OXFORD — Fairmont High’s loss was college football’s gain.
Paul Dietzel was telling the story Friday afternoon as he sat in Millet Hall wearing his red blazer, Miami Redskins necktie and a bulky, purple-stoned national championship ring on his right hand.
After being a World War II pilot and finishing college at Miami University, where he was an All-American center on the football team, he was married to his high school sweetheart, Anne, and was making $2,000 a year as a graduate assistant coach on Sid Gillman’s staff. “Halfway through spring practice, I heard about a new high school being started in Dayton, Ohio — Dayton Fairmont, they called it — and they were going to have to hire a coach,” Dietzel said.
He said he had a friend who “went on and on to them about me — told them how I was an old B-29 pilot from the Pacific — and they finally told me they’d like me to be their coach. They said they could pay $3,500. I thought I was in the clover. Anne and I would be able to live a little better than we were.”
Back at Miami, he told Redskins assistant coach Frank Clair what he was about to do and said he got a warning:
“He told me, ‘You can go to Dayton Fairmont and coach your head off six or seven years. You could have a fantastic record and you might — MIGHT — have a chance to come back to Miami as a grad assistant.’
“That’s how I ended up staying at Miami.”
Soon after it was another Miami Valley connection — his friend Dick Henke, a Miami grad from Troy — who suggested he skip his plans to go to medical school at Columbia and make coaching not just a temporary paycheck, but a full-time job.
He did, and what a job he turned it into.
After serving as an assistant to the famed Earl “Red” Blaik at Army, Gillman at Cincinnati and Bear Bryant at Kentucky, Dietzel took over the struggling program at Louisiana State in 1955 and in his fourth season went unbeaten and won the national title.
After that came head coaching stints at South Carolina and Army and athletic director jobs at South Carolina, Indiana and LSU.
As the 86-year-old Dietzel talked about his career — he’s now retired and he and Anne live in Baton Rouge where he’s an accomplished artist — you saw his eyes fill with tears.
“You can leave Miami,” he said quietly, “but Miami never leaves you.”
That’s never been more true than today when lifelike statues of him, Carm Cozza, the former Miami quarterback and assistant coach who led Yale to great success for 32 seasons, and the late, legendary Weeb Ewbank — represented by his charming 104-year-old wife Lucy — will be unveiled in the Cradle of Coaches Plaza at the south end of Yager Stadium before Miami hosts Ohio University at 1 p.m.
By next year the outdoor shrine will feature statues of Blaik, Paul Brown, Ara Parseghian, John Pont and Bo Schembechler, too.
The statues — funded by a $1 million gift from the family of Thomas P. Van Voorhis, a Miami coach, physical education instructor and athletic administrator who taught many Cradle members in the classroom during his 36 years at the school — are being sculpted by renowned artist Kristen Visbal of Delaware.
Late Friday afternoon the families of the three honorees got a sneak peek of the statues and they loved them. Watching the proceeding was Bob Kurz, the former Miami sports information director, who coined the Cradle of Coaches phrase in 1959.
Miami has been the training ground for 12 national football coach of the year recipients at the pro and college level and has produced another 25 or so name coaches who also were quite accomplished
As for Dietzel, his cradle wasn’t initially rocked just by football. His Miami lullaby had a lot to do with love.
After graduating from high school in Mansfield, he headed to Duke to play football while Anne went to Miami to be a cheerleader. After a season with the Blue Devils, he said he knew he was about to be drafted so he returned to Ohio, joined the Army Air Corps and ended up in the Pacific until the war ended.
“While I was in the Army, Anne kept writing me every day and I kept getting letters from Sid Gillman, the coach at Miami, too,” he grinned. “Between he and Anne, when I came out of the service there was no doubt where I was going.”
As he reminisced, Dietzel told of a third Miami Valley connection — Stivers High grad and famed cartoonist Milt Caniff — who influenced him.
“I saw this cartoon character in Milton Caniff’s strip Terry and the Pirates,” Dietzel said. “In it it was telling how Chinese bandits are the meanest people in the world.”
With a chuckle, he added: “Political correctness didn’t matter then.”
He cut the cartoon out and though he tried to use the nickname at UC, it didn’t stick. But once he got to LSU — and began an innovative three-platoon system when many teams had players going both ways — he named his second-string defense The Chinese Bandits.
They became the embodiment of the name, played with ferocity and a colorful flair and were a wild hit with LSU fans that national championship season. Today that legendary unit is still beloved when it comes to Tiger football lore.
The fabled Cradle of Coaches figures get a similar treatment at Miami. Friday, that embrace really hit Dietzel:
“I’ll be truthful, the statue idea embarrasses me a little ... that someone would put a likeness of me that will be out there all the time in the sun and the rain.
“But then I think of my friend Tom Van Voorhis and so many others here and I realize what this really means.”
With tears again filling his eyes and his voice breaking, Dietzel said quietly:
“It shows that Miami really cares.”