The little things stand out.
“His handwriting was so perfect,” Tommy Suggs said on Tuesday. “Of course, he was an artist.”
Suggs, a South Carolina legend for playing quarterback on the school’s only conference championship team, was asked to remember another legend on Tuesday.
Coach Paul Dietzel, who coached that team along with eight others during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and served as USC athletics director from 1966-75, died early Tuesday after recently being diagnosed with a blood disorder.
The news broke before Steve Spurrier’s usual weekly news conference, and Spurrier spoke about Dietzel’s wonderful career and life before he began. Spurrier met the former coach at an event last year, and the old coach made an immediate impression on the new coach.
“First order of business is to say coach Dietzel was a heck of guy,” Spurrier said. “One of the best to coach college football. Had a wonderful life and we’re thinking about him and sending our condolences to his wife.”
Suggs remembered Dietzel for how he persuaded him to turn down his lifelong love of Clemson and a basketball scholarship offer at Davidson to come to USC and how he kept in touch over the years. Former team captain Johnny Gregory led an initiative to keep all of Dietzel’s former players in touch with their coach, and Suggs began to write letters to him.
The letters he got in reply were flawlessly scripted, a nod to Dietzel’s later life as an accomplished painter of watercolor prints.
“I think the last letter I got from him was about three months ago, maybe,” Suggs said. “Someone had sent him a copy of an article someone wrote about me and he sent me a nice letter back.”
It was a sad day for USC, but also a recognition of Dietzel’s impact on the school. Dietzel not only coached the only conference champion football team, but mandated the recruitment of black athletes at USC, hired former New York Yankees standout Bobby Richardson to coach baseball and helped renovate the Gamecocks’ athletics facilities.
“He meant everything,” Suggs said. “I learned a lot from him. He and I weren’t always on the same page because I liked to throw more than he liked to throw. He meant a lot to not only me, but this entire university and the state. He took us to a new level that we’d never been to before.”