Folks at first didn’t know what to think of the Native American dandy from Carlisle who stepped off the train at the railroad station in Pullman.
William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz started his new job as head coach of the Washington State College football team all dapper in a top hat and gray tailored suit while sporting a cane and trademark cigar.
“He had more trunks and luggage than would fit on the wagon,” said Tom Benjey, who wrote a biography on the former Carlisle Indian School football player and assistant coach.
“When he showed up at the boarding house, he could only have two trunks,” Benjey said of Lone Star, who had to scramble to find a place to store the rest of his belongings.
Trained by the legendary Glenn “Pop” Warner, Dietz made an impression that left the Washington State players feeling skeptical of their chances for a successful 1915 season.
“Instead of running plays, he had them doing all kinds of conditioning exercises,” Benjey said. “He was getting them in shape.” Later Dietz introduced into the training schedule plays based on the single wing and double wing formations first developed by Warner, the former head football coach of the Indian School.
Back then, the single wing and double wing were considered revolutionary in a sport once dominated by the T-formation. This change in tactics allowed for blockers to be shifted along the line of scrimmage to give the offensive line greater strength at the point of a flanking play. This whole approach by Dietz challenged convention.
“There was some concern and grumbling,” said Benjey, adding how this skepticism was reinforced by a narrow 3-2 victory over a team of WSC alumni. The college community had its doubts heading into the second game of the season.
The Carlisle Herald reported how Dietz led the Washington team to a 28-to-3 win over Oregon – the heavy favorite. “That is when the people came around,” Benjey said.
Five more victories followed, during which the Washington State team scored 162 points on offense while allowing only seven points on defense the rest of the regular season, according to The Herald.
But the crowning jewel of football history came on Jan. 1, 1916, when Washington State took on Brown University in what became the first of a century-long series of Rose Bowl games.
Trained and tested
Dietz had arrived at the Indian School in September 1907 and enrolled in its native art department. At age 23, he was older than many students and over the Christmas break he eloped and married Angel DeCora, head of the department.
Though he tried out for the varsity football team that fall, Dietz was benched along with sports legend Jim Thorpe, Benjey said. Warner already had what he considered his best overall team man-for-man.
Two years later, in 1909, Dietz made the First Team as a right tackle and stayed on in that position through the 1911 season. “He was one of the guys who punched holes for Thorpe,” Benjey said. “Warner referred to Dietz as a coach on the field.”
Football rules at the time barred coaches from calling plays during a game. That job fell on the team captain. Though Dietz was not in charge, he was regarded as a leader by the younger players and was on some of the best teams ever fielded by the Carlisle Indian School.
“He was very good, but not an All-American,” Benjey said of Dietz. “Thorpe and Gus Welch were better players.”
Dietz had his moments though. He ran for a touchdown in at least one play and suffered a concussion during another game that left him unable to recall playing the whole second half.
Over time, Dietz developed a close friendship with the head coach. The two men shared a love for painting, and Dietz once illustrated a book written by Warner. From 1912 to 1914, Dietz was an assistant coach in charge of the Second Team, also known as “The Hot Shots” or “The Red Peril.”
The Indian School once had 14 football teams on campus representing the school band and vocational shops. The lesser teams played in an intermural league that became a feeder system for players moving up in skill to the varsity level. Warner regarded Dietz as the best implementer of single-wing formation plays.
Dietz carried this experience forward after Washington State College offered him a job, Benjey said. “They had fallen on hard times. They were looking for a new coach.”
Budding Rose Bowl
While Dietz led the team he trained to an undefeated season, plans were in the works in Pasadena, California, to reintroduce football to New Year’s Day as a follow-up to the annual Tournament of Roses parade.
“They tried football in 1902 ... It was a disaster,” Benjey said of parade organizers. The first Rose Bowl was set up as an East versus West match-up pitting Stanford against the University of Michigan. Fielding Yost, the Michigan coach, had worked for Stanford until he was fired.
“He was not happy,” Benjey said of Yost adding that Michigan got so physical on the grid iron they destroyed the Stanford team, which couldn’t even muster 11 players on the roster by the start of the fourth quarter.
From 1903 to 1915, parade organizers booked other events in an attempt to keep visitors in town. The attractions included polo games and camel and donkey races. By fall 1915, they were looking at football again selecting Brown University to represent the East and Washington State College to represent the west.
Dietz arrived in Pasadena first and had a surprise waiting for his team when it arrived in California. He had made arrangements for each player to be paid $100 to appear as an extra in a silent film about football. “In the movie making, there was a lot of hurry up and wait,” Benjey said. “While they were waiting, they were running plays.”
The team came to the Rose Bowl with a chip on its shoulder and something to prove. Washington State was being referred to as a “cow college” because of its origins as an agricultural school. Plus there was widespread belief West Coast football teams were inferior to East Coast teams. Brown had a weight advantage and was considered the favorite to win.
Being thin and fast, the Washington State athletes were banking on trickery and the offensive strength of wing formation plays to carry the day. But Mother Nature had different plans.
“They were totally caught off guard,” Benjey said. “Two to three days before the game, it snowed in Pasadena. The day of the game, it poured down rain.” That morning the field had been booked for a donkey polo match, so the surface was chopped up and muddy by the time the players started the game.
The constant rain and slick conditions caused poor footing that completely derailed the game plan. Dietz couldn’t chance a turnover from risky handling so he instructed the team to push the ball forward and play a tough defense.
“Vigorous assaults on the Brown line and constant bucking tactics kept the Rhode Island athletes continually on the defensive,” The Carlisle Herald reported on Jan. 3, 1916. “The easterners held Washington scoreless in the first half and even imperiled the goal of the westerners on one to two occasions, but they were finally beaten back on the water soaked field in the third or fourth quarters.”
Washington State won by a score of 14-0 off of two touchdowns. The game received national publicity and before anyone could weigh in on the success or failure of the event, the parade committee booked the field for the second football game in the Rose Bowl series.
“The 1916 game was pivotal,” Benjey said. “It established West Coast teams as being the equal of East Coast teams. It established the Rose Bowl as a New Year’s Day tradition.”
Dietz went on to coach several other teams including Purdue University, Louisiana Tech University, University of Wyoming, Haskell Institute and Albright College. He was known for his ability to turn around struggling football programs, Benjey said. From 1933 to 1934, Dietz was the head coach of the National Football League’s Boston Redskins.
As for the Carlisle Indian School, it closed in 1918 when Carlisle Barracks became the site of a hospital facility for wounded soldiers coming home from service on the Western Front of World War I.