Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Recruiting as practiced in 1959

Note: Reprinted in its entirety from the December 21, 1959, issue of Time magazine. See if you spot anything that might be an NC2A violation nowadays.

Four seasons ago they began quietly showing up in the wooden stands behind Natchez (Miss.) High School, and strolling with practiced nonchalance across the field after the game to introduce themselves to the kid with the whiplash passing arm. By the end of this year, there was hardly a football coach in the South who had not cast covetous eyes on Perry Lee ("The Gun") Dunn, 18-year-old son of a Natchez factory worker. For Perry Lee is a quarterback with the roughhewn build of a tackle (6 ft. 1½ in., 207 Ibs.). As a senior he has averaged a startling 260.9 yds. a game, running for 20 touchdowns and passing for 14 more.

The scramble to grab off Dunn was a textbook piece on the ancient art of recruiting. In the modest Dunn home, the phone jangled steadily with long-distance calls placed by nearly every major-college coach in the South, from Alabama's Paul Bryant to Arkansas' Frank Broyles. From Dartmouth came a circumspect and indirect inquiry. Notre Dame forwarded plane tickets to the Southern California game (Perry Lee mailed them right back: "I don't much like cold weather"), and victory-starved Mississippi State sent a plaintive note ("We all hope and pray that you will come with us").

Dietzel v. Vaught. But from the start, young Perry Lee seemed to listen most respectfully to two top men of the tough Southeastern Conference: Louisiana State's blond, boyish Paul Dietzel, coach of last season's national champions, and Mississippi's canny, reticent Johnny Vaught, coach of this season's second-ranking team. Each man had an ally in Natchez. Boosting Dietzel and L.S.U. was Orthopedic Surgeon Jack Phillips, an L.S.U. alumnus (and former football manager), who took Perry Lee to L.S.U. games, assiduously cultivated the elder Dunns, once even helped Mrs. Dunn take in her washing off the line. Boosting Vaught and Mississippi was none other than Natchez' Mayor Troy Watkins, a Mississippi graduate (class of '49) of long and loyal memory.

Last week came the showdown. Under Southeastern Conference rules, not until Dec. 7 can a college sign up a boy for an athletic scholarship, euphemistically called a "grant-in-aid" (tuition, fees, board, room, books, and $15 a month for laundry). For the final week's skirmishing, Dietzel and Vaught suspended worry about their coming Sugar Bowl game and grimly set out to capture the big Gun.

Steak v. Duck. On Monday, Dietzel flew to Natchez to talk to young Perry Lee of L.S.U.'s winning tradition, national reputation, big stadium and academic standing. Next day Dietzel had the boy flown down to Baton Rouge for a two-day stay, produced All-America Billy Cannon to chat with his prospect. Thursday, back in Natchez, Perry Lee had a steak with Coach Wade Walker of Mississippi State, then excused himself to down another with L.S.U.'s Quarterback Warren Rabb and two other players specially flown in by Dr. Phillips.

Mississippi's Vaught bided his time. Then on Friday he played his big card. He invited Perry Lee to Mississippi's campus at Oxford. Vaught had long since learned that Perry Lee liked shooting almost as much as football, cagily detailed a trio of first-string linemen to take him duck hunting.

Bewitching Hour. That weekend did it. On Sunday afternoon Coach Dietzel flew to Natchez, cooled his heels for eight hours waiting for Perry Lee to return from Mississippi. But Schoolboy Perry Lee, closely convoyed by Coach Vaught, was heading for Room 1137 of the King Edward Hotel in Jackson, where Mayor Watkins and Perry Lee's father were waiting. There, at 12:05 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 7, Perry Lee signed his "letter of intent" to play for Mississippi.

"I've wanted to go to Mississippi all along," said Quarterback Perry Lee Dunn. "But I wanted to be sure. I'm glad it's over—I thought the pressure the last two weeks would drive me crazy. I haven't studied a lick the whole time." By week's end, Perry Lee was already talking like a Mississippi man, sniffed scornfully at top-ranked Syracuse: "Ole Miss could take them—they're just a bunch of fat boys."

Footnote: Perry Lee Dunn (no relation to former Ole Miss coach Joe Lee Dunn) switched over to fullback and also played defensive back during his time at Ole Miss. He was drafted by both the AFL's San Diego Chargers and the NFL's Dallas Cowboys. He signed with Dallas and played 6 years in the NFL (including stints with Atlanta and Baltimore).


Anonymous said...

See if you spot anything that might be an NC2A violation nowadays? How about trying to spot something that ISN'T a violation.

Hard to believe this was going on, now that we have coaches being accused of being criminals because they didn't know some of their players were cheating in an online music course.