Football History: A Stagg Party In Forest Grove

Historic football photo

NOTE: As Pacific hosts the University of Chicago in football for the first time on Oct. 26, there are a number of historical connections between the two schools.  This article details the first six years of Dr. Paul Stagg's tenure as head coach at Pacific University, and the role his father played in both his coaching development and its affect on Pacific football.

As Pacific University searched for a new football coach in 1947, it is certain that the following letter of reference quickly caught vice president Edwin T. Ingles' eye.

"I have not seen Paul for six years, but I have had a chance to know him well as a man because he was a part of our family for twenty five years," the letter began.  "It has been my privilege to coach several thousand young men in athletics…I am happy to report that Paul measures high among them in point of character and manhood and dependability.

"He is a fine Christian gentleman and has no bad habits.  He possesses good judgment, is capable and a hard worker.  He is likable and possesses good leadership and is able to manage men.

"In my time I have written many hundreds of recommendations for young men.  There has never been anyone that I could speak more confidently than I can about Paul."

Amos Alonzo Stagg[1]

Within a matter of weeks, Amos' son, Dr. Paul Stagg, would arrive in Forest Grove to begin the greatest period in the history of Pacific football.

The Stagg name, of course, is well known in football circles and is especially revered at the Division III level.  "The Grand Old Man Of Football" coached at the Univ. of Chicago for 40 years, where he made the Maroons a national power.  In the process, he created such innovations in the game as the man in motion and the lateral pass.  The Division III championship game, held annually in Salem, Va., bears the Amos Alonzo Stagg name.

Both of the elder Stagg's sons, Amos, Jr., and Paul, followed the family line on the gridiron.  Paul was the starting quarterback at Chicago through some thin years that would mark the end of Amos' tenure, forced out by university president Robert Maynard Hutchins following the 1932 season.

When he came to Pacific University in 1947, Paul Stagg was already a well-known name in football and academic circles.  Following his graduation from Chicago, Paul followed his father to the College of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., serving as the freshman coach for one season.  He went back east the following year, coaching football and serving as athletic director at Moravian College for the three years before moving on to Springfield College and eventually Worchester Tech, where he was again football coach and athletic director for six years.

When 1947 rolled around, Paul Stagg was looking for a new start.  "Worchester Tech is a fine engineering college," he wrote in his application letter to Pacific, "but like most engineering schools, the athletic talent is poor and there is not time to develop it."[2]  In his six-year tenure, Worchester Tech went 6-23-2, a record highlighted only by a 13-0 win over Harvard in 1945.  In his previous four years as Springfield (where Dr. James Naismith invited the game of basketball and Amos Alonzo Stagg scored the first ever basket in 1891), he amassed an 11-19-2 record.

He has received his doctorate in physical education from New York University that spring, and it is safe to say that he was looking to move west.  His father was had just been pushed away from Stockton and was assisting Amos., Jr., at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, but the family still made the Sacramento Valley home.  In a letter of interest sent to Pacific vice president Ingles from March 1947, Paul indicates that he had also applied for the same position at Willamette, but his applications was received two days after Jerry Lillie had been appointed to the post.[3]

Perhaps Paul saw something in Pacific that made him think he could win.  The Badgers had gone 4-3-1 in their 1946 return under Ozzie Gates after the program was shuttered for three seasons during World War II.

"Having recently received my doctor's degree, I would like to change to a liberal arts college, where it is possible to have a normal physical program and where I would be the director," Paul Stagg wrote in his application letter.  "I am also interested in changing to an institution where the athletic material offers a reasonable chance to win."[4]

The arrival of Paul Stagg to Pacific in 1947 hastened changes in the program that showed that he was truly here to win.  "The new Badger mentor wasted little time during the first week as he introduced the T formation to the squad," wrote the Pacific Index prior to the first game.  True to form, Pacific went 6-2 in their first season under Stagg, scoring shutouts over Lewis & Clark and Portland State in their first two games and coming within 7-6 of Linfield.  The Badgers finished second to Willamette in the Northwest Conference standings and saw "Tug" Thorgerson and Stan Russell named to the All-NWC Team.

Although the 1947 season was a success, Stagg was cautious on his outlook for the future.  "Although we have a fine nucleus returning for next year we need to have a few new boys enter school that are good players to have a top notch team," he wrote in an early letter to alumni, one of the first "Stagg Letters" that Pacific faithful would see over the next 13 years.

"Since most of these boys graduate at the end of next season we need to have some boys coming along to take their places if we are to continue to stay at the top of the heap....It is expected that through the years we may not always win as many games, but I hope that the boys will always play good football and be a credit to the institution."[5]

The alumni did their part and the "Staggmen," as the headline writers nicknamed his teams, kept winning.  The 1948 Badgers went 5-3-1 and again finished second in the NWC, beating the likes of Linfield, Willamette and Lewis & Clark in the process (College of Idaho would win the title).

The 1949 team delivered on Stagg's goal of producing a winner.  The Badgers went 8-1-1 that year, the only blemishes coming in a 13-13 season-opening tie with Pacific Lutheran and a 13-6 loss to Lewis & Clark.  Pacific shared the NWC title with College of Idaho, their third conference crown, and was selected by the conference to play in the Pear Bowl, a small college postseason game played in Medford at what is now called Spiegelberg Stadium.  Pacific would defeat UC Davis 33-15 and running back Stan Russell would be selected as an Associated Press Little All-American.

In a Sept. 5, 1950 edition of the Stagg Letter, Paul recognized that it would take some work for the Badgers to repeat as champs with losses to graduation and the Korean War.

"Looking towards out season this year there have been many doubts in my mind.  We have a number of new men trying for the various positions.  It is too early to tell where they will fit into the picture.  From the realistic angle we shouldn't be expected to do anything this year, but as a dark horse, I wouldn't sell us short yet."[6]

Pacific was far from a dark horse that year, finishing with a 7-2 record and tying for second in the NWC with Linfield behind Lewis & Clark's 5-0 league mark.  Pacific opened the season 4-0, a feat that would not be repeated until 2013.  The Badgers succeeded despite injuries, with Stagg pointing out the absence of "12 so-called regulars" in a 24-0 loss to the Pioneers.  And once again, Stagg seemed to be fixated on what could have been in the final Stagg Letter of the year.

"After the first three games we had our discouraging moments, but I was glad we came back as strong as we did.  Incidently [sic] it is my experience that injuries come in cycles.  I had a large number of injuries in 1934, 1941 and 1950.  Nearly all our injuries occurred in games, but it was just our bad luck and not due to the rough play of opponents.

"We broke a tradition this year which I wish we could keep.  We lost our first home football game in the four years I have been here.  I was afraid that tradition was too good to last."[7]

Dr. Stagg ended that letter with the concern of losing another 14 players to graduation and the prospect of losing more to Korea.  In the end, he didn't need to be.  Pacific returned to the top of the NWC ledger in 1951, going 8-2 and tying with Lewis & Clark for first in the league at 4-1.  The Badgers were voted by the conference to return to the Pear Bowl and a rematch with UC Davis.  The Staggmen rebounded from a 7-6 deficit to defeat the Aggies once again, 25-7.

While not capped by a bowl appearance (the Pear Bowl was not played again after 1951), the 1952 season proved the high water mark of the Stagg era.  The Badgers went undefeated for the first time in the modern era, going 7-0-1 and tying with the College of Idaho for the league crown at 4-0-1.  The heartbeat of the squad was Frank Buckiewicz, Sr., who was named All-NWC in both sides of the ball and was selected as an AP All-American.  Buckiewicz would follow Stagg in later years as Pacific head coach from 1965-1980.

In those first years, the entire city of Forest Grove enjoyed the presence of football royalty.  The "Grand Old Man" himself often made the trip north from Stockton to assist Paul in spring practices.  The elder Stagg seemed to take joy in sharing the latest innovations in the family business, as evidenced in the April/May 1948 edition of the Pacific University Alumnews.

"While he did not feel that Pacific had what is termed 'finished players' yet, Stagg did prophesy a good future for our team which was the essential drive and spirit for the playing the game under adverse conditions.

"Alonzo Sr. came to Pacific about 8 weeks ago to aid his son…(and) brought with him the double flank formation which he has utilized for the last ten years and which is the system used at Susquehanna University.  Whereas our system is based primarily on the T-formation Coach Paul Stagg incorporated some of his father's methods and system in pass plays."[8]

During his first six seasons, Stagg's teams posted a 39-11-3 record.  But as he may have foreshadowed in his 1947 letter to the alumni, success would not last.  As Linfield made their initial rise as a conference football power, Stagg's shine wore off.  In his final eight seasons, the Badgers finished above .500 just once (in his final season) and never finished better than fourth in the conference standings.

Following the 1960 season, Paul finally decided to join his father in California.  In another ironic parallel linking two same-named schools, Paul Stagg resigned from Pacific in 1960 to become athletic director at the University of the Pacific.  The elder Stagg was now 98-years-old, and the chance to be closer surely drew the youngest son south.

Paul took over UOP's department of physical education and athletics, but also charged with overseeing dramatic changes to the department and football program.  President Robert E. Burns had decreed that the Tigers' athletic programs would no longer take cross-country trips and that football scholarships would be phased out.  It was a challenge that Dr. Stagg would not be able to meet, resigning in frustration in 1966.  "There were too many problems and too few answers," he noted upon his departure, "and I found myself in the middle."[9]

Paul Stagg would never return to college athletics, remaining in Stockton where he operated a direct-mail and printing business with his wife, Virginia.[10]  University of the Pacific would never again be a top caliber football program again and would discontinue the program in 1995, three years after Pacific University cut theirs.

While football was certain Paul Stagg's main emphasis over the years, he remained committed throughout his career to coaching well-rounded men and the academic side of physical education.  He was a regular fixture at NCAA conventions and physical education conventions.  His doctoral thesis was a 450-page history of the NCAA.  He spoke out against a ban over live television broadcasts for the 1951 season, instead advocating for a tape-delay agreement that would protect Saturday night kickoffs (such as his Badgers had).  He also spoke against the dissolution of the NCAA's "Sanity Code," which placed limits under which an athlete could get help from an institution and effectively limited help.[11]

While Paul Stagg did prove his value as a football coach at Pacific University, it was high integrity as a professor and coach that endeared him to many.  Pacific President Walter Giersbach summed up Dr. Stagg's persona in 1951, in the midst of his glory years with Pacific football.

"Here he has shown himself to be very much a 'chip off the old block'."  He has the same fine spirit, the same integrity and purpose, the same dynamic as his father.  He has never used intoxicating liquor, nor is he addicted to smoking, off-color stories, or ungentlemanly behavior.  He is a refreshing addition to any college or university campus and is well received by the wider community in which he integrates himself, always in the interest of the University and his particular field of endeavor.

Paul Stagg's greatest love is football.  He is aggressive, thorough-going and loyal, especially to the team which he is building to carry the colors of his school."[12]


[1] Amos Alonzo Stagg letter to Edwin T, Ingles, Apr. 1, 1947, Pacific University Archives.
[2] Paul Stagg letter to Pacific President Walter Giersbach, Mar. 15, 1947, Pacific University Archives.
[3] Paul Stagg letter to Edwin T. Ingles, Mar. 29, 1947, Pacific University Archives.
[4] Paul Stagg letter to Pacific President Walter Giersbach, Mar. 15, 1947, Pacific University Archives.
[5] Paul Stagg letter to Pacific alumni Nov, 19, 1947, Pacific University Archives.
[6] "Stagg Letter," Sept. 5, 1950, Pacific University Archives.
[7] "Stagg Letter," Nov. 1950, Pacific University Archives.
[8] "Alonzo Stagg Sr. Here For Spring Football," Pacific University Alumnews, April/May 1948, Pg. 16.
[9] Marsh, Tim and Schmidt, Ray, "Another Stagg," College Football Historical Society newsletter, Vol. XVI, No. IV, Aug. 2003.
[10] Marsh and Schmidt.
[11] Paul Stagg report on NCAA and Football Coaches Meeting, 1950. Pacific University Archives.
[12] Walter Giersbach letter, Apr. 20, 1951, Pacific University Archives.

Friday, Oct. 25, 2013