Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ghosts of the Orange Bowl: Andy Gustafson

Here's a quick trivia question. What former University of Miami head football coach has won the most games? It's got to be Howard Schnellenberger right? Nope. Oh, then it has to be Jimmy Johnson. Wrong. Hmmm, maybe Dennis Erickson? Wrong again. Is it Butch Davis or Larry Coker? No and no. But if your answer was Andy Gustafson, then you know your Hurricane football history.

For 16 seasons from 1948 through 1963, Gustafson stood on the UM sidelines leading the Hurricanes to a 93-65-3 record. Virtually all of the great college and pro coaches have paced the sidelines of the Orange Bowl field at one time or another. But only Don Shula coached more games at the Orange Bowl than Gustafson. Prior to coaching at UM, Gustafson had been a head coach at Virginia Tech from 1926 to 1929 and served as an assistant at Army under head coach Red Blaik.

Under Gustafson, the University of Miami football program made the transition to playing a big time schedule. National powers like Alabama and Notre Dame became regular opponents on the Canes schedule. In 1955 Notre Dame visited the Orange Bowl for the first time and drew a crowd of 75,685--the first sellout in UM football history. The Irish beat Miami 14-0 behind two touchdowns by junior quarterback Paul Hornung. But it would start a long rivalry that would continue until 1990 when the series was cancelled due to bad blood between the two programs.

Gustafson's influence on Miami football is huge. By playing a national schedule, the Hurricanes soon were able to attract top athletes from out of state. Players like Don Bosseler, Jack Losch, Jim Otto and Bill Miller all came to Miami from the Northeast and Midwest. But Gustafson's strategy of recruiting northern players was no accident. He had developed many relationships with high school coaches in the Northeast from his days as an assistant at Army. He also believed the high school football talent in Miami and the state of Florida lacked the depth needed to build the Miami program. At the time, Miami had trouble attracting the best local players. Most of the best players in South Florida ended up at Florida and even Georgia Tech.

But Gustafson's snowbird recruits were plenty good enough to stand toe to toe with his instate rivals. During the Gustafson years, the Canes were 9-7 against Florida and 8-2 against Florida State. The Canes won 8 games or more four times and finished the 1956 season ranked 6th in the AP poll--the first top 10 finish in school history. However not all of Gustafson's best players were from the North. There were local stars like halfback Jim Dooley and lineman Charlie George from Miami High. All American quarterback Fran Curci was a graduate of Archbishop Curley. But the biggest star of them all was a kid from Key West named George Mira.

Gustafson wasn't without his faults. Throughout his 16 seasons at UM, all of his players had one thing in common. They were all white. In a time of segregation just before the massive Cuban migration and the Castro Revolution, Miami was a small southern city known more as a tourist destination for Northerners. It wasn't uncommon for the marching band to play "Dixie" during halftime. During his final years as Canes head coach, new UM President Dr. Henry King Stanford approached Gustafson and suggested Miami should begin recruiting black athletes. Gustafson resisted. It wasn't until his final year as head coach in 1963 when Gustafson decided to finally recruit a local black athlete named Cyril Pinder from Crispus Attucks High School in Hollywood. Pinder ended up attending Illinois and it would be another four years until Miami signed its first black football player Ray Bellamy in 1967.

Gustafson also had his own personal demons with alcholism. Longtime Miami Herald writer Edwin Pope once said of Gustafson, " I just loved Gus. He was a wonderful guy. I got to know Gus after 1956. He was in Alcoholics Anonymous and loved to tell me the about his brother who said, 'When you feel your worst, always look your best.' Gus told me he had this horrible hangover and came in the office at six in the morning dressed in a suit."

Overall, Gustafson left a great legacy. Among his assistant coaches was Hank Stram, who went on to become a hall of fame head coach with the Kansas City Chiefs. Former UM quarterback Don James later became a hall of fame coach at the University of Washington and credits Gustafson as a big influence. Gustafson was also the head of the selection committee of the North vs. South college all star game played annually at the Orange Bowl from 1948 through 1973. He served as athletic director at UM following his coaching career. He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame.

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