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A Biography of the University of Washington’s Greatest Coach. . . . .
. . . . . of whom a vast majority of UW graduates are totally unaware of his existence. For nine years he never lost a game as head football coach from 1908 to 1916. He was the single most important contributor in uniting all major West Coast teams of his era in forming the league that today is known as the Pacific 10/Pacific 12 Conference. His high standards in seeking the ultimate in athletic achievement from his players led directly to bringing the game of football “way out west” up to the competitive level of Eastern and Midwestern schools.

Gilmour Dobie, 1907

In this book I reveal an amazing fact of Dobie’s childhood that has never before been disclosed: Both of his parents died by the time he was eight years old and he became an orphan. Over the next nine years he alternately lived at a militaristic orphanage or was contracted out to farming families as an indentured child laborer. His education suffered and he was subjected to long hours of heavy farm work. Having been under judicial order as a ward of the court until age twenty-one – how he was able to be released from his bondage by age seventeen is a saga of Dickensian proportions. Through the concerted efforts of a devoted woman willing to take him into her home under a humane indentured contract, his older sister Ellen, a wealthy benefactor, the judge who originally committed him to the orphanage and even the Governor of Minnesota, Dobie was finally released from bondage. This remarkable circumstance set him on the path to becoming one of the greatest football coaches of all time. I have fully documented these events from the original record dating back 128 years when Dobie’s mother died and continuing on through his four terms as an indentured child laborer.

His story is one of perplexing incongruity. He could exhibit what some would deem an excessively harsh practice regimen in his quest for athletic perfection and yet the historic account is replete with vast numbers of players who sang his praises as the greatest contributor to their development of character. He was demanding, obsessive, controlling, meticulous and always won but yet was branded a pessimist. By his close friends he was described as intelligent, warm, likable, eloquent, genuine, of high character, sincere and an easy going conversationalist. However, the account of his personality that has been widely distributed by latter day writers often paints a picture of a man devoid of any such qualities. In actuality his personality was much more complex. His boot camp practice methods are the source of most of the legend built up over the years that brands him as zealously callous. As a consequence of the rigorous investigation that a biographer must undertake, I discovered a huge volume of evidence from Dobie’s era that reveals a much richer portrayal of the man. He was innovative, a perfectionist, a master of psychology, a painstaking advocate of teaching fundamentals, ahead of his time in requiring physical conditioning, enigmatic, a contrarian, forward thinking, possessive of a brilliant football mind and a natural born leader of men.

In my two year campaign to gather research for the first biography of Gilmour Dobie the one unalterable tenet that I established was to include only sources from authors of his time. I discovered large gaps in the reporting of eye witness accounts versus writings and supposed official reports done many years after the events. Dobie’s nine year undefeated streak at Washington is not 61 games as has been mistakenly chiseled in granite but actually 62. His reported age conflicts with the county recorder’s official transcript of his birth and his draft registration card. His published breakdown of games, scores, dates played and locations bear 18 substantive errors. The listing of his players and their accomplishments are so erroneous as to be disrespectful to their memories. Descriptions of many incidents that are critical to understanding just what happened and how Dobie dealt with the situation at hand do an injustice to the historical record and to the people involved. These conflicts are alarming from the standpoint of paying respect for great athletic achievement but not unusual as biographers always deal with irregularities. The value of the end product is in sorting out fact from fiction.

Dobie was born 132 years ago and coached his last game at Washington in 1916. Some would say this is in the distant past and ask what purpose is served by resurrecting his memory from events of so long ago? A fair question if we believe that history got the story right and there is no such thing as tradition. It is abundantly demonstrated in Pursuit of Perfection that legend has overwhelmed reality. Gilmour Dobie made a profound influence on football everywhere he coached but his colorful nature made for spectacular headlines that became the story. In examining his career we discover a fascinating individual whose coaching techniques and game day strategy will inspire both football practitioners and enthusiasts of modern times. The same can be said of his players who competed in this rough sport at the very dawn of the modern game, often on the field every minute of every contest under the most demanding of conditions. When called on they never lost a game over nine years. An NCAA record that to this day has never been equaled and probably for as long as the great game of college football is played – never will be. A lasting legacy of which Washington football fans can be duly proud.

In his time Dobie was heralded as a genius, his teams were described wherever he went as “The Dobie Machine” because of the coach’s tireless focus on teamwork. He instilled the ability to achieve a high level of machine-like efficiency from his players. At the peak of his career he was described as the greatest coach of his time. He wrote syndicated columns published in every state in the country and taught coaches’ football clinics to packed houses of his contemporaries seeking to learn from the master. He was always mentioned among the greats of the game such as John Heisman, Fielding H. Yost, Glenn “Pop” Warner, Bob Folwell, Hugo Bezdek and Knute Rockne. No less a legend of the game than Walter Camp lionized Coach Dobie with these words:

“Gilmour Dobie will undertake the greatest task of his career, namely, that of defeating individual stars through the steadiness and efficiency of team play. Probably there is no coach whose predilections have been so strongly focused on just such a problem. Dobie’s work on the coast has been so steady and consistent that his career has been marked by a succession of victories continuing not while a certain set of men were playing on his team but with whatever set of material he has on hand.”
Walter Camp 1917.

I was inspired to research and write on Dobie’s coaching career by Richard “Rich” Linde, the most knowledgeable authority on Washington football I have ever met. He is the creator of the popular website 4Malamute.com and that is where I found there are huge numbers of Dobie enthusiasts asking the same questions I had concerning the famous coach. Rich has launched a campaign titled “A Plaque For Gil Dobie” to call attention to the fact that fans and supporters of Husky football could do more to elevate and preserve the memory of their greatest coach and his players. He graciously agreed to review an early draft of Pursuit of Perfection and offered this opinion:

“I must say it's a fabulous work, one that has real significance to the University of Washington in its historical presentation. It's an amazing collection of facts that brings both the Dobiemen and the real Gil Dobie to life for the very first time. Your opinion is well supported by the facts, and your assemblage of them makes for delightful reading. Kudos go to you and your helpers – your wife and to your granddaughter – for all the hard work done in completing this mission of enlightenment.” Richard Linde 2010.

In 1916 Coach Dobie was fired in a set of circumstances that takes on twists and turns of a veritable Greek Tragedy – in what was a battle of two titans: Dobie versus University President Henry Suzzallo – for Dobie was a coach who never lost a game in 13 years’ time. This goes back to his head coaching days at Minneapolis South High School and North Dakota State. The clash of egos and near-comic behind-the-scenes intrigue are revealed allowing the reader to choose sides as to just who was right and who was wrong. Coach Dobie’s controversial termination at Washington is just one chapter in the complex life of this man. Royal Brougham of the Post-Intelligencer, at the time of Dobie’s termination stated: “He will leave with the greatest record ever hung up by a football coach in the history of the gridiron game.” Since his record of undefeated games has been in the NCAA records now since 1916, it is almost certain that it will never be duplicated.

Your inquiries are welcome.

Lynn Borland

 Lynn Borland can also be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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