Everyone connected with the University of South Carolina football program and the college football world in general was saddened to hear of the passing of Paul Dietzel on Tuesday. He was a heck of a coach, a visionary athletics director and a really nice man.
I graduated from Union High School in 1964, and was invited back for the '65 football banquet. I was excited because the speaker was going to be the head coach at West Point. I was excited, because I had become a fan of college football around 1958, when I started playing recreation ball at age 12.
Like every kid, I was captivated by LSU's run to the national championship that season. It wasn't just that the Tigers were good, they were cool. They had a white team unit, a gold or go team, and this special unit called the Chinese Bandits. The seniors wore black hats, and they had this running back named Billy Cannon.
The way the three units ran on and off the field often looked like a wild fire drill, but it was coordinated, involved more players, and was successful. The Tigers raced to a 10-0 regular season -- and I'm just saying this for the record -- they beat another Tiger team claiming a Death Valley, 7-0 in the Sugar Bowl to cap off a perfect season.
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Now the reason Coach Dietzel had accepted an invitation to visit our quaint little Southern town was because of one Tommy Simmons, one of the state's top running back prospects, who had the build and the intensity of a bull, and Coach thought he could convince him to become a cadet. (Trust me, that was never going to happen. Having known him his entire life,Tommy Simmons was not going to get up at 6 a.m. and make his bed.)
I don't remember a lot about Coach Dietzel's speech that night, except that it was laced with humor, and it had one of his patented inspirational messages that brought a tear to your eye, and ended with an upbeat, optimistic, faith-based prediction for the future.
As a sophomore at Carolina, I also remember whispering to the guy next to me, “Wouldn't it be great to have a coach like Paul Dietzel as our coach.” A few months later, he was a Gamecock, and shortly thereafter so was Tommy.
Coach Marvin Bass' last three seasons were 1-8-1, 3-5-2 and 5-5, so there wasn't a great deal of buzz about the program from the top prospects. Even though the national champion buzz was still around Coach Dietzel, like those before him, he struggled with turning the USC program around, including that infamous 1-9 first-year start in 1966.
He proved he could coach by taking the talent he had and coaching them to a 5-5 mark in '67. And although the Gamecocks finished 4-6 in '68, there were 14-7, 21-20, 21-19 losses among the six, and there was a sense that this team was on the verge of better days.
Those days came in '69, as the Gamecocks sprinted to a 6-0 ACC record and won the school's first conference championship. (It was coincidentally, the first year I saw every game in a season.) There were a couple of nail biters like the 21-16 win against N.C. State and the 17-16 win at Virginia Tech. The season also included a very pleasing 27-13 win over Clemson.
USC left the ACC after the '70 season and embarked on the road as an independent. The Gamecocks finished 6-5 in '71, and 7-4 in '73, but overall Coach Dietzel's program never achieved any kind of consistency. Then he announced in the middle of the '74 season that he was retiring as coach, but intended to stay on as athletics director. The administration had other ideas and awarded the dual job to Jim Carlen.
Under Coach Dietzel the University reached its first “golden age” of facilities. He directed construction of the first Gamecock Village, with the opening of The Roost in 1968. Carolina Coliseum opened in 1969, and he persuaded the Williams-Brice family to donate the money to add an upper deck to the stadium that was dedicated in 1972.
He was way ahead of his time in understanding how important facilities are in developing a program and in recruiting. At the same time he made sure that everything -- travel, uniforms, meals – was first class for his players.
As I said, Coach Dietzel was a real visionary as an athletics director, a really good football coach, and even better person, who loved and cared for his players. He is a man who will certainly be missed, but the things he did for South Carolina's programs will forever be his legacy.
It's a great time to be a Gamecock!
GLENN SNYDER BIO
A native of Union, he graduated from Union High School in 1964 where he was a three-sport letterman for the Yellow Jackets.
When he was 13, he came to Columbia with two super Gamecock fans. They took him to the stadium and introduced him to coach Marvin Bass. When he saw the Horseshoe, he knew immediately where he was going to school, that he would live in Columbia for the rest of his life, and his dream was to be a sportswriter.
A journalism/media arts major (1964-1969), his first job after school was with the South Carolina Farm Bureau, where he was the Assistant Director of Communications. He managed Carolina Printing Co. for several years, where he met Dexter Hudson, which led to a 30-year career with Spurs & Feathers as senior writer and columnist, which ended this past June.
He and his wife, Mary, have two children, Kevin (41) and Jennifer (34).
Contact Glenn at email@example.com