History: Coyle's coaching, the Prez's couching
Rich Linde, 5 March 2012
Standing in a wintry line
that stretched from the Registrar to Denny Hall, the recurring thought
of "class closed" failed to roil my resolve.
("Wee") Coyle quarterbacked Washington from 1908 to 1911, becoming the
first quarterback -- and maybe the only quarterback in college football
-- to go unbeaten in four seasons of leadership. He also lettered in
baseball and track and is now honored in the University of Washington
Hall of Fame in all three sports.
quarterbacked the 1909 team, which in Gilmour Dobie's later life he
would trumpet as his best team ever. Dobie (59-0-3) coached Washington
from 1908-1916 and never lost a game, a record that has never been
equaled or surpassed at any other school.
One of my readers found an
article that suggested Coyle coached Broadway high school in 1912, the
year after he graduated from Washington. His question encouraged me to
research Coyle's activities in 1912.
article I found (Seattle Times, "Coyle puts 'pep' into Broadway eleven,"
November 21, 1912), states that Coyle was a volunteer coach at Broadway,
assisting Coach Smith in his preparation for a game against Queen Anne
high school on the following Saturday. Specifically it states that Coyle
was teaching the fine points of the game to players at
various positions. His presence was meant to serve as an inspiration to
the team, since he had been a football star at Broadway before he
enrolled at Washington.
On the following Saturday,
Queen Anne walloped Broadway 41 to 7, in a game that featured fumbled
punts, missed tackles, and poor blocking on Broadway's part, along with
just about anything else that can lead to a team's demise. The Times'
article that described the game said it would be unfair to hold Coyle in
any way responsible for the failure of the team. "If Coyle ever coached
a team and sent it on the field knowing as little football as Broadway
has shown this season, his friends would disown him," the paper went on
Coyle married his longtime
sweetheart in 1912 (marriage photo above) and coached football at Gonzaga in
In 1913 Coyle refereed some
high school football and worked as an attaché to the State Attorney General's
On November 23, 1916, a week before
Washington's game with Cal,
the university suspended
tackle Bill Grimm because of "irregularities in (taking) an
examination." As a result of his suspension, the varsity players went on
strike in support of Grimm, refusing to play in the Cal game
Coach Gil Dobie said he
would train a volunteer team, although stating his sympathies were
with the varsity.
The alumni and Grimm convinced the team to play
"for the greater good." On voting to end the strike, it was
reported that team members passed a resolution denying their
action in refusing to play without Grimm was inspired by Coach
On December 9, 1916, university
president Dr. Henry Suzzallo (photo above) fired Coach Dobie, unbeaten in his nine
years of coaching at UW, saying, “Mr. Dobie will not be with us next year. That is now
final. The chief function of the university is to train character. Mr.
Dobie failed to perform to his full share of that responsibility on the
football field. Therefore we do not wish him to return next year."
A week later, on December 16, Suzzallo addressed 100 Seattle members of the UW
Alumni club at a luncheon held at the Butler Hotel, defending his action. Call it a sales pitch, if you will.
At the meeting, President Suzzallo used Dobie's own
words against him, saying that the coach's statement that the "strike
had shown that the football team has a weapon to use when similarly
attacked" was an expression recommending resort to a forceful rather
than a rational solution of problems.
"We have no desire to set
ourselves against intercollegiate athletics, the fraternity system, or
any other institution of college life; but we insist that whatever is
done be done in the spirit of good citizenship, that it conduce to
rationality, that the boys and girls be taught to think in the heat of a
crisis with the same precision that they think in the calm of the class
room, and that whatever is is done must conform with the highest ethical
ideals, "Suzzallo said.
"Our theory is that we shall let
the students handle everything that tends to their growth. We turn these
things over to them, but when we see signs that they are on the verge of
failure, we enter into the matter. The moral laws, the principles of good
taste and of sound judgment may not be set aside by the students or by
"The University teaches men to settle problems by an appeal to facts
instead of force," said the president," I would not tolerate on the
football field or faculty of any institution which I head a man who
advocated a resort to coercion."
After Suzzallo's talk the alumni club adopted a resolution thanking
Dobie for his nine years of service and expressed its approval of the
action taken by the president, congratulating him "for his courageous
insistence upon the principle that athletics shall, at all times, be
subservient to the building of character, the main and unalterable
purpose of the University of Washington." (#)
In my opinion, Suzzallo's
talk was an obfuscation that masked his perfidy in the matter, given the details of Dobie's
with which the alumni club was not aware.
In his book, "Pursuit of Perfection," biographer Lynn
Borland describes the circumstances that led to the strike and Dobie's
firing; he details Suzzallo's culpability in the matter and a salient
commitment not kept. (%)
Ten years later (in 1926), a new UW board of regents
announced Suzzallo's "leave of absence" (expulsion) for no apparent
reason. Enraged students threatened to strike, but were compelled not to
upon Suzzallo's request.
An executive committee formed from the UW alumni
association in a prepared statement said that Governor Roland H. Hartley
"is attempting to make a political football of the state's educational
institutions." Hartley had packed the board of regents with his own
appointees and was enraged at Suzzallo's actions in helping settle a
labor dispute in the logging and lumber industry.
On the night of October 4, 1926, in a show of
support and a wish to honor him, several thousand students marched to home of Dr. Suzzallo
just as they had done ten years earlier to honor the ousted Gil Dobie.
"We want Suzzallo, we want prexy," they shouted, as history repeated
Did Suzzallo follow the procedures set forth by
the Student and Faculty committees in his firing of Dobie?
Biographer Lynn Borland answers that question, as
"Suzzallo failed to go through either the Student or
Faculty committees that were the administrative bodies in place to act
on such matters. By his own statement of failure to "train character" he
directly contradicted himself of his prior praising of Dobie for doing
just that. Suzzallo was absent when the team strike took place. Also, in
his own words by telegram, he proved he did not understand the details
of the unfolding problem. He then did not go through the Faculty
Committee to adjudicate the matter - he did not attend their hearing and
ruled on the matter himself. He held no public hearings and seized the
opportunity to take his action during the busy Thanksgiving, Christmas
holiday season. He did not arrange for any type of hearings or reviews
with the many parties involved. He made an executive decision to
terminate Dobie that today would have resulted in a wrongful termination
lawsuit. Back then, had Dobie felt the need to fight the matter, public
opinion would have greatly weighed in his favor. Would Suzzallo back
down under such pressure? Probably not - but the bottom line of the
whole matter is that Suzzallo did not follow the procedures set down to
rule on such matters. For this he can be faulted. He did irreparable
harm to the football program which was felt for generations."
(#) "Washington Alumni praise Suzzallo and give
thanks to Dobie, The Seattle Times, December 17, 1916.
(%) Borland, Lynn, "Pursuit of Perfection," Tribute
Publishing, November 2010.