In 1949 Tad Wieman, Athletic Director at the University of Maine in Orono, offered Dave Nelson a job as Head Football Coach. Dave immediately called me and asked if I would come to Maine as his backfield coach. My answer was “Yes!”
I finished out my year at Hillsdale, with a little time out for Maine spring football practice. Shirley and I closed the house in Hillsdale and sent our furniture ahead to Maine. We stayed for a while in the early part of the summer of 1949 with Shirley’s sister Lucille and her husband Ken McBroom. Then in August of 1949, we moved to Maine and would stay there for the next 33 years until I retired from the University in 1982. The University of Maine had a great tradition, and we were very happy there. Orono was a great place to bring up our family.
When we first moved to Orono, we lived for two years in what were called South Apartments. They were buildings originally constructed to house World War II veterans attending the University under the GI bill. They resembled barracks with four small apartments downstairs and four upstairs in each of several buildings. When we moved in, they were being used to house married students and a few faculty families. We used oil for heat, hot water and cooking. It was a bit primitive, but adequate. We were on a pretty tight budget in those days, although my new salary of $3,900 was considerably more than it had been at Hillsdale College.
The University of Maine was a much larger school than Hillsdale College and played in two conferences: the Yankee Conference, composed of the state universities of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut, and the Maine Intercollegiate Athletic Association, composed of the University of Maine and three private colleges, Bowdoin, Bates, and Colby. In 1958 the University of Massachusetts joined the Yankee Conference, increasing the number of games we played each season from 7 to 8.
When I first came to the University of Maine, I was the backfield coach for the football team, as well as the Assistant Basketball Coach and Freshman Baseball Coach. Dave Nelson was the Head Football Coach, and we started off running the Michigan single-wing offense as we had done so successfully at Hillsdale College. It wasn’t until the 1950 season that we first ran the now famous “Winged T.”
In the spring of 1949, even though I was still coaching at Hillsdale, Shirley and I made a special trip to Maine for spring practice. She was still nursing Gary, so he went with us, but the rest of the children stayed with their grandmother, Eleanor Westerman. The player candidates for the 1949 Maine team included many war veterans who had been stationed to start their education at the Brunswick Naval Station, rather than at the Orono campus. Dave and I went down to Brunswick to hold a special spring practice for the men there. While we had them all in pads ready for the first practice, Dave sent me to the Registrar’s Office to look at their grades. Most of them were having a lot of trouble, and even a week of practice would have taken a lot of time away from their studying. They wouldn’t be eligible unless they had at least a 1.6 grade point average. We did run a few drills for about an hour and could tell which ones could probably make the team up at the Orono campus in the fall. However, we called a halt to the Brunswick practices, and returned to Orono to hold spring practice for the players on that campus. As it turned out, we started with about fifty men, but by the time the spring sessions ended, we had fewer than twenty. Most of them had no idea how difficult our practices would be and how much effort it would take to be invited back in the fall for preseason.
When fall rolled around, we managed to invite back fifty-five players, including a few of those who had been down in Brunswick. By the first game, our roster was down to fifty. We played only seven games that first year, with a record of 2-4-1 (two wins, four losses, and one tie). It was obvious that due to our limited roster and no athletic scholarships to recruit more men, we simply didn’t have enough players to run the unbalanced Michigan single-wing offense. Before another season, we would have to change the offense.
After the 1949 season, Stan Wallace, our trainer, suggested that I be introduced to the challenge of hunting fox. Wally lent me a double-barreled, 12-gauge shotgun and explained he would invite a couple of his hunting buddies. The next day it was very cold and we were all bundled up ready to go about ten o’clock. The first freeze came early that year, and the combination of a little rain and snow made the footing a bit precarious. Wally explained that the fox always ran in large circles when hunting their prey, such as rabbits. He suggested that we spread out in different directions and travel in about a hundred-yard circle as they had often done before, to be sure someone would see a fox. Wally sent me up an inclined road toward the University apple orchard. Since there was a little snow cover, he suggested we watch for tracks but be careful of the footing along the way.
Off we all went and needless to say I was quite excited with the whole experience. I hadn’t gone twenty yards before all of a sudden my feet went straight up in the air, and as I landed, the stock of the gun hit the ground and both barrels went off, sending the gun out of my hand and into the woods. The snow had covered some ice that caused the problem. It wasn’t but a minute before the other men came to see what had happened as they had heard the shots. Wally asked me “Did you shoot the fox?” and “Where is the gun?”
We finally found the gun, and I explained what had happened. I can remember him commenting, “Coach, I think we will have to give you a few lessons in fox hunting before you can carry a loaded gun.” Eventually I learned a lot, and we had many successful hunts over the years. It was fun.
I also learned about deer hunting. Wally suggested that I ask Lowell Osgood, a varsity basketball player, to take me hunting with him sometime. Lowell had a great reputation for hunting as he lived way up in the woods north of Lincoln, Maine. Lowell suggested we travel up near his place where he was sure we could find plenty of deer. I thought that it not only would be a new experience, but if we could shoot a deer, it would help put meat on our table. We had never even tasted venison but were told it was really good. First, I had to buy a gun and finally settled on getting a .30-.30 rifle.
One Saturday in late November, with over a foot of snow on the ground, Lowell and I set off for his favorite hunting site. It turned out to be in a beautiful thick pine forest. Snow covered the trees making it look like a fairyland. After a while Lowell stopped and turned to tell me not to make a sound. He evidently heard something that would make him stop so quickly.
We just stood there motionless for at least five minutes, and then Lowell started to make little squeaky sounds that sounded like an injured rabbit. In a minute or so, a beautiful fox appeared from behind a tree not a foot in front of Lowell. Before the fox could move Lowell popped him under his chin with his rifle butt, sending the fox over backwards. It was the funniest sight I had ever seen. Off went the fox, and Lowell explained that he had done this before, although I wasn’t so sure.
It wasn’t long before Lowell pointed to a large pine tree about fifty yards away. There stood a beautiful buck deer just staring at us. Lowell whispered to me to slowly raise my gun and shoot just behind his front shoulder. My heart was pounding, but I was able to get off the shot and down went my first deer. We cleaned him out and dragged him about a mile back to the car. I still have the four-point rack in the den. Over the next several years I enjoyed hunting fox and deer in the beautiful Maine woods.
During our preparations for the 1950 season, Dave felt as I did that we needed to better utilize our limited material. The decision to change our offensive system was finally made the night before we started practice that fall. Dave sent me out to Notre Dame to study how the quarterback should handle the ball from the ‘T’ formation. Needless to say, it was a bold move, but one that proved to be a great success.
In the Michigan unbalanced single-wing offense each player could play only one position. If we were to go to a balanced line, right and left plays were mirrored. This made it easy for a player to play two positions. For example, the left halfback could easily switch to run as a right halfback. The left tackle could change over to the right tackle position. We would line up with a balanced backfield and shift a back to either side. This forced your opponent to immediately make an adjustment. We could also run backs in motion, creating even more problems for the defense. This new offense would be called the “Winged T” offense.
We also thought that a balanced line could simplify the signal calling. That first year of using the new system (in 1950), plays would be called by first designating the ball carrier, then the series to be run, and last the point of attack. We numbered the points of attack (or hole to be hit) as 1 through 9, starting from right to left. The series or patterns that the backs would run were named as Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog. For example, the quarterback would call “left half at 2 Dog” or “fullback at 4 Baker,” and could also call motion right or left. We even ran some plays from an unbalanced line by simply saying “end over.”
Although this method of play calling was effective, it was somewhat cumbersome. Dave and I both felt that we needed something better, and I told him that I would work on improving it before the next spring practice. Appendix III contains a more complete account of the “Winged T,” and more fully describes the changes and reasoning for such a drastic revision of our offense.
Our 1950 record of 5-1-1 was much better than that of the previous year. Following that season, Dave was offered and accepted a position as Athletic Director and Head Football Coach at the University of Delaware. He wanted to take me with him, but suggested that I could be the Head Football Coach at Maine if I wanted to stay. Mike Lude, our line coach, did go to Delaware with Dave.
Tad Wieman, a former Michigan great, was Dean of Men at Maine and was responsible for hiring all athletic coaches. He recommended me to the President of the University, Dr. Arthur Hauck, who in turn offered me the positions of Head Football Coach and Assistant Basketball Coach. I accepted the offer and would coach at Maine for the next 16 years.
My new salary would be $5,500 per year. Wow! What a boost! At Hillsdale, my salary was $2,400 per year when I started and $2,700 when I left. Then, during my first two years at Maine, we received $4,100 a year, so this further increase was wonderful for Shirley and me. Looking back, salaries were a far cry from what they are today. Of course, over a thirty-year period, I finally reached a $43,000 salary, but that job now pays well in excess of $125,000. How times change. Of course, the levels of salaries increase each year, but the largest factor in that particular change is that Maine is now considered a top Division 1AA Team.
Now at the start of the year in 1951, I found myself as Head Football Coach of one of 48 state Universities. Who would have guessed that a small kid from a Kansas farm would make it to that level of coaching!
As the new Head Football Coach, my first job was to hire two assistant coaches, a line coach and a backfield coach. I called Fritz Chrysler and Bennie Oosterbaan to get recommendations. They both agreed that I should seriously consider Bob Hollway (an All-Big-Ten end) to coach the backfield, and a high school coach by the name of Harold Raymond for the line coach position. Both Bennie and Fritz warned me that Harold could be difficult, as he had a really hot temper. He had been a reserve quarterback at Michigan and was captain of the baseball team. I flew out to Ann Arbor and interviewed both men. I was impressed with them and made them offers to come to Maine. They both accepted. Bob would coach at Maine for the next two years before accepting a position as Assistant Coach at the University of Michigan. He then went on to become Head Coach of the St. Louis Cardinals. Harold (“Tubby”) Raymond was my line coach from 1951 through 1953. He then accepted a position at the University of Delaware as backfield coach for Dave Nelson who could pay him more than he was making at Maine. Harold would remain as an assistant to Dave for the next twelve years, until1966 when Dave retired. He was then appointed Head Coach at Delaware where he coached for 36 seasons, retiring in 2001. During his tenure at Delaware he won 300 games, lost 119 and tied 3. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in February 2003.
Maine was the only team in either of our conferences not to conduct spring football practice as was allowed under NCAA rules. I thought this would put us at a serious disadvantage, so I made an appointment to discuss the matter with President Hauck. I explained the situation to him; however, he immediately said that Maine would not conduct any spring practice because it would take the players away from their classes. As I started to continue to plead my position, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Coach, we will disagree, and the twain shall never meet.” As it turned out, we went undefeated that first year, after which he called me in to say, “You see, you didn’t need the spring practice after all, did you?” He did change his mind, however, before 1952.
As I pointed out earlier, the numbering system for the original “Winged T” of 1950 was cumbersome, and I had been working on finding a better way of calling plays. In the spring of 1951, I decided to change to a numerical system. It was easy. I made the first number represent the formation, the second number to indicate the series, and the third number to indicate the hole or point of attack. We would still add additional words such as motion, pass, counter, etc.
I called Dave at Delaware and told him what I had come up with for the new numbering system, and he liked it enough to immediately install it at Delaware. I also told him about the counter play (128 ct. and 922 ct.). In about a week, he called to tell me that he was running it along with what he called 138 counter crisscross. In the 128 counter, the quarterback faked to the fullback up the middle, then faked to the left halfback running right, before making an inside handoff to the right halfback who was coming from his wing position. In the 138 counter crisscross, the quarterback actually handed the ball to the left halfback, who then executed an inside handoff to the right halfback countering back to the eight hole. It was a bit risky but a very effective misdirection play.
Our 1951 football season was a pretty good one (7-0-1). With my two assistant coaches and the team Captain Peter Pocius, an outstanding guard, we began to build a good football family. I can remember that I somehow expressed to the candidates for that 1951 team how important it was to be a solid team or family if we expected to succeed. We used the term “football family,” and from that time on, the football family was to come first. Each player needed to subordinate his own desires for the good of the team. I do think that philosophy was largely responsible for our success over the years. Over a period of 16 years, we had only one losing season (4-5), the last one, in 1966. I also emphasized how important it was to play the game fairly, within the spirit of the rules. I often told the team that any player could find a way to break the rules, but each should want to play not just by the rules, but within the spirit of what the rules really intended.
In February of 1952, I was deeply honored to receive “The Hammer Award“ presented by the prestigious Portland Athletic Club for our 1951 State and Yankee Conference Championships. Vernon (“Lefty”) Gomez, the famous New York Yankee pitcher, was the guest speaker that evening.
Our 1952 season started with Jim and Jack Butterfield as our co-captains. I would later hire them as assistant coaches, and they both would go on as very successful head coaches — Jack in baseball in Florida and Jim in football at Colgate and Ithaca. As in 1951, our team included many great players who contributed to our program. Some of them would play over the next several years as our teams developed. Our offensive lineup in 1952 included Ed Bogdanovich, Jack Butterfield, and Bill McCann in the backfield, with Steve Novack at quarterback, Woody Carville and Lew Clark as ends, Harry Richardson and Dick Breen as tackles, and Tom Golden and Jim Butterfield as guards. Our center was Gerald Hodge, who later became Bangor High School’s great coach. Scotty Thorburn, who played the corner, anchored our defensive team in 1952. He lived with us for a while at 265 Main Street and became a personal friend of our family. Our children fell in love with Scotty, as he could be a real clown. Years later Scotty died of Alzheimer’s disease. During the 1952 season, our main focus was on developing the team, and our record was only fair — we won 4 and lost 3 games.
These early years of the 1950’s were great years for Shirley and me. She was very busy raising our small children while I was coaching and making progress in my career. Shirley made all of the children’s clothes, and all of our coats and sweaters were the result of her handiwork as well. She even knitted special socks for me to wear for my football games. They were my lucky socks, and she made me a new pair each year. All of this really helped us to make ends meet.
By 1953 our family was lucky to have escaped the polio epidemic, but some of our children’s friends were not so fortunate. Our doctor’s son would never walk again without crutches. Everyone had been vaccinated, but it still didn’t prevent some from getting the dreaded disease.
In the 1953 season, our record was a little better than the year before, with 4 wins, 2 losses, and one tie. One important factor was that the NCAA Football Rules Committee changed the substitution rules, bringing an end to two-platoon football that was to last for a decade. Many small schools had dropped football for lack of funds. They complained that it was becoming too expensive to field an offensive team and a separate defensive team. It required a first and second team for
both offense and defense, as well as some substitutes. The new rule prevented a whole team from going on and off the field as a unit. It stated that a player leaving the game in the first and third periods could not re-enter again in those same periods. Also it stated that any player withdrawn before the final four minutes of the second and fourth periods could, after one play, re-enter during those four minutes. No one was allowed to enter the game while the ball was in play or during the twenty-five second count. Also, any player that entered the game had to stay in until at least one play had been run.
In the fall of 1955 Shirley and I were privileged to have Llewellyn (Lew) Clark and his young son Rocky come to live with us. Lew had just lost his wife, leaving him with their six-weeks-old baby. Our family dearly loved Rocky from that time to this day.
At the time, Lew was an outstanding football player on our University of Maine football team. I admired Lew for his athletic ability, but even more so for his general ideals, character and keen mind. He was an exceptional student who could maintain his academic standing in the School of Engineering and still find time to play college football, a game that he loved since his high school days.
A few years later, after receiving a BS in mechanical engineering and a PhD in civil engineering, Lew would return as a professor to teach at the University. I was very fortunate to persuade him to be a part-time assistant football coach, greatly helping our football program. Needless to say, now over fifty years later Lew and Rocky remain very special friends to the entire Westerman family.
Over the years, the rules of football have changed dramatically, especially the substitution rule. If anyone is interested in the history of football and the rules by which the game was played, they should read David M. Nelson’s book entitled “Anatomy of a Game.” It is complete up through 1991, and is subtitled “Football, the Rules, and the Men Who Made the Game.”
The sixties were great years of coaching football at Maine for me, but very difficult ones for our nation. This was the Vietnam era that tried the very foundation of the United States. Our society in general was becoming more liberal as the rock and roll music took hold of our young people. Those years were the beginning of a complete change in our nation’s morals and thinking.
Schools started experimenting with various teaching methods and the traditional family methods of discipline were questioned. If “junior” used his colored crayons to draw pictures on the living room walls, parents would try to figure out the hidden meaning rather than use any kind of punishment for such behavior. During this time, it became more of a challenge to provide leadership to youth. Many young people were experimenting with drugs and their sexual behavior. The introduction of “The Pill” played a part in the way families dealt with matters of sexual education. Most families were seriously challenged as they wrestled with the situation. Today as I am writing this, I can see athat our society may have been permanently changed by that era. I know that today one can still find wonderful God-fearing people and men and women of integrity, but the elements of those years, the sixties and seventies, are rooted still in our society. In all segments of our society, we can see an erosion of values and personal character. Not that any of us are without faults, but in general, the times today are not like the 1920’s or the 1950’s.
In 1961, after renting a house at 265 Main Street in Orono for 10 years, our family built a home nearby on Spencer Street where we lived until my retirement in 1982. Sandy was already attending college in Massachusetts when we moved in, and that milestone was fast approaching for the rest of the children.
Also in 1961, we made a change to our football schedule. We added the Army “B” team, but that lasted just one season. In 1965, however, our schedule changed drastically. We added Boston University, Youngstown State, and the University of Tampa, and no longer played Bates or Bowdoin. That year we were scheduled to play nine regular season games. In 1966, my final year of coaching, we would add Bucknell University and drop Tampa.
Plans for the 1965 schedule included, as the last game of the regular season, a game against the University of Tampa in Florida. It was added to provide a new experience for the coaches and players. For many it would be their first time in an airplane or trip out of New England. Also the trip would not cost the University anything, as a guarantee (a payment from the host school) would cover all expenses and provide $5,000 to go into the University’s general budget. The President and Athletic Board approved the scheduling of the game.
Our 1965 season was a great success and we went into the Tampa game undefeated. In preparation we had to practice for a month inside the field house, as our regular fields outdoors were frozen by November 1st. Finally the day came for us to board our plane at the Bangor airport. Everyone was excited and really looking forward to the trip and game. It was our hope to continue our undefeated season so as to receive the first ever post-season NCAA Bowl bid for a University of Maine team.
The flight was smooth, and we arrived in Tampa mid-afternoon with great anticipation. Upon arrival, a man in formal tails and a black stovetop hat met us. He announced himself as the Mayor of Ebor City. He had a small band with him, and as they played he immediately began to hand out big black cigars to the players. He looked very surprised and disappointed as I explained that the players were in training and wouldn’t be smoking any cigars.
We boarded a waiting bus that was to take us to our hotel downtown. This was all part of the guarantee, and we wanted to have a little time to settle in and rest before dinner. The hotel was located in the middle of town, and after the players were all given their room keys, I told them that we would meet in the lobby at five-thirty for dinner. Before I could go to my room with my assistant coach, Jack Butterfield, the players began to come back into the lobby saying that the rooms were not clean, beds not made, and that there were cockroaches all over the place.
I went to my room and decided that this was not a place where we could stay to prepare for an important game. We got back on the bus and located a very nice motel on the outskirts of town that had a large swimming pool and dining facilities. The players were delighted and really began to have a great time.
The next morning the Tampa paper had large headlines that read, “University of Maine coach and team snub Ebor’s Mayor with no respect, turned down the prearranged hotel facilities and moved to a motel out of town. The matter will be settled on the field tomorrow according to University Athletic officials.” It was a difficult situation and although we meant no disrespect, the facilities were just not acceptable.
The game turned out to be a real defensive battle, and with only a minute to play, neither team had been able to score. After their last punt we had the ball on our own five-yard line. I still thought we might be able to score and win the game. I called for a counter pass play that had been very successful for us all season.
Our quarterback, Dick DeVarney, faked a run and rolled out to set up to throw a sideline pass. Tampa’s big defensive end grabbed Dick’s non-passing arm. Although Dick threw the ball before he was down, the official called a “Safety,” claiming that Dick was in the defensive man’s grasp before he released the ball. Tampa won 2 to 0, ending our undefeated season. It was a very controversial call.
After a long plane ride home we were greeted by hundreds of students and faculty at the Bangor airport and later at the Memorial Gym. Our hopes for a bowl bid and an undefeated season were dashed.
The very next day, however, we received an invitation to play East Carolina in the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Florida, on December 11, 1965. We were delighted and again started practicing in the field house to prepare for the game only a few weeks away. It would be a first in Maine’s football history and a real challenge to play a highly-rated East Carolina team who ran a single wing offense with talented players at every position.
Our practices went well, and I felt that we were as fully prepared as possible. Although we couldn’t take our entire squad, the men who wore the red shirts in practice came out to help us prepare for the game. It was a sacrifice on their part, and the entire team really appreciated their effort to get us ready to play the game.
Our flight down went well. We had our first practice in very hot weather, and the players were wringing wet even before the workout started. This was in spite of the fact that we had turned up the heat in the field house for our practices. Many students and alumni made the trip down to support the team, and everyone was excited to see the game the next day.
The game got underway after much pre-game fanfare, and as expected, both teams were hitting with great intensity. We were moving the ball down the field early in the first quarter when our quarterback, Dick DeVarney, went down with a knee injury. He was a senior and had played for three years without an injury. George Platter, his replacement, did a good job replacing him as quarterback, even though he had little game experience. It wasn’t long before East Carolina began to dominate the game. Our men played their hearts out but proved no match for the bigger southern team. We were defeated 31 to 0. The season had been a long one, and when we arrived home, a wonderful crowd met us at the airport to show their support. The details of the entire season can be found in the 1965 scrapbook that was kept by Shirley.
In March 1966 Doctor Rome Rankin retired as Athletic Director but would continue his teaching role in the College of Education. Dean Tad Wieman, asked me to assume that position along with coaching football. I agreed to do it, but after a year, I found that the combination of football coach and Athletic Director proved to be a bit too much. So after the 1966 season, my sixteenth year as Head Football Coach at UMO, I turned the position over to Walter Abbott. I served as Athletic Director until 1982, when I retired at age 65 and moved to Vero Beach, Florida.
During my years as Head Football Coach and Athletic Director at the University of Maine, I occasionally wrote pieces that expressed my philosophy about coaching at the college level, a couple of which follow below.
The Mission of a Football Coach
When a man takes on the responsibility of coaching young men to play football he must be prepared to teach the player the basic fundamentals of the game. The player must learn how to block and tackle. He must be able to extend himself beyond what he thought possible, and most of all, to sublimate his own desires for the good of the team.
The coach and his staff must set a good example by living clean and healthy lives, ones that the players will want to emulate. The players’ safety and well being must be foremost in the coach’s mind, and he must provide for the best possible training facility and staff that should include a trainer and doctor immediately available at all times.
The player must learn how to be humble in victory yet gracious in defeat. It is an absolute to learn to play the game not just within the rules, but also within the spirit of the rules. Properly coached a player will find deep within himself those characteristics that will enrich his youthful days and extend throughout his life.
It is a real privilege to be a football coach at any level. One takes on a great responsibility, as the player and his parents put their trust in him. Over the course of a season there will be times when a player will question whether or not the efforts needed are, in fact, worth it. From my experience as a football coach, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
Later in life the player will come to realize more and more that the coach knew full well the value of the experience. From the many letters that I have received from my former ball players, I feel proud that they now, as adults, are grateful that they played the game.
The Role of a Coach
When a person accepts a role as a coach, he or she takes on an extremely important responsibility. Young people who have the talent to participate in high school or elementary school sports are so susceptible to the adults with whom they come in contact. It is during those years that our youth need role models that teach and show by example the right way to live. Assuming that the home can provide the background and instill the difference between right and wrong, the coaches, or teachers, still need to have the full cooperation of parents and administrators in their daily effort.
Youngsters have an over-abundance of energy that needs to be channeled in the right direction. They need to establish a sense of responsibility and develop confidence as they grow and learn to become good citizens, ones who contribute and are willing to work hard for the good of all, especially the family. As our youth reach their late teens and either enter society with a job or seek higher education, it is vital that there is a continuation of proper direction in their lives. It requires individual hard work and sacrifice to go on to school and learn a way of life that will sustain them for their future.
If our leaders (local, regional, state or national) cut corners, cheat or falter in their responsibilities, they lower the bar for individual morality. Society seems to float or drift toward the material or easy way, rather than strive to raise the standards for the general population, especially when our young people are exposed to poor movies, books, TV and other communications that are substandard to say the least.