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A Duffy history lesson to guide Michigan State’s new head coach

ILLUSTRATION: Michigan State College Football Hall of Fame coach Duffy Daugherty.

Visit my website homepage, TomShanahan.Report

My letter to new Michigan State football coach Jonathan Smith:

Coach Smith:

Welcome to Spartan Nation.

A plethora of people – and political factions creating palace intrigue – are no doubt in your ear offering Michigan State-styled advice about the early signing period, the transfer portal, NIL, where to eat and whatever else compounds a modern-day college football coach’s job.

But if granted one moment of your time – a chance to slide information onto your desk – I’d clarify Michigan State’s label as a “middle-tier program.” Spartan Nation is hoping you can work your middle-tier magic at Oregon State in East Lansing.

However, middle-tier wasn’t always the Spartans’ identity. Not while winning NCAA-sanctioned national titles under College Football Hall of Fame coaches Biggie Munn (1952) and Duffy Daugherty (1965 and 1966).

And that’s not half the story.

Michigan State’s 1960s teams were college football’s first fully integrated rosters under Daugherty’s courageous leadership. His Spartans stood apart from any other college program.

Duffy ignored unwritten quotas others schools followed – including USC and Notre Dame – that limited Black athletes to a half-dozen or so on the roster. The Spartans’ 1965 and 1966 national title teams were atop the college football world in the win column and — more significantly – contributing to transforming American society.

PHOTO: Jonathan Smith arrived on Sunday at Capital City Airport in Lansing to take over Michigan State’s football program.

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Unfortunately, the sports media avoided race in the 1960s, so many milestones were ignored. You can read about Michigan State’s 1964 team as the first fully integrated roster to play in the South at North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium on my website, TomShanahan.Report, or in my book on pre-order, “THE RIGHT THING TO DO, The True Pioneers of College Football Integration in the 1960s.” Michigan State College Football Hall of Famer Clinton Jones was the first Black player to score at Kenan, and he has never received credit for it in college football lore.

By the 1970s, though, the media paid attention to progressive coaches, and Oklahoma’s Barry Switzer was rightly considered a leader. He recruited a fully integrated roster with Black athletes at all positions. Well, here’s what Switzer said about Duffy in the first chapter of my book:

“Duffy did more for integration than any other coach in college football. He had players from all over the South. There were great Black players in the state of Texas that were passing over Oklahoma to play for Duffy. He had all those players from the Houston area. And Duffy also was the first one to recruit Samoan players.”

I hope that part about “first one to recruit Samoan players” caught your attention. I’m aware on your Oregon State roster your most decorated player is junior offensive tackle Taliese Fuagua from Tacoma, Washington; your key transfer portal addition was quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei by way of Clemson from St. John Bosco High in California; and an early commitment in your 2024 class was an offensive lineman from Hawaii, Rustin Young at Honolulu St. Louis.

You need an accurate picture of Michigan State’s leadership. I’m here to help. Starting with a fun Hawaii pinpoint, let me provide some facts.

Don’t let anyone tell you: That you can’t recruit Samoan and Polynesian athletes from the West Coast or Hawaii to Michigan State’s Midwest campus. Bob Apisa, college football’s first Samoan All-American player, wore his Hawaii sandals in his Michigan State days late into the fall. As snow days approached, College Football Hall of Famer Bubba Smith admonished him to wear shoes.

Here’s why: Duffy’s Hawaiian Pipeline recruited 10 players from Hawaii high schools from 1954 to 1972. Apisa (1965-67), from Farrington High, and Charlie Wedemeyer (1966-68), from Punahou School, are in the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. Three others are NFL veterans: lineman Jim Nicholson (St. Louis), center Charles “Kale” Ane (Punahou) and running back Arnold Morgado (Punahou). Three more were All-Big Ten picks, lineman Larry Cundiff (Iolani), running back Roger Lopes (Iolani) and kicker/punter Dick Kenney (Iolani).

Duffy was ahead of his peers, but the recruiting foothold was squandered by Duffy’s immediate successor, Denny Stolz, and others who followed with the exception of Muddy Waters (1980-82). Waters signed Carter Kamana (1980-84) out of Honolulu’s Kamehameha. Nevertheless, Ane and Kamana, who live in Hawaii, are ready to help with scouting reports.

Don’t let anyone tell you: Duffy got lucky with the Underground Railroad and cynically recruited Black players from the segregated South only to win football games. Charles Davis, college and pro analyst, egregiously makes that erroneous statement in an ESPN feature on integration. An apology from Charles would be nice, even though I recognize he was likely fed bad research.

Here’s why: Of the 44 Black players from the South that Daugherty recruited between 1954 and 1972, only 10 earned All-American or All-Big Ten honors. Duffy took chances on Black recruits just like other schools only took a chance on a white recruit. An example was Jimmy Raye, an undersized quarterback from segregated Fayetteville, N.C., on the 1965 and 1966 title teams.

ILLUSTRATION L-R: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty and Clint Jones on the sideline at the 1966 Game of the Century, November 19 at Spartan Stadium.

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The more important number was 68 percent of the 44 graduated. For context, after other schools abandoned their unwritten quotas limiting Black athletes to a half-dozen or so, an NCAA study put the national graduation rate in the 1980s for Black players at 30 percent. In other words, they exploited Black athletes. Sadly, those schools and coaches included Michigan State’s George Perles, who didn’t follow Duffy’s blueprint. The NCAA subsequently implemented academic progress rules for player eligibility. They should be known as the “Duffy Rules.”

Don’t let anyone tell you: Alabama coach Bear Bryant sent Charlie Thornhill, a two-time All-Big Ten linebacker, to Duffy in 1963 in exchange for Duffy sending Joe Namath to Bear in 1961. Even Namath says it’s not true.

Here’s why: Bryant says on film as late as 1967 the reason he lacked a Black player on his roster was because he couldn’t find any that qualified academically. So, how could he be sending Thornhill and other Black players who qualified at Michigan State when Namath was denied admission at MSU and Maryland yet he was admitted to Alabama overnight? Maryland coach Tom Nugent informed Bryant that Namath was available because he didn’t want Namath to end up at Penn State or another school on Maryland’s future schedules.

The other mystery about this “benevolent Bryant myth” that leaves me scratching my head is Michigan State people still spread the falsehood. For some reason, they don’t understand it makes Daugherty sound like a passive bystander. But that’s the power of Bear Bryant hagiography — he gets credit for things he never did.

I’m hoping you see this before someone tells you stories myths about Duffy needing Bryant’s help. Unfortunately, there are still people at MSU, even in the athletic department, who don’t understand the Bryant story is a myth.

Don’t let anyone tell you: The 1970 USC-Alabama game with USC fullback Sam Cunningham was a tipping point for college football integration. College football integration was fait accompli by 1970.

Here’s why: The myths and fiction about the 1970 game were crafted 20 years after the game was played to whitewash Bryant’s poor record on integration. At best, he was indifferent.

Unfortunately, Alabama writers, with Keith Dunnavant chief among them when HBO and ESPN trots him out before cameras, utilized the power of Bryant hagiography to spread myths. The mythmakers have been as successful as the southern historians were in early 20th century when they managed to cast the Civil War as about states’ rights rather than slavery.

The true tipping point was the 1966 Game of the Century on November 19 matching Notre Dame at Michigan State. A record TV audience of 33 million saw in Black-and-white the contrast in rosters whether they watched on black- and-white tube or in living full color as was advertised in the era.

Michigan State was the future with 20 Black players, 11 Black starters, two Black team captains, College Football Hall of Famers George Webster and Jones, and Raye as the South’s first Black quarterback to win a national title.

Notre Dame was the past with one Black player, Alan Page.

So was USC with only five Black players on its 1962 national title team and seven on its 1967 national championship roster. In an area as populous and diverse as LA, a coach has to work at keeping minority numbers that low.

Interestingly, Michigan State’s leadership role began by accident by winning the 1954 and 1956 Rose Bowl games. African Americans in the South noticed the number of Black players from Michigan factory towns leading the Spartans.

In the late 1950s at a clinic believed to be in Atlanta, Duffy spoke at a clinic. He was upset when he learned the Black high school coaches couldn’t attend. He put on a free clinic for them. Now, the Black high school coaches had met the affable Daugherty to go with the TV image. They began to send him their players.

The chief engineer was Bubba Smith’s father, Willie Raye Smith Sr., a legendary Texas high school coach during segregation. Southern Black high school coaches built the Underground Railroad.

I could go on, but by now you might be thinking to yourself, “I’d like to pay homage to the statue of Duffy on campus.”

There isn’t one.

Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller, unlike his predecessors, has tried to amend this egregious oversight, but it remains a project. Two former Duffy assistant coaches who are among college head coaches with statues on their school’s campus are Bill Yeoman at Houston and Dan Devine at Notre Dame. They’d roll over in their grave at the thought of their mentor not having a statue.

And more insulting, believe it or not, a past MSU AD put up a marker in 2013 outside of Jenison Fieldhouse to commemorate and NCAA 1963 basketball tournament game matching all-white Mississippi State and Loyola Chicago with four Black players. But don’t mention that cruel irony around any of Duffy’s players — particularly his 1965 and 1966 teams. You’ll risk raising the blood pressure of men in their late 70s.

There is, of course, the Duffy Daugherty Building. But most Michigan State athletes don’t know his history when they go in and out of the doors. They’ve told me this. The student body and alumni generally don’t understand and appreciate it either. And generations of Greater Lansing area kids grow up without understanding the great history of the university in their backyard.

Unfortunately, when Michigan State president John Hannah, who hired Biggie Munn in 1947 and promoted Duffy in 1954, left the university in 1969, Duffy had a falling out with the new administration. It began to cut the football budget to numbers at the bottom of the Big Ten.

Then, a series of MSU presidents, athletic directors and coaches with no Michigan State ties were hired. They showed no desire to understand and appreciate Michigan State’s ground-breaking history. A proud history faded into the background.

Here’s hoping you can change that – on and off the field. With Duffy’s players approaching their 80s, the history may soon be lost forever.

Sincerely,

Tom Shanahan

MSU Class of 1978 and proud former State News sports editor.

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I invite you to follow me on Twitter @shanny4055

Below are links to click on to purchase my books.

My books tell the true story of college football integration in the 1960s and address the myths and fiction that allowed a false narrative surrounding the 1970 USC-Alabama game to usurp the credit. As I said when I spoke at the National Sports Media Association book festival, no two books provide an accurate portrayal more than RAYE OF LIGHT and THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

I’ll put my facts up against anybody, anytime, anywhere.

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Click here for my story on the 1962 Rose Bowl and Segregation awarded first place by the Football Writers Association of America. I tell untold stories on Michigan State’s leading role and the true pioneers of college football integration. Click here to read the summary as a first-place story.

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Visit my website homepage, TomShanahan.Report

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Click here to purchase The Right Thing To Do

THE RIGHT THING TO DO

The True Pioneers of College Football Integration in the 1960s

Foreword by Ruffin McNeill

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Click here to purchase Raye of Light.

RAYE OF LIGHT

Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the 1ntegration of College Football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans

Foreword by Tony Dungy

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Click here to purchase my children’s book, Bubba’s Dad, Duffy and College Football’s Underground Railroad

The book for now is only a Kindle version on Amazon. Print and audio platforms available soon.

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Coming soon for Christmas, my next children’s book: How Duffy Put Hawaii on the Football Map

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