Five legendary college football coaches hailed by the stars who played for them

Some of us sports-oriented old goats around town get together once a month at what -- for want of a better name -- we call "The Second Thursday Club." We meet the second Thursday of each month at J. Patrick's, an Irish pub located in Locust Point, lie to each other, and in general have a grand old time.

Often in attendance are four quarterbacks -- Vic Turyn, Jack Scarbath, Bob Williams and Tom Matte -- who among them, played for five of the greatest names in college football -- Bear Bryant, Clark Shaughnessy, Jim Tatum, Frank Leahy and Woody Hayes. It occurred to me that it might be interesting to hear what they had to say about these pillars of the profession.


Scarbath and Williams were All-Americas, and they, along with Matte, became first-round National Football League draft choices. Turyn, now retired, opted for a career in the FBI, and wound up as head of the Baltimore office. Their critique of the legends they played for reveals that coaching is hardly an exact science. But the most successful were tough disciplinarians who insisted things be done their way, and done right.

We'll start with Turyn, since he preceded the others and played two years for Bryant, one each for Shaughnessy and Tatum. "Well, in 1945 I played under Bear at North Carolina Pre-Flight," said the resident of Howard County. "When the war ended, he had offers from several schools, one from then-president Curley Byrd at the University of Maryland. Since I was quarterback, he came to me and said, 'I want to take as many of you guys with me as I can. Canvass the others. I'll go wherever you decide.'


"Most of us had never heard of Maryland, but it sounded like we'd have a better chance to play there. I told Bear, '25 of us will go to Maryland with you,' so he took the job. Fifteen of us stayed and graduated. We went 6-2-1, but Bryant and Byrd had a disagreement and Bear left.

"Bryant was hard-nosed, and wanted you to believe you were better then the guys across from you. He stressed that, along with fundamentals -- blocking, tackling, hard, clean hitting. He worked us hard, made sure we were in great shape with a lot of scrimmaging, a lot of hitting in practice.

"About once a week, with about 15 minutes left in practice, he'd throw down that floppy slouch hat that became his trademark, and yell, 'We're accomplishing nothing. Pair off and let's have a little one-on-one.' I always drew Harry Bonk, a big, tough fullback. We'd go at each other as hard as we could, but Bear would yell, 'OK, you two, cut out the love taps and let's hear the leather pop.' After a few more of those, he'd finally let us go in. But, he was good to play for, not too complicated, no fancy stuff. Just good execution."

Here Turyn paused, and with a chuckle said, "The next year he was replaced by Shaughnessy. What a change. He had a great reputation from Stanford, but he was strictly a theory man, with a great football mind, but not much on basics. He was the one who brought back the T-formation, refined it. George Halas hired him to help install it with the Bears. Halas brought the Bears to Maryland for part of training camp one year, so Shaughnessy could work with Sid Luckman and the rest of the Monsters of the Midway.

"We had 236 plays, and the quarterback called everything, including the blocking, with a long series of numbers and letters. It was a disaster. I'd call a play in the huddle and half the guys would say, 'What do I do?' and the others would say, 'It'll never work.' I think you had to play for him for a few years to handle his system. We weren't in shape, never even scrimmaged. He was all X's and O's. When Tatum replaced him it was like night and day. We got more out of half the time in practice."

Let Scarbath talk about Tatum, since he played for him for three years. "The most organized person I've ever known, in or out of sports," he said. "Every phase of his practices was scheduled, detailed. Nobody ever stood still. He didn't have many plays, but you ran them over and over until you got them perfect. If you did that, you could tell the opposition what was coming and it would work. When we beat Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl in '52 and were the national champions, we did the same things we had done all year. We were always totally prepared."

Williams on Leahy: "A tough disciplinarian who kept a distance between himself and players, even his assistant coaches. Did a lot of scrimmaging, worked us hard, but had so many horses at Notre Dame then, if somebody got hurt, the next guy would be just as good.

"He was always pessimistic going into big games. If I had a tape of some of his locker-room stuff, I'd make a million on them. One time, he made Tulane sound so big and bad, we didn't belong on the same field. Then, we scored four times in the first quarter."


Was Woody Hayes as tough as advertised? "Oh, yeah," said Matte, "but with a big heart and a kind streak. And, he was very bright. You didn't appreciate him as much when you played for him as later, when you realized a lot of what he did was for your own good. His hero was Gen. Patton, and he was just about as tough. I got an ulcer playing for him in my senior year, so he had me eat lunch and dinner at his house to make sure I took care of myself, and brought milk and cookies to me at the dorm at night.

"He was a 3-yard, cloud-of-dust man. I was a quarterback my senior year and had about 12 pass plays. We were always in great shape. As tough as he was, he made you study, made you graduate. When I signed with the Colts, I was six credits short of graduation. He called me at the end of the season, and told me he had my schedule lined up. I went back, got my degree, and the first thing he did after the graduation ceremony was call my parents and tell them how proud he was.

"He was actually a great man, but you didn't necessarily believe that when you were playing for him."