For the past year, UD’s 19th president has been listening, discussing and discerning how the University’s distinctive character can propel us forward as a national, Catholic leader in higher education.
On Tuesday, April 4, Eric F. Spina will share his preliminary thoughts on the University’s future during his installation ceremony, the centerpiece event of the University of Dayton inauguration celebration April 2-5. The ceremony will be streamed live on the University’s Facebook page.
Spina, who became University president July 1, 2016, has participated in 15 strategic visioning events, during which board members, alumni, donors, faculty, staff and community leaders have offered thoughts on what makes UD distinctive and what the University should work toward during the next 20 years. “While there is more work to do to achieve the bold, aspirational vision that is the objective, this foundational work clearly positions the University of Dayton for success,” Spina said.
The visioning committee, led by Provost Paul Benson and MPA Program Director Michelle Pautz, presented this spring some emerging, signature themes that will be refined into a strategic vision that looks ahead 20 years. These include:
The installation ceremony at UD Arena will include an official commissioning of the president by both the University board of trustees and the Marianist Province of the United States. It will also feature two dozen members of the Flyer family speaking about “Our UD” during an imaginative inauguration filled with tradition and surprises.
Inauguration events are free and open to the public. Click for a complete list and to register for the events.1 Comment
Last August, Faith Carver received her master’s in chemical engineering and switched her focus from Dayton to Mars. Her year of working as a graduate student researcher at the UD Research Institute under Senior Research Scientist Douglas Hansen helped Carver land a position in the fuel processing unit of Los Alamos National Laboratory. A UD professor first introduced Carver to the multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator, a long-lived power system to provide electricity and heat to spacecraft. Los Alamos is the first step in a chain of laboratories that are creating fuel from plutonium-238 to power the Mars 2020 rover into infinity and beyond.
How did you learn you got the job?
I got a call right before my last final. They said, “You can accept it right now if you wish,” and I said, “Well, yes, I do! And I have a final in 20 minutes, so thank you!”
Was it a hard decision for you to move to New Mexico?
I had interviews and different offers, but this was the ideal job for me. I love working with alternative energy, I love electro-chemistry — this is a little bit of both — and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s hard to be away, but I absolutely love it.
Two members of the UD family — your former professor Dan Kramer and UDRI research scientist Chad Barklay — said they created a “survival handbook” to give to alumni headed to Los Alamos; I hear there are five alumni there now.
Yes, and I very much enjoyed it. The handbook ranged from how Los Alamos operates to where to live and fun facts. It made me feel a little more welcome. UD follows you everywhere and it’s great.
Describe your workplace.
I work in a secured area and I’m still waiting for my security clearance, so I’m escorted in. The people I work with include other engineers, doctors, contractors — you name it, they’re here. They come from all over the world to work here. We have our nice work stations right behind the fence of the plutonium facility and I’m around the greatest minds in the country — it’s unbelievable.
What about your job makes you go “wow”?
It’s amazing to look at something and think, “That’s going to space; that will be on Mars in a few years.” It’s incredible, it’s surreal and I want to be actively involved in that process.
What is it like being part of the new generation of researchers to contribute to the plutonium-238 project?
It’s exciting because there are not very many people who do this job. It’s kind of intimidating to be on it because there are people working at the lab who have been doing this for 20 years and they worked on Cassini or New Horizons, and now their projects are in outer space and on Mars. But, it’s also very humbling. You realize they are extremely experienced and you should try to learn everything you can from them.
What is your favorite part of your work?
Beyond the fact that I get to work on things that are going to space, we also work with labs all over the nation — NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and UDRI. I love it, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
OUT OF THIS WORLD
Since 2010, students have filled 1,592 positions working on sponsored research at the UD Research Institute. In its 60-year history, UDRI has employed approximately 13,000 students. Does that include you? If so, send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marsha Hayden’s 21-year career in the military was a journey for country and self.
Hayden had not decided early in life that she would join the armed forces. Rather, she joined the military because she said she was “looking for a challenge.”
And she found the perfect challenge by enlisting in the Marines in 1977.
In choosing what branch to join, gender and race were of most importance, and Hayden said that she joined the Marines “because they didn’t have enough black females.”
The Class of 1972 physical education major quickly moved up the ranks. When she was accepted into the Warrant Officer Program, she began realizing how much of an impact military life was beginning to have on her. With only a 7 percent acceptance rate into the program, she said she was thrilled at the “awesome opportunity.”
But, her biggest success was getting promoted to major in 1995 — not only because it marked a career accomplishment, but because, as she says, “at the time, there were only five other black female majors in the Marine Corps.”
Her successes allowed Hayden the chance to travel the globe, expanding both her world and personal views.
“The Marines incited my love of traveling,” Hayden said. “I was stationed all over the world and was exposed to many different cultures in places like Europe and Asia. I was even in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War and got to interact with a lot of people there. That really opened my eyes.”
Reflecting on her career, Hayden is proud of her military service as an African-American woman and hopes her story gives others like her the chance to explore their challenges and exceed their own expectations.No Comments
Like many farmers, Dan Kremer wakes long before the sun rises. But before heading outside to tend to his 140-acre farm in Yorkshire, Ohio, he takes advantage of that first hour to quietly reflect.
“It’s really precious time for me,” Kremer said. After that, however, the energetic father of six kids, who range in age from 8 to 23, harvests grain, milks cows, collects eggs and more. His farm, E.A.T. Food for Life, sells milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt and eggs as well as grass-fed beef and chicken, pizza crust, flour, bread and even cookies — all non-GMO and organic. Kremer delivers food directly to customers, but E.A.T. also operates a farmhouse site off Wayne Avenue in Dayton. The small, intimate setting allows Kremer to connect personally with families picking up their order.
“We just want to help families eat healthier,” Kremer said. “Food should be flavorful, locally grown and nourishing.”
He should know. Kremer is also a hemophiliac, meaning his blood doesn’t clot normally, so health has always been a priority. It’s part of the reason he ditched a successful corporate career and returned to his family’s farm in 1997.
“It was definitely a calling,” Kremer said. “But it’s where my roots are and where I spent many hours working with my father.” Farm life meant Kremer also had to call on lessons he learned studying mechanical engineering at UD.
“It wasn’t a cakewalk for me, so I developed tremendous discipline and hard work studying for Dr. [Howard] Smith’s classes,” Kremer said.
Hard work indeed. With a herd of 75 cattle, 10 dairy cows and 500 layers, there’s no shortage of labor. It’s why when Sunday rolls around, Kremer takes a much-needed rest.
“God designed it that way,” Kremer said.
Floating down the river, Candice Mortara experiences peace and calm.
Her love for the water and her exposure to the Fitz Center during her time at UD inspired the philosophy major to work to establish the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway.
A nonprofit, the organization works with communities along the Fox and Lower Wisconsin rivers to celebrate and preserve the river’s heritage, which had once brought industry to the area due to its massive hydraulic power.
Mortara, who also received a master’s from UD in 2006, helped organize the grassroots initiative in 2009 and currently serves on its board of directors. Her interest was twofold: to be thankful for the river’s role in incentivizing industry to come to the area and to recognize the river’s recreational potential.
“It’s a place to get out and be surrounded by nature. It flows right through the middle of these cities and allows for an escape that’s right in peoples’ backyard,” she said.
Now, the parkway works with more than 70 partners to enhance programs and build capacity for historic preservation, natural resource conservation, recreation, tourism and education.
Mortara recalled being the most inspired when she saw a woman, paralyzed from the waist down, kayaking down the river — a feat she could only accomplish because the parkway had built boat launches.
“I think it’s wonderful. The river has a way of bringing us together and equalizing our abilities,” Mortara said.
Mortara and her husband also started a commercial business, Fox River Tours, to further attract the public to the waters.
“I think that we’re all so caught up in technology and to responding to demands and people immediately,” she said. “There’s something that gets you back to the core of who you are when surrounded by trees and water. It’s exceptionally important to take the time and to recognize the importance of preserving these resources.”
In the early 1980s, at a nearly sold-out UD Arena, a barnstormer crouched in one of the seating sections, trying to hide his big head among the crowd. Attached by a long rope tied to the Arena roof rafters, he leapt up and soared across the basketball court, cape flowing behind while fans laughed and pointed at the silly, but daring, mascot who brings them so much joy.
For more than 35 years, Rudy Flyer has captured the hearts of fans. The friendly, muscular mascot leads cheers at games, gives high-fives to fans and takes photos with children and alumni — all while fostering and supporting the University’s commitment to Flyer community.
But Rudy didn’t fly out of thin air. The beloved mascot was born at a basketball game Dec. 1, 1980, after years of spirit-filled, sometimes four-legged predecessors. The history of Rudy is a story that involves those who helped conceive him, as well as the Flyer Faithful who have cheered beside and supported him along the way.
The making of this modern Flyer icon began in France in 1880 with the opera La Mascotte, composed by Edmond Audran. According to the International University Sports Federation, the popularity of the opera hastened the translation of the word and concept into English by 1881.
The term was often applied to live animals that U.S. sports teams brought to games to intimidate opponents and entertain fans. The University of Dayton had its own livestock, such as a chicken who once appeared at a soccer game. In 1956, the Flyer News interviewed Pedro the Donkey, which the writer described as having “large, dreamy, brown eyes” and a red and blue blanket with the letter “D.” “I hope to be on the Flyers’ team for many years to come,” Pedro was quoted as saying.
But Pedro’s days — and those of live animal mascots everywhere — were numbered after the popular embrace of the Muppets, those plush, sarcastic creations of puppeteer Jim Henson.
According to the federation, teams in the late 1960s started creating Muppet-like mascots that were friendly with fans and good at helping teams with marketing and public relations efforts.
Up until the early 1970s, the University of Dayton didn’t have an official mascot. In 1972, Gene Schill, the director of athletic public relations and promotions, sent a letter to world-renowned cartoonist Milton Caniff.
In his letter, Schill wrote, “To the best of our knowledge, UD is the only college or university in the country with the nickname of ‘Flyers,’ and it has been a source of irritation to the Department of Athletics that we have not had an official mascot or logo for use on decals, tee shirts, letterheads, etc.”
Ohio born and Dayton raised, Caniff had become famous for creating the comic strips Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon. When asked to draw UD’s mascot, Caniff inked the D-Bird — part bird, part plane to help represent the Flyers nickname while also paying tribute to Orville and Wilbur Wright, the inventors of powered flight.
Caniff described the D-Bird to Schill in a letter, now housed at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University.
“The drawing shows a winged-goggled-beaked-helmeted creature, carrying on its head a flashing, beacon-like device and brandishing four menacing legs each wearing a different kind of shoe (football, basketball, track and baseball),” Caniff wrote. “The blue helmet bears the U. of D. major letter in red. The bird’s bill and legs are also in the school’s traditional red color.
“The wings represent the Wright Flyer aircraft which gave the teams their nickname of Flyers. The shoes symbolize the major sports in which the University participates while the aggressive attitude of the bird diving out of the sun on its prey reflects the competitive spirit of the various athletic teams.
“Topping it all is the flashing light reminding the viewer that learning is the main issue of any university function. The participants in sports are there for an education. As an antenna, the symbol indicates that these athletes are in touch … they are with it!”
Dayton Daily News sports writer Hal McCoy called it “a weird little creature” when it debuted on a football program in fall 1972. But the D-Bird had huge wings attached to his back and two stubby legs, giving it a form with no hope of translating into a human-inhabited costume.
By the late 1970s, UD was ready to try again, and this time it wanted a walking, cheering mascot.
First, UD identified the person who would inhabit the costume. Ric Cengeri ’81 was an enthusiastic management major with a passion for basketball. He was discovered at the 1979-80 AIAW Women’s Basketball National Championship, hosted at the Arena. While waiting for the Flyers to take the court, Cengeri cheered on William Penn, later helping rally the William Penn fans to push their team to win in the overtime consolation game.
UD’s band director and cheerleading adviser took note and invited Cengeri to try out for the cheerleading squad.
“I was terrible,” Cengeri recalled. “I had all kinds of spirit, but I couldn’t do the lifts.”
The team kept Cengeri from potentially dropping fellow cheerleaders by having him entertain fans with mannequins and other skits.
Around this time, the band director approached Athletic Director Tom Frericks ’53 about getting a mascot costume, said Rory Falato ’77.
“Tom Frericks was intent on building up the basketball program,” said Falato, director of athletic and arena promotions at the time. “He understood the benefits not just for the athletic department but the University as a whole.”
Frericks knew a competitive basketball team would attract students, and Rudy became part of refining the Flyer sports brand. “We started selling Flyer merchandise at games,” Falato said. “There were blue crying towels and kids’ dribble-pass-and-shoot contests at halftime. Get people involved. Fill the seats. Make it family friendly. It’s not just a game, it’s an event.”
The athletic department hired southwest Ohio artist D.W. Biggs to draw the first Rudy, who resembled a 1920s barnstormer, a term used to describe stunt pilots performing tricks with their planes. UD sent the watercolor and ink image to Stagecraft, a Cincinnati mascot design company, where owner Randy Kent brought the drawing to life.
Kent said he started by first sculpting the head, then adding a giant mustache below the bulging nose and topping it with a leather pilot cap. Next came the body, arms and feet, all covered with a flight jacket, pants, gloves and high-top boots.
Just after the costume arrived on campus, it suffered a wardrobe malfunction. The mascot’s goggles came loose and needed to be reattached. So the costume was sent back to Stagecraft, and Kent said he glued the goggles back on and brought it up to Dayton so that it could be used for the game that night, Dec. 1, 1980, against San Francisco.
Cengeri said he put the mascot head on, immediately smelled the glue fumes and became lightheaded. But he performed his role as the mascot for the night.
The following day, the head was placed in the ticket office. Cengeri said that the fumes from the glue were so bad the ticketing employees evacuated the office.
The fumes did not discourage Cengeri, and at the Jan. 24, 1981, basketball game against Marquette, the mascot finally got his name. The athletic department had run a promotion, with fans ranging in age from 4 years to Golden Flyers submitting entries of their favorite names. It was Falato’s idea.
“I had the bright idea to have a name-the-mascot contest with a group of randomly chosen fans who would vote on the name,” he said. He received more than 600 entries, including Pontius Pilot and Freddie Flyer. “It came down to Barney Barnstormer and Rudy. The name Rudy reminded me more of a WWI German Flying Ace. But, that’s what they picked,” Falato said.
Falato took to the Arena floor and made the announcement — and it sounded as if all the fans in the Arena were booing, he said.
“We stuck with it,” Falato said. “Here we are almost 40 years later, and he’s still around. I’m very proud of that, but I will tell you I’ve never had a name contest again.”
Cengeri said it took fans several years to embrace the name, but they warmed to the mascot quickly, making the man in the costume proud.
“It was the best,” said Cengeri, now a producer and announcer with Vermont Public Radio. “I’m a massive sports fan. I love the UD Flyers. To be able to attend every home game and some away games — to be right there on the floor — it was fantastic.”
While Rudy rallied support for the Flyers, the fans began supporting their mascot and transforming him into a cherished icon, said Joe Yokajty ’85, who became the mascot in 1982.
“During my second year as the mascot, Rudy started getting fan mail from some of the kids attending the UD games,” Yokajty said. “It was awesome.”
Yokajty made sure to reward the fans with some antics he knew they’d love, including the night when he got to fly.
Yokajty said he was hidden in one of the seating sections, then jumped out and flew across the basketball court with the cape on his back.
“I am still amazed that President Brother Raymond Fitz gave the ROTC permission to tie me to a long rope attached to the ceiling rafters. I think it was because we were both engineers,” said Yokajty, now an engineer based in Rochester, New York.
As Rudy got older, he not only got more adventurous but also more hip.
“Back in 1983, Michael Jackson first performed his Moonwalk on a TV program celebrating the history of Motown,” Yokajty said. “Rudy immediately taught himself the legendary move and incorporated it into his own dance routine during a Flyer basketball halftime. I swear most of the women in the Arena screamed.
“Rudy’s head might have been even bigger that day.”
The head was big, yes. And hot, with Yokajty losing up to 10 pounds while working football games. And, well, funny-looking.
“At one point Rudy’s face became a bit worn,” Yokajty said. “I overheard folks saying Rudy looked a bit like Mr. Potato Head. That was somewhat embarrassing for Rudy, until the costume was sent away for restoration that summer.”
Fans continued to think that Rudy looked like Mr. Potato Head throughout the 1990s. In 1997, the University decided Rudy needed to grow up.
According to a Dayton Daily News article by Bucky Albers, Rudy received a new blue pilot suit, red satin scarf, black boots, a black leather cap and goggles.
“The floppy-footed World War I biplane pilot who has frolicked at UD Arena for the past 17 years has been replaced by a character who looks more like Chuck Yeager,” Albers wrote in the article, referring to the famed test pilot who in 1947 became the first person to break the sound barrier.
More changes took place in the mid–2000s, Jay Nigro ’06 explained. After he became Rudy in August 2004, the mascot upgraded his blue jumpsuit by adding muscles and a bomber jacket. Rudy started wearing the basketball team’s jerseys and even the same shirt as Red Scare when rival Xavier came to town.
“They pretty much let me go where I wanted to go,” said Nigro, who now owns Liftoff Entertainment in Dayton. “It was a lot of fun interacting with fans,” he added, noting that he would walk to where his professors were sitting. They had no idea who was in the costume.
“It was something I’ll definitely remember about my college experience. Everyone loves Rudy,” he said.
Four years ago, Rudy beefed up his image again — taller, bigger and more muscular, said Adrienne Green ’08, director of marketing at UD Arena. He donned a new muscle suit and got a new bomber jacket, though he does dress for the occasion.
“We get all kinds of requests, even on campus,” Green said about Rudy’s appearances at weddings, alumni events, Christmas and birthday parties, and fundraisers.
Rudy Flyer donned a red satin scarf for a special occasion in 2011. “Guests were entertained by Rudy Flyer, who made a surprise appearance during the reception,” wrote Paula Veihdeffer Markley ’07 for her wedding announcement in UD Magazine.
Becky Dunn Kaster ’07 and Chris Kastner ’07 couldn’t have Rudy at their wedding, so they had the next best thing — a custom cake topper with boy and girl Rudy standing beside a Lowes Street sign.
“Rudy to us means family,” said Becky Kastner, “whether it’s our family members who also went to Dayton, our close-knit friends from UD who are now like family or the alumni community as a whole. Even though we graduated almost 10 years ago, the Flyer spirit remains with us and is something that we are both proud of.”
“We are both big UD sports fans and like to see Rudy motivating the crowd,” said Collin Brown.
Fernando del Monte ’08 and Molly Bytnar del Monte ’07 also named their furry yellow pup Rudy. “The main reason we named our dog Rudy was to remind ourselves of where we met,” Fernando del Monte said. “Our time at UD was so incredible.”
When the Arena marketing crew discusses how to schedule Rudy, they capitalize on his fan appeal to make a good time even better — including delivering free food during game breaks. “People like to get a pizza, especially if it’s from Rudy,” Green said.
Two to four students per school year have the opportunity to be Rudy, and their ideal height is between 5-foot-7 and 6-foot-3. If someone is not in that height range, the suit becomes disproportional, and Rudy loses his powerful image, Green said.
“I have a lot of respect for our students who do Rudy,” Green said. “It’s hot in there, and you can’t see anything. But it’s fun, and people get excited to see you.”
The love for Rudy — and Rudy’s evolution — continues. This year, Rudy will be able to be in two places at the same time; the athletic department had the costume “cloned.”
Such adaptation calls for a formal portrait. As of fall 2016, fans can purchase Rudy’s likeness on T-shirts, key chains and cut-outs.
Although Rudy has undergone many changes throughout the years, one thing remains the same: his readiness to cheer on his beloved Flyers with an army of Flyer Faithful beside him.
Michelle Tedford ’94 contributed reporting to this story.No Comments
“Houston, we have a problem.” Well, not for the over 600 alumni who migrated south after graduation to this fourth-largest and second-fastest growing U.S. city. Not only does Houston attract visitors to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, but it is also where Texas Medical Center — the world’s largest hospital — is located, along with 23 Fortune 500 companies.
For Christmas off Campus 2015, the Houston Alumni Community gathered to help pack 6,500 “backpacks,” providing children with six meals for the weekend. And, the loyal community enjoys having a strong following for basketball game watches throughout the season.
What out-of-this-world experience do you remember having while at UD?
“My senior year the men’s basketball team made it to the [NCAA Tournament] and the whole campus was agog. I don’t remember which game it was, but I stepped out on the porch for a moment. It was eerily quiet. I saw no one walking home, no one sitting out, nothing. And at that moment something happened in the game and I could hear the roars coming from every direction. College sports is about a shared experience, an ownership of our community. And at that moment I was definitely one with my community.” —Mary DeBauche ’90
“The student community at UD is extraordinary. I attribute that to the fact that it’s a Marianist school and students go there for
the faith as much as the classes offered. I was proud to be part of that community.”
—Jason Gavula ’94
“My senior year we had second row tickets in the student section for the Xavier game — that was the most alive that I have ever seen the Arena. We beat Xavier when they were ranked. That same year the team won the first NCAA Tournament game for UD since 1990. I remember watching with all of my friends and being so happy to be a Flyer. Watching the Flyers at UD Arena is really special because the entire community comes together united in support of our team.” —Brad Evans ’09
By the Numbers
Total Alumni 633
Flyer fusions 84
Most 1970s with 158
Arts & Sciences 199
Education & Health Sciences 90
Law 25No Comments
Less than a week after I heard associate professor Susan Davies speak to educators about traumatic brain injuries in children, teachers from my 1-year-old son’s child care center called me at my office.
Kyle had fallen while toddling across the mobile infant playground and hit his head on concrete. He seemed fine, they said, but they were calling as part of their automatic notification process following such injuries.
They called again 10 minutes later. Emergency medical technicians were on the way and a parent needed to come immediately. Kyle now seemed “lethargic” and appeared sleepy, potential signs of a loss of consciousness.
I panicked. Then I started thinking of what I learned from Davies’ books and training session about concussion recognition response, preparing to put her tips into action to help our son heal. (See story.)
As an editor in the Division of University Marketing and Communications, I have the opportunity to meet thoughtful, intelligent faculty like Davies who recognize and identify issues they see in their fields of work and take action. It’s research for the common good, information shared that helps everyday citizens
advocate for themselves and others.
I was reminded of this when, one year after its original publication in the University of Dayton Magazine, a reader thanked us for publishing an article on the importance of physical therapy for breast cancer survivors.
“Last year, shortly after I had surgery for Stage II breast cancer, I had terrible cording and elbow pain after surgery,” she wrote. “Not a single MD taking care of me mentioned this risk at all. Your article helped me figure out that I needed to seek a lymphedema specialist. Thank you.”
The writer’s son, a UD grad, had sent her the Autumn 2015 article featuring associate professor of physical therapy Mary Fisher and her work helping breast cancer survivors manage elbow and shoulder pain common after surgery. By sharing our faculty’s research in these pages, we not only showcase the high-level work taking place at the University, we present their practical, real-world solutions to a broader audience outside the lab or classroom.
That includes the letter writer, who’s getting the treatment she needs for her post-cancer condition. And me, who knew what to do when my son got hurt that day in late October.
The doctors at Dayton Children’s Hospital checked Kyle for signs of concussion and cleared him with little more than a nasty bruise on his forehead — no need to assemble a concussion team at his child care center. But I took comfort in knowing that if I did, I have access to the best minds working to solve such challenges. And you do, too.No Comments
Chuck Noll had a childhood dream. When he was 17, he saw it destroyed. Then he came to Dayton.
Noll’s Dayton years are part of the story told by Michael MacCambridge in his book Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work. MacCambridge’s journey to writing the book about the coach who moved the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise from laughingstock to Super Bowl legend took some time. In researching his award-winning America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation, he had interviewed Dan Rooney, Steelers executive and son of the franchise’s founder, Art Rooney.
A few months after the book was published in 2004, “I received a handwritten note from Rooney saying that it was a good book but didn’t have enough about the Steelers,” said MacCambridge while visiting the University of Dayton in October for a book signing.
In doing another book some years later, MacCambridge again interviewed Rooney, who was nearing 80 and had added to his achievements being the first U.S. ambassador to Ireland to visit all of the island’s 32 counties. After a while, he heard back from Rooney, by then Steelers chairman emeritus, his son Art II now heading the franchise.
Rooney wanted him to do a book on Chuck Noll.
“I was interested,” MacCambridge said, “but I told him it can’t be just about Noll being a good football coach.”
“You look into it,” Rooney said. “You’ll see.”
So MacCambridge talked to men who played with and for Noll. He talked to Noll’s family. He saw.
Three years, 300 interviews and a lot of writing later, the book on Noll has been published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. It is about a successful football coach. No other coach has won four Super Bowls while losing none. But it is also about a successful man.
Noll’s perspectives were broader than football. During his life he became a photographer, a wine connoisseur, an airplane pilot. If something interested him, he wanted to become an expert on it. “He may have been,” MacCambridge said, “the last Renaissance man.”
Noll loved his wife, Marianne, and their son, Chris. And he loved his nieces and nephews. His sister, Rita, and her husband, Clarence, had seven children under the age of 10 when Clarence died suddenly. Noll became a source of financial help and more. Noll kept his family life private; he neither sought the spotlight nor enjoyed it. But MacCambridge noted that, as he was researching the book, the nieces and nephews were very clear to him about their uncle’s love and help and their gratitude to him.
One remembers struggling with algebra. He took her aside and quietly went over it with her. “From that day on,” she said, “math was my best subject.”
The intelligence, the skills, the attitude that Noll brought to everything in life, he brought to football. And he changed the game.
“His big contribution,” MacCambridge said, “was reducing the game to its components. Football was then, in terms of coaches, a cult of personality, of willpower, of overblown rhetoric, ‘give 110 — no, 120 percent.’”
Noll considered it the player’s job to motivate himself. What Noll as a coach did, MacCambridge said, was to teach players “what to do, how to do it and why they should do it.”
After graduating from the University, Noll played for Paul Brown in Cleveland for six years. Brown was a coach who stayed on message. One message his players heard repeatedly was that “this is just what you’re doing now. You have to think of what your life’s work will be.”
Part of that advice had to do with economic necessity. Pro football didn’t pay much in those days. As a player, Noll did consider what his life’s work could be. He sold insurance. He sold trucking services. He did substitute teaching. He studied law a bit. He thought about medicine.
He didn’t like any of it much.
“I had a horrible, horrible fear of him ending up selling time on a truck line forever,” MacCambridge quotes Marianne as saying. “And I wanted him to have a passion.”
In 1959, Noll got a call from his old roommate, Jim Currin ’53, who told him that former UD assistant coach Joe Quinn ’42 and others thought he would be a good candidate for Dayton’s head coaching job. After interviewing in Dayton, he returned home to Cleveland and Marianne waiting with dinner and wine. He explained he knew he wasn’t going to get the job.
“But I do know one thing now,” he said. “This is what I really want to do. I really want to coach.”
Read the remainder of this piece by following this link.No Comments
The excerpt that follows is from the part of Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work that chronicles Noll’s Dayton years; it takes him from being a 17-year-old with his spirit crushed to being a man about to try out for a football team that in every year of its existence had played in its league’s championship game — the Cleveland Browns. While at Dayton, MacCambridge said, Noll “got a sense of self, a sense of belonging, a sense of confidence.”
Chuck Noll ’53 had a childhood dream of playing football for the best college team in the country, Notre Dame. He tried out as a walk-on. An epileptic, he had a seizure. That was the end of his Notre Dame career. “The university,” writes Noll biographer Michael MacCambridge, “thought it best if Chuck went home. Coach [Frank] Leahy didn’t want to take the risk.” The following excerpt from MacCambridge’s 2016 book, Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work (reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press), describes what happened after Noll returned to his home on the east side of Cleveland.
There were no heart-to-heart discussions at the breakfast table the next morning. Instead, Chuck got up, showered and dressed, and did what he’d done most days the previous four years: he walked up to Woodland Avenue to grab the streetcar heading out to Benedictine [High School].
The semester had just begun, and the school was in the early stages of earnest fall activity. Chuck went straight to the athletic department and found who he was looking for — Ab Strosnider [Noll’s line coach at Benedictine and a 1927 Dayton grad].
With his eyes fixed on his shoes, Chuck told Strosnider what had happened. They talked for a few moments, and Strosnider asked him what his plan was now. Chuck didn’t have one.
But very soon, Strosnider did. He told Chuck to give him a few hours.
Strosnider had played, with distinction, at the University of Dayton, about 215 miles downstate, in southwestern Ohio. Soon, he got on the phone with Joe Gavin, the head football coach at Dayton and also, as it happened, a college roommate of Frank Leahy.
It made perfect sense. Leahy and Gavin were still close friends, and at times Leahy would call Gavin on the phone and have him try a new wrinkle with his team that Leahy couldn’t risk trying in practice — because of all the attention on Notre Dame — with his own team. Surely Gavin would take on Chuck Noll.
Gavin called Leahy to find out the story on the Noll kid. There wasn’t much information: Leahy knew the kid had a seizure, and Notre Dame didn’t become Notre Dame by taking on problems. Whatever Leahy said wasn’t enough to convince Gavin to take Chuck. But then, after Gavin called Strosnider back and politely declined, he’d found the old Dayton alum unwavering in his insistence on Chuck’s worthiness. Strosnider wouldn’t take no for an answer.
He was speaking quietly at first, but soon he raised his voice, loudly enough for Father Placid [Pientek, the athletic department business manager], sitting in another corner of the Benedictine athletic department office, to hear one side of the conversation.
“Look,” Strosnider continued, more emphatic. “Joe, I tell you he’s a good kid! You got to take him. If you don’t, you won’t get another guy from Benedictine, I swear to God.”
As threats went, it was not an idle one: Strosnider had been around, and he knew virtually everyone in Cleveland football. After a few more moments on the phone, Gavin relented. Strosnider signed off with a relieved affirmation — “You’ll see” — and then a quick goodbye.
He put the phone back in its cradle and eased back into the chair. The next call was to Chuck, to tell him that he should keep his bags packed; he would be enrolling at the University of Dayton.
So, on Sept. 18, 1949, Chuck Noll went to Terminal Tower and got on a train, bound for Dayton. He was met at the station by Dan Ferrazza [’51] who drove him to campus so he could watch practice. One of the other freshmen recognized him. It was Len Kestner, who was on the Catholic Universe Bulletin’s All-Catholic team with Chuck in ’48.
“Hey, Chuck!,” said Kestner. “What are you doing here? I thought you were at Notre Dame.”
“It’s a long story,” Chuck said.
By 1949, the hometown of Orville and Wilbur Wright was a small-time city with big-time aspirations. National Cash Register, founded in 1884 and thriving in the postwar economy, was right across the street from the campus, and there were several General Motors subsidiaries — Delco and Frigidaire plants among them — that were paying well for manual labor. Against this growing industrial metropolis, the University of Dayton stood out as a redoubt of Catholic learning. …
It lacked the bustle of Cleveland or the mystique of Notre Dame, but it was welcoming, approachable and Catholic. It didn’t take long before Chuck felt at home.
Before they’d even met him, some of his teammates saw Chuck one afternoon, a solitary figure out on the practice field, relentlessly ramming out at a blocking sled. Later that day, [Pat] Maloney [’53] became the first to make his acquaintance. They sat together in the narrow corridor outside the athletic office and struck up a conversation. “We must have talked for about 20-25 minutes before Gavin got there,” said Maloney. “I remember afterwards that I said, ‘Boy, what a nice guy; I really like this guy. I’m glad I came to UD because it is going to be good.”
Out on the practice field, Chuck’s credentials were clear. “Right away, you knew he was a player,” Jim Currin [’53] said. “There was no question he could play the game, and he knew it. He was smarter than all the rest of us, had blocking techniques we didn’t have yet. You could just tell.”
The freshman team was designated cannon fodder. “We just got the shit kicked out of us by the varsity,” said Maloney. “That was it. No ifs, ands or buts about it.”
Eventually, though, by the end of that first season, something changed. In 1949, many of Dayton’s starters were nearing their mid-20s, Second World War veterans who attended on the GI Bill. … At first, Gavin thought the older, hardened athletes would be the key to Dayton’s rise. But there was something missing in the GI Bill vets — a degree of abandon characteristic of the best players. Gavin found it hard to convince someone who’d survived the Battle of the Bulge to whip themselves into an emotional fervor for the sake of beating St. Bonaventure.
By the end of the season, as the freshmen grew physically and in confidence, the tide turned in their scrimmaging against the varsity. “Some of them were married, so football wasn’t a big thing,” said Currin. “So when we came in, we were all recruits, ready to go, and we would have a scrimmage, and by the end of that year we would just knock the snot out of them.”
As sophomores, Chuck and the Dayton football Class of 1953 moved en masse up to the varsity. … On the field that sophomore year, Chuck found a new influence. He was Ralph McGehee, an All-American under Leahy at Notre Dame, who was rehabbing an injured knee on his way to trying out for the pros. If Russ Alexander [who coached Noll on a youth team in Cleveland] had taught Chuck the principles of leverage, and Strosnider helped him with the nuances of using his arms to shed and control opponents, McGehee gave Chuck a master class in the initial explosion off the line of scrimmage.
McGehee “had the most powerful lunge out of the three-point stance that I had ever seen or have seen since,” said Currin. “And he watched Chuck, because Chuck had a good lunge from three-point stance, and worked with Chuck. Between the two of them, they would break those sliding machines.” The facility Chuck had exhibited in the classroom — hear or read something once and he retained much of it — translated to the football field as well, and by his sophomore year, Chuck was already coaching his teammates.
By the time he returned for training camp in the late summer of 1951, Chuck might have felt he was coming home to his second family. The connections between those Dayton players ran deeper than mere teammates. They lived together, studied together (those that studied), went out together, and drank together. …
They had spent much of the previous two years giving each other nicknames. … Chuck’s nickname was definitely bestowed during the spring intrasquad game in 1951. … Before one play, Chuck made a line audible that would send him wide to block the end and have Currin moving inside to catch the linebacker coming through the vacated hole. The call was made but the play broke down from the start, Chuck not getting a good shot on the end and Currin missing the linebacker entirely.
Walking back to the huddle, both Chuck and Currin were adamant that the other man had failed.
“That’s your fault!” Chuck said.
“You called it!” said Currin. “He was too far over!” Then, perturbed, he added, “You think you’re always right — you think you’re the Pope!”
Teammate Joe Molloy [’54], walking back to the huddle with them, overheard and echoed the sentiment, “Yeah, you’re the Pope!” …
The nickname poked fun at Chuck’s certitude, but there was also a sense in which it was a descriptive of the authority of his opinions. “If there was ever a discussion, whatever his conclusion was, end of discussion,” said Don Donoher [’54]. “Chuck’s was the last word, so it just became; he is infallible.”
In the locker room [after the 1951 season-ending 34-13 win over Marshall], Gavin gathered his players and announced that they had received an invitation from the Salad Bowl, played in Glendale, Arizona.
There were real questions within the administration over the cost. … Dayton finally accepted.
It would be the greatest moment in Dayton’s major-college football history. They took a chartered train from Dayton, with 11 newspapermen and two train cars full of boosters along for the ride. …
The game itself, played on Jan. 1, 1952, drew a crowd estimated at 17,000. … Dayton fell, 26-21.
[In 1952] on Thanksgiving, they went down to Chattanooga for their last game and were blown out, 40-7, to end a disappointing 6-5 season.
As they took off their sweaty football gear in the Chattanooga locker room, they each knew, to a man, it was probably the last time they’d play the sport. Though Chuck was named all-Ohio, he was undersized for a lineman and was already focused on looking for teaching jobs after graduation. … Only Currin, who’d earned national attention with his receptions, was given a chance. For everyone else, it seemed, the ride was over.
So when a man called the dorm one day in January 1953 to inform Chuck he’d been drafted, he at first assumed it was the Army and was perplexed; he’d already been declared 4-F due to his epilepsy.
“No, the Browns — the Cleveland Browns,” said the reporter. … The Browns kept close tabs on Ohio schools, and Gavin had recommended Noll as the sort of brainy football player that Paul Brown loved; Cleveland drafted him in the 20th round. …
The standard contract for rookies was $5,000. Among the teaching opportunities that had been offered Chuck, one was at Holy Name High School in Cleveland, for a pay of $2,700.
Of course, the odds were stacked against Chuck making the team. NFL rosters had 33 players. From one year to the next, there might be 28 or 29 holdovers, even more on a perennial contender like the Browns. But Brown had been told about Chuck’s technical skills.
“Well, you’re big enough,” said Brown to Chuck when he visited that spring. “Let’s see if you’re brave enough.”
The summer of 1953, Chuck, Currin, Maloney and [Tom] Carroll [’53], along with basketball player Chris Harris [’55], wound up renting space in the attic of an apartment on Grafton Avenue, behind the Dayton Art Institute, within easy walking distance of McKinley Park. They each paid the owner $5 a week for a mattress in the attic. …
They’d found work … laying tar and working nearly dawn to dusk every weekday. It was hot, dirty work, and only the money and the friendship made it worthwhile. …
When they returned to the apartment, most of them would collapse. Not Chuck. Each day, he would change into his Dayton athletic shorts, grab his stopwatch and implore Maloney or Carroll to join him at McKinley Park a few blocks away.
“Chuck, I’m tired — you go,” Carroll would protest.
“You don’t have to do anything!” Chuck said. “Just come along and sit down and time me.”
There, in the gathering dusk, Chuck would run 40-yard sprints, and then have Carroll time the intervals — first 60 seconds, then 50 seconds, then 40 seconds, down to 10-second breaks. Chuck would run until he collapsed from exhaustion. Carroll, stopwatch in hand, would sit with his back against a tree and time his friend.
The sight of the other tired young men sprawled in the stifling heat of their threadbare apartment while Chuck changed into sweatpants and tennis shoes became one of the recurring motifs of that summer.
“Pius [the name of the pope at the time], slow down, man,” said Chris Harris one hot evening.
“Gotta do it,” Chuck replied. “Gotta make this team.”
Noll made the team, playing six years for Paul Brown in Cleveland before going into coaching himself. In 1975 he coached the Pittsburgh Steelers to the franchise’s first Super Bowl title, his first Super Bowl win of four. Nobody has won more. He lost none.
Chuck Noll: His Life and Work is widely available at booksellers including the University of Dayton Bookstore, www.udayton.edu/bookstore.No Comments