Nestled down among the rills, farmland and covered bridges of tiny Oxford (pop. 6,500), Miami of Ohio does not seem like a campus with an athletic reputation. You might guess that it would be hard to recruit for anything more formidable than a field-hockey team, so snug and secure is the atmosphere. Watergate is but a distant annoyance; good, black coal cools the energy crisis as it heats the dorms; and unless you leave town the biggest trip of the weekend is 3.2 beer. Miami is just that well insulated. The campus is pure Currier & Ives. Annoyances tend to be minor: the name of the place and its geography, for instance. People keep getting the former mixed up with Florida. Of the latter, Miami's president, Dr. Phillip R. Shriver, will tell you, "As we say about Oxford, all roads don't lead to it. You've got to want to come here."
It is a fact, however, that football players and kindred coveted athletic types gravitate to Miami in quantity envied by its Mid-America Conference rivals and in quality that irritates such Ohio State fans as Woody Hayes, who has coveted not a few of them himself. It is a fact, too, that the Redskins enjoy smashing success. For Miami has a tradition as proud as its locale is rustic, a succession of graduates now in coaching that reads like the first chapter of Matthew. It also has the enviable custom of winning 75% of all its athletic contests.
In football Miami has now defied the axioms of recruiting through 31 consecutive winning seasons, the most recent and finest of which was perfected in Oxford last Saturday before 13,058 fans who did want to get there for the Cincinnati game, a neighborhood war billed as the oldest rivalry west of the Alleghenies.
Pity those who arrived late, for the turning point came on the opening kick-off. Larry Harper, a 5'9" wingback, first hobbled it, then returned it 95 yards for the only score of the afternoon. In the tedious 59 minutes and 45 seconds that followed, the teams combined for 140 offensive plays, most of them blunted, fitful maneuvers.
Miami's defense held Cincy to five first downs, 92 yards and one pass completion in 22 attempts. Miami's offense, stopped twice inside the five-yard line, lost three fumbles, an errant pass and missed four field-goal tries and a PAT. All of which kept the score as old-fashioned as Miami Field, which looks more like a high school park than the home of one of the nation's unbeaten, untied teams. Artistic errors aside, the win gave Miami a 10-0-0 record, the best in the school's 85-year football history. Miami also now has the longest win streak among major college teams at 11 and is headed for the Tangerine Bowl on Dec. 22 in Orlando, Fla.
While many of the Redskins could be playing for the Big Ten teams that once tried to recruit them—including that other big Ohio club in Columbus—Coach Bill Mallory's men are generally more workmanlike than wondrous. Mallory credits much of this season's success to an inspiring group of seniors, not the least of them Co-captain and Running Back Bob Hitchens from the Columbus suburb of Urvancrest. Off his yeoman performance of last year, when he carried the ball 327 times for 1,370 yards and 15 touchdowns, Hitchens became an All-America candidate. The honor will probably elude him, however, since the increased versatility of this year's Redskin attack eased his workhorse role. His statistics for '73 read 176 carries for 591 yards and six touchdowns. At a different place from Miami, the change would have produced an unhappy player.
Hitchens, however, is satisfied. "I came down here because I wanted to play a whole lot of football and I've done that all right," he says, "but winning the championship this year has been the highlight of my career. Being Offensive Player of the Year last season and all that other stuff, that was nice, but I would have traded all of it for this.
"This year," he went on, "all the preseason polls, the sportswriters and the football magazines said we weren't supposed to finish higher than third or fourth in the conference. They also said we were probably in for our first losing season in a long time. Our team responded to that. We said, 'Hey, no way is that going to happen." With Linebacker (and also co-captain) Mike Monos, the Redskins' Most Valuable Player, leading a defense that yielded but six touchdowns all year, Mallory got an indication that he had a team of uncommon strength in the second game on the schedule, at Purdue. "We were down 19-10," Mallory says, "but our attitude was remarkable. No one was dropping his head or giving up. We just came back and won it—24 19 in the last seven minutes. The same thing happened the next week at South Carolina." Miami won that one 13 11 and the clock ran out with the Redskins on the Gamecocks' one-foot line.
Mallory likes to drop shocking expletives like "dag-gone" and "darn" into his conversation. "This team has been a darn hungry group," he says. "They knew what they wanted and they went out and did it. We'd been 7-3 for four years in a row and I think they kind of got tired hearing people ask, 'Hey, when are you guys ever going to win a championship?' They beat Purdue and South Carolina back to back and then all five MAC rivals in a row. We got in sort of a groove and went after it."
In the long run, of course, Miami's success rests on its well-established reputation as the Cradle of Coaches, a tradition that doesn't hurt at all when it comes to recruiting. Coaches obviously have to start somewhere, but no institution has turned out more obvious coaching success stories than Miami.
The list of men Miami has either employed or graduated who have gone on to coach at other places includes Paul Brown (class of '30), Weeb Ewbank ('28), Walter Alston ('35) and Clive Rush ('53), who was also once employed in the pro ranks. Sid Gillman coached four seasons at Miami and Woody Hayes put in two before he moved to Columbus and gave the job to his freshman coach, Ara Parseghian ('49). Parseghian begat John Pont ('50), now at Northwestern, who in turn begat Michigan's Bo Schembechler ('51). Former Army Coach Earl (Red) Blaik ('18) played for Miami and so did Yale's Carmen Cozza ('52), South Carolina's Paul Dietzel ('48) and Mallory himself ('57).
Trainer Emeritus Jay Colville, a shambling, 67-year-old bear of a man with a Will Rogers haircut and humor to match, has seen them all come and go and thinks this is the finest Miami team of them all. He is probably the only person who remembers Paul Brown as "a smallish kind of quarterback and a good baseball player," or who can recall the fateful season when Ewbank coached the Miami basketball team.
Perhaps even more than the perfect season or the glorious past, the intelligent attitude of senior Quarterback Stu Showalter speaks best about Miami. A sophomore starter who lettered again last year, he finished the '73 season without one minute of playing time after losing his job to Steve Sanna, a better passer, and Sherman Smith, a better runner. Despite his fall from grace, he says, "The experience here has been a good one even if it's been a mental battle at times. So many guys, particularly if they've had the success, would have given up and quit, but doggone it all, football taught me discipline and it made me do things I didn't want to do. There's more to it than just starting. It was important enough to me that I wasn't going to let it go for any reason.
"The coaches here have been great, real top quality men. I never reached the point where I said, 'nuts to them, they're wrong.' I always felt, 'I'm doing my best, if they want me, I'm here.' It would be great to be No. 1 all the way through, but life isn't that way. Some people are in the right place at the right time and some people aren't. If you can't accept that in something like football, you'll have trouble accepting it in life, too."
Maybe more roads should lead to Oxford.