WARREN GIESE took the reins of the University of South Carolina football fortunes for the 1956 season and opened with the obligatory triumph over Wofford.
Perhaps the game’s only memorable footnote is Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson played, and scored, for the Terriers.
OK, coach, that’s Wofford. No big deal; the Gamecocks always beat Wofford. Duke is up next; time to show us what you’ve got.
Duke? Sonny Jurgensen’s Duke? Gulp. The Blue Devils ranked with the nation’s heavyweights in that era. We’ll give you a pass on that one, the faithful decided. The Gamecocks had not beaten Duke since 1931. In the fledgling Atlantic Coast Conference’s brief history, Duke had not lost to a league foe and Carolina fans expected the worst for the new coach.
Instead, they got the best.
On Sept. 22, 1956, the Gamecocks and their new coach shocked 16th-ranked Duke, 7-0. In the “first-impressions” department, Giese’s debut screamed for attention. The victory put Carolina in the national rankings briefly and the excited administration bestowed academic tenure — an important factor before too long — on the new guy in the Roundhouse.
Then 32, he brought a hard-nosed philosophy and playing against his team was no place for the faint of heart. The forward pass came in moments of desperation; otherwise, a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense and smash-mouth defense made his heart sing.
He directed the Gamecocks for five seasons, posting a 28-21-1 record, before getting pushed out. But thanks to that tenure, he stayed around, headed the physical education department, became a state senator and served on the President’s council on physical fitness.
He died Thursday at age 89, perhaps the least appreciated of successful coaches at Carolina.
Perhaps first and foremost, Giese taught the game. Players mastered the fundamentals or they didn’t get on the field.
Don Barton, a former sports editor and sports information director and now an authority on USC athletics, remembers attending a coaches’ clinic that featured Giese, Ohio State legend Woody Hayes and SMU’s Bill Meeks. Giese stole the show with his precise presentation.
A native of Milwaukee and a veteran of World War II, he had learned the game under one of the masters, playing at Oklahoma and coaching at Maryland under Jim Tatum. He came to Carolina from the top assistant’s post at Maryland.
Rex Enright, then in declining health, had decided to relinquish his coaching duties and remain director of athletics after the 1955 season. He chose his replacement, first offering the job to Notre Dame assistant Johnny Druze before turning to Giese.
The hire could not have been much of a secret. Barton remembers Giese’s being in Charlottesville to watch the Gamecocks beat Virginia in Enright’s last game.
Following Enright came with pluses and minuses. On the positive side, Giese inherited a veteran team that would be supplemented by a sophomore class headed by Alex Hawkins and King Dixon. On the negative side, his public relation skills paled compared to the personable Enright.
Though he might not have been appreciated due to the latter, his team’s victories over Texas in 1957, Clemson a year later and Georgia in 1959 rank among the school’s finest hours.
During his years in the state Senate, Giese always had time to get away from politics and talk football. He kept up with the game, liked to point out the positives of the two-point conversion and laughed about his closed-circuit television to the sidelines that rules’ officials outlawed.
In reminiscing one time a few years ago, he talked about the great uniform snafu. The Gamecocks played at Maryland in 1960, his last year, and both teams came out in red jerseys.
“We were right,” he said, and he figured Terps coach Tom Nugent wanted to pull a fast one. Nevertheless, officials made the Gamecocks change. They wore Maryland practice jerseys that, he said, had not been cleaned and the Gamecocks lost 15-0.
After returning to Columbia, Giese produced the telegram from Nugent that said Maryland would wear white jerseys.
Another Maryland boo-boo, this one self-inflicted, cost USC a probable trip to the Orange Bowl. Carolina finished 1958 at 7-3 with that impressive victory over 10th-ranked Clemson, but a 10-6 loss at Maryland spoiled the post-season opportunity.
Nursing a 6-3 lead, Carolina lined up to punt, but the play went awry.
“We should have taken the safety,” Giese would say, “but you know, there are young guys and sometimes they make mistakes. If you learn from them, that’s what matters.”
That philosophy, like the memory of Warren Giese, is worth keeping.