Paul Dietzel served as LSU’s football coach from 1955 through 1961 and he returned to LSU in 1978 as athletics director, serving until 1982. After first retiring to North Carolina, he eventually did some radio and TV work on football broadcasts in the Southern Conference and helped with the creation of the Samford University athletic department in Birmingham, Ala.
Dietzel, who was the last living member of the 1958 National Championship coaching staff, and his wife Anne eventually returned to Baton Rouge to live in 2003. One of his last major public appearances came at the opening of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame building in Natchitoches.
Dietzel was born on Sept. 5, 1924, in Fremont, Ohio. Dietzel would move to Mansfield, where he played football, basketball and track in high school. In his senior season, he played on Ohio’s state championship team. That year, Mansfield tied the powerful Massillon team coached by legend-to-be coach Paul Brown, 6-6. The previous two years, Massillon had beaten Mansfield 73-0 and 38-0. Dietzel earned honorable mention All-State honors on the state title football team.
Dietzel accepted a football scholarship at Duke in 1942. But, World War II called and Dietzel would eventually return to Ohio and enlist in the Army Air Corps instead. Dietzel would be involved in several B29 bombing operations in the Pacific Theater.
While in the air corps, Dietzel married his longtime girlfriend, Anne, on Sept. 25, 1944.
At the end of his service, Dietzel returned to college, this time at Miami of Ohio, playing under another legend-to-be in Sid Gillman. In Dietzel’s senior season, Miami of Ohio was undefeated and defeated Texas Tech in the Sun Bowl. Dietzel was playing practically the entire game for Miami – center on offense and linebacker on defense.
Dietzel was offered a graduate assistant position at Miami of Ohio under Gillman but when Gillman went to Army to coach under Colonel “Red” Blaik and a position opened, Dietzel was invited to join the staff in 1948. In 1949, Gillman moved to Cincinnati as head coach and Dietzel followed as defensive coordinator in 1949 and 1950. In 1951, Dietzel was hired by Bear Bryant as the offensive line coach at the University of Kentucky joining a staff that included Charles McClendon.
Dietzel would return to Army as offensive line coach in 1953, his final stop as an assistant before he would come to Baton Rouge.
In February 1955, Gus Tinsley was let go as the LSU head coach. The LSU Board of Supervisors had decided that no one on the staff would be named head coach, thus sending the search out around the nation. But the staff, which by then included McClendon, was told that the new coach would have to keep Tinsley’s staff intact.
Dietzel proved to be the man the LSU Board of Supervisors wanted and needed. He received a three-year contract for $13,000 a year. At his first press conference, Dietzel said: “If there is one watchword, it is enthusiasm. I would like see enthusiasm on the part of the players. I hope to see a fireball brand of football.”
He was 29 and the youngest member of the LSU staff.
It was lean times at LSU, early in Dietzel’s tenure playing in a newly-expanded 67,000-seat Tiger Stadium. LSU won three games with two ties in 1955, three games in 1956 with a break-even five wins in 1957.
But Dietzel was building toward 1958. Among those signed as freshman in 1956 were Max Fugler from Ferriday and three home-grown prospects – halfback Johnny Robinson of University High, quarterback Warren Rabb of Baton Rouge High and halfback Billy Cannon of Istrouma.
Despite the fact that Cannon and another Baton Rouge product, Jimmy Taylor, would be in the backfield together in 1957, the Tigers were picked last in the SEC. There were shining moments, but depth would take its toll by mid-season, resulting in four-straight defeats.
But Dietzel, despite even less depth than 1957, saw promise in 1958. When practice began Dietzel had every intention of alternating two units, both of which would play both ways since, under the substitution rules of the time, a player could re-enter a game only twice each quarter. At staff meetings, it was determined by the coaches that only 16 could be trusted two-way players.
“The more we looked at our squad, the more we came to the conclusion we had players, after our first 11, who could play one way,” Dietzel explained. “Finally, we decided to put together two units and work them one way about 80 percent of the time in practice.
“Our first unit always worked in white jerseys so the name (White team) was no surprise. The team we decided to play on offense worked only in gold jerseys so that was no surprise either. But the Chinese Bandit label for our defensive group that worked in red jerseys took some explaining.”
Dietzel used a line from the comic strip Terry and The Pirates where a sinister character said something to the effect that “Chinese bandits are the most vicious people in the world.”
So the names White Team, Gold Team and Chinese Bandits were formed, sort of. A mistake by a sports writer turned the “Gold Team” into the “Go Team,” the name that stuck.
The players loved the idea and the magical season was off and rolling. Wins came over Rice (26-6), Alabama (13-3), Harden-Simmons (20-6), Miami (41-0), Kentucky (32-7) and Florida (10-7) to close the month of October.
The win over the Gators moved LSU for the first time to the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press sports writers’ poll. However, the coaches were unimpressed, leaving the Tigers at No. 5. Ole Miss was coming to town. It was one year away from the memorable Halloween night in Tiger Stadium, but this game on All Saints Day was still ultra-important.
LSU put Baton Rouge in a state of delirium with a 14-0 victory. Duke was next, and there was no Ole Miss hangover as the Blue Devils fell, 50-18, bringing the coaches around as they posted LSU at No. 1. The next week would be a national championship moment as LSU faced a third-quarter fourth-and-goal situation, trailing Mississippi State, 6-0. Rabb rolled to his left and Red Hendrix made the catch for the score. Tommy Davis’ PAT was the difference in a 7-6 win.
The national championship season was culminated in a 62-0 win at Tulane before what was then the largest crowd in SEC history – 83,221. LSU would score 35 points in the fourth quarter when the only team that could go back into the game because of substitution rules was the starting White unit. LSU would complete the season with a 7-0 win over Clemson in Tulane Stadium in the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl.
LSU began 1959 ranked No. 1 and with most of the players returning, expectations were high. LSU won its first seven games, including the 7-3 win over Ole Miss on Halloween Night when Cannon made the most famous punt return in school history, and the Tigers stopped Ole Miss at the goal line as the clock ran out.
But the next week, in a “did Cannon make or didn’t he make the two-point conversion” in Knoxville, LSU’s long win streak came to an end, losing to Tennessee, 14-13. LSU would finish 9-2 in 1959 before going 5-4-1 in 1960. The 1961 team was one that Dietzel thought “this squad was the deepest and strongest of any in my tenure as head coach at LSU.”
They proved it to the tune of 10 wins, an SEC Championship and an Orange Bowl win against Colorado.
It was during bowl preparations that the Army head coaching job came open and this new challenge excited Dietzel. While he did state in one particular interview, “I’ll never leave LSU,” Dietzel later said, “Later, I certainly regretted saying that, but at the time, I was young and meant it.”
But the call of the Military Academy was too much and after receiving the blessing of LSU President Gen. Troy Middleton, he would leave LSU following the 1961 season.
Stops at Army (1962-65) and South Carolina (1966-74) followed as head coach before he would become the Commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference for one year before becoming athletic director in 1975. His career head football coaching record would be 109-95-5.
In early 1978, in the course of trying to find a replacement for Carl Maddox, a group of board members flew to Bloomington to talk to Dietzel. That would lead to the offer to return to LSU as Athletics Director.
Dietzel would establish the Varsity Club, the precursor to today’s highly successful Tiger Athletic Foundation. Dietzel would also have the job of finding the successor to his former assistant, long-time friend and the man who replaced him as head coach, Charles McClendon.
Bo Rein of North Carolina State would be that choice in late 1979. People asked “Who is Bo Rein?” As Dietzel pointed out later, “They would never know.”
Rein lost his life in a plane crash just weeks after taking the job while attempting to return to Baton Rouge from Shreveport. Dietzel had the difficult task of now deciding who would lead the Tigers in 1980 with McClendon’s staff all guaranteed one more year of pay and Rein’s staff already in place.
Dietzel and Chancellor Paul Murrill made the decision that former assistant coach and Heisman Trophy runnerup Jerry Stovall was the man who could take the helm in one of the most difficult times in athletics department history.
Dietzel’s tenure as athletics director ended in the spring of 1982 when the Board of Supervisors moved him into the position of special assistant to then University President Martin Woodin.
In his later years, Dietzel became known as a tremendous artist, painting dozens of watercolor prints that have been exhibited in Baton Rouge galleries.
Dietzel was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1988 and the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame 2010.
Note: Information for this story has come from the Peter Finney edition of “The Fighting Tigers, 1893-1993; One Hundred Years of LSU Football” and the Paul F. Dietzel biography “Call Me Coach: A Life in College Football.”
Paul Dietzel’s football coaching career was in deep trouble when the Louisiana State University Tigers took a four-game losing streak into their regular-season finale with Tulane in 1957.
With senior Jimmy Taylor and sophomore Billy Cannon in the same backfield, the Tigers scored a total of only five touchdowns in the four straight losses. One more defeat would give Dietzel the dubious distinction of being the first coach in LSU’s 65-years football history to have three consecutive losing seasons.
“If I don’t win this game,” Dietzel confided to a friend, “I’m through as a football coach.”
His Tigers won that game, 25-6—and their next 18 games. They won the 1958 national championship, and were ranked No. 1 in 13 consecutive Associated Press polls—the longest stretch that any team south of the Mason-Dixon line has ever stayed on top.
“it is a short trip from the penthouse to the outhouse,” was one of Dietzel’s favorite expressions. In the Camelot years that followed the 1957 victory over Tulane, he proved that the return trip can be just as short.
The 1958 national champions gave LSU its first perfect season since 1908, but it was just another perfect season for the dapper young coach. The first three had been during his playing career—first on junior high and high school teams in Mansfield , Ohio , and later with the Miami ( Ohio ) University Redskins.
LSU did not regain the No. 1 position after a 14-13 loss to Tennessee near the end of the 1959 season, but the Tigers were third and fourth in final AP polls after two of Dietzel’s last three years as their head coach.
Those three top four finishes were the highest for LSU since Bernie Moore’s 1936 Tigers were ranked second to Minnesota in the first AP poll, and no LSU team has finished a season in the top four since Dietzel left.
The Tigers were 36-7-1 over a stretch of 44 games when Dietzel did one thing thousands of LSU fans could never forgive. He left.
It was never the same again for either LSU or Dietzel, although he did manage to lead South Carolina to an Atlantic Coast Conference championship and its first bowl trip in 25 years. If you take away his last four seasons at LSU, Dietzel’s record for the other 16 years of his college coaching career was only 74-88. Of course, the rest of the story is that nobody can take those four great years away form Dietzel or LSU. He accomplished something in that span that no other LSU coach matched, before or since.
After his coaching career, Dietzel stayed in athletics as the commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference and Athletic Director at Indiana and LSU. In four years at LSU, he supervised the transition from the Charlie McClendon Era to Jerry Stovall. (BoRein was appointed to succeed McClendon, but he died in an airplane crash 42 days after taking the LSU job.)
The lobbying of his former players was a major factor in Dietzel’s return to LSU as Athletic Director, but the magic was missing for the days when he led the Tigers to a pinnacle of success they had never attained before—and might never reach again. As a coach, he had the press in his hip pocket. But a generation later, the media no longer accepted his edicts without question. Dietzel was pressured out after four stormy years, replaced by a man who would be even more controversial-Bob Brodhead.
The son of a furnace installer, Dietzel was born Sept. 5, 1924, in Fremont , Ohio . The family eventually settled in Mansfield , Ohio , where Paul excelled in three sports—football, basketball and track (he won a district title in the discus throw). He received a football scholarship to Duke University , and spent one year there before World War II interrupted his football career. He a B-29 bomber pilot in the Army Air Corps, flying a dozen missions in the Pacific.
He married the former Anne Wilson while he was in the Air Corps.=, and continued his college career at Miami University in Oxford , Ohio , because of the persistence of Coach Sid Gillman. A Little All-American center on a Miami team that defeated Teas Tech in the Sun Bowl, Dietzel was a pre-med student and president of two honor societies. But his medical aspirations ended when Gillman invited him to follow him to West Point as line coaches for the legendary Earl “Red” Blaik.
Over the next few years, he coached with Gillman at the University of Cincinnati , Paul “Bear” Bryant and McClendon at Kentucky and Vince Lombardi when he returned to Blaik’s West Point staff. Then he called McClendon at LSU to inquire about the head coaching position at Cincinnati and McClendon said, “What about LSU? Get someone at Army to recommend you down here and see what happens.”
A year earlier, Dietzel had been assured that he would be appointed the successor to Bryant at Kentucky . Then Blanton Collier, who had turned down the Kentucky job, reconsidered. But Dietzel had made a big impression in the interview at Kentucky , and they recommended him to LSU a year later. He also got a recommendation from former LSU coach “Biff” Jones, who told Board of Supervisors chairman Lewis Gottlieb he wasn’t interested in returning to Baton Rouge but suggested that they “look into this Dietzel fellow.”
Dietzel’s stiffest competition came from Ara Parseghian, who was then head coach at Miami ( Ohio ). But one of the stipulations of the search committee was that they would not consider a head under contract.
“I learned something different from each of the coaches I served under,” Dietzel said when he got the job. “Gillman gave me the foundation. Bryant taught me the name of the game is knock. And Colonel Blaik taught me organization. If I don’t make good at LSU, I’m no coach.”