me that the lack of depth really was catching up. We had the first good freshman team since our staff took over, and there were possibilities for the future. But during the season I and the whole coaching staff became very discouraged. It didn't look like we were gaining enough ground.

This spring, we had another superintendent, General Donald Bennett—the third in my four years at West Point. When he took over, I prepared a "white paper." I spent a month working on it, explaining how, in my opinion, Army athletics could be improved. And I really did not feel that anything I suggested would in any way detract from the moral fiber, the academic standards or the mission of the academy. I got an appointment with General Bennett, and I went over the paper with him for three hours, then I sat and waited for about a month. The longer I waited, the more I realized they just weren't interested.

Then I got a call from an official representative of the University of South Carolina. His first words were, "Before you say 'no,' let me tell you what our problems are." And so I listened. Then I said, "Before we say any more, you've got to contact my superintendent."

He did, and General Bennett wired back immediately: BY ALL MEANS, I WANT YOU TO TALK TO PAUL DIETZEL.

I went to see the Supe. He showed me the wire and said, "What about this?"

"Well, General," I replied, "I don't really know what to do."

Then General Bennett said, "Well, Paul, it would work a hardship on us, but I want you to know that you must think about what is best for Anne, the children and you. Now, Paul, I can't really say whether you're a good football coach or not and I don't know whether you're good for the corps or not. When I talk with Army people they are almost evenly divided about Paul Dietzel. I would strongly recommend that you talk with the South Carolina people and listen very seriously to what they have to say. And you know, Paul, I've always used this credo. If I didn't think that I could add something to a place, I would leave."

When I walked out of the Supe's office, I felt about as high as a thimble. Imagine working four years at a job and then realizing that your boss doesn't even know you! I wanted to talk to somebody, but our close military friends had been transferred to their next stations. Most of the military people were very nice to us but there are many small things that happen, especially at athletic and social events, that keep you apprised of the fact that you and your family are civilians. You never completely belong.

There were still some things about South Carolina I wanted to explore further. So I called George Terry, who had been my good right arm for so long, and asked if he'd like to go down. He said, "I think maybe one of us better." George was very impressed with the university and with the people, their attitude and how much they wanted to be helpful. But there were lots of problems, and the South Carolina officials were going to fly up to meet with me.

As we rode back from the airport I told George, "Now, you know that as soon as I say I'm going to take the South Carolina job, Army may offer you the coaching job here. If you would like to do that, I want to know now. If you're not going to "South Carolina with me, then I'm not going. It's as simple as that. I'm not trying to knock you out of the Army job, but I'm not going to South Carolina without you. Don't say anything right now but you just go home and talk to Frances about it." The next day George told me that if I went, so would he.

The next couple of days were the most difficult of my life. I had almost decided I was going to stay, but the one thing that gnawed at me was that General Bennett had never said, "Paul, we'd like to have you stay." All he had to do was ask me, and I would have stayed.

George and I met with Dr. Thomas Jones, president of South Carolina, and Dr. Jim Morris, the faculty chairman of athletics, in the same hotel at Kennedy Airport where the Army thing had started four years earlier. We talked for hours, but nothing was decided at the time. I went back to West Point and listed my reasons for staying or going. There were seven for staying and 17 for going. I finally got it boiled down to the crux of the matter: what was best for my family and the coaches who depend upon me vs. my pride, or ego. By that I mean the unfinished challenge at West Point, the corps and the players. Nothing else really entered into it, just those two things. And when it becomes a choice between my family or me, my family is going to win every time. That was what decided it.

I knew now I had to take the South Carolina job, so I asked the athletic board to formally release me from my contract. They agreed.

Saying goodby to the players was the hardest part. We gathered the men together and I explained to them what had motivated my decision, how I had to do what was best for my family. When I finished, they all lined up, every single one of them, and they filed by and shook hands with me. They were bawling their eyes out, and so was I. I'll tell you, it was one of the most moving moments in my life.

These are the true facts of my move from LSU to Army and from Army to South Carolina. I still don't believe I've ever broken a contract.

PHOTOThe teacher, Paul Dietzel lectures his assistant coaches as he prepares for Saturday's opener against LSU, the school he left amid violent controversy.

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