Our Own Hall of Fame
HALF MACARTHUR, HALF ROCKNE
Good Sports, Good Losers—Blaik Knew Them Both
DAYTON DAILY NEWS, FEB. 11, 1961
BY MARY ELLEN LYNCH
Daily News Staff Writer
Seventh of a Series
The 10-year-old coach, captain and quarterback of the Riverdale Rovers didn’t know it back in 1907, but he was playing for keeps. His name: Earl Blaik.
Before he hung up his cleats two years ago, the Daytonian was to lead Army to almost two decades of football glory and carve out a permanent place for himself among all-time coaching greats.
“Red” Blaik would grow into a bronze-haired, big-shouldered six footer, but he was a puny 100 pounds when he scratched out a quarterback slot for himself on the Steele high school scrub team in 1911.
By his senior year the native Detroiter—who came to Dayton with his family when he was four—had gained weight and experience and was a varsity end.
AT MIAMI university, where Blaik studied pre-law, he made All-Ohio end, presided over Beta Theta Pi and the student forum, earned most of this $350-a-year college expenses working summers as a chauffeur. In his senior year he made straight A’s and met the girl he married six years later, Merle McDowell of Piqua.
Against the backdrop of World War I, Blaik entered West Point in a two-year accelerated class, achieved All-American mention and was named the academy’s top all-around athlete when he was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1920.
But three years later Blaik was a civilian again, working with his father in a building and real estate venture in Dayton.
His resignation from the Army had come just a few days before Gen. Douglas MacArthur—Blaik’s lifelong hero—wrote asking the young officer to become his aide.
Business prospered, but football persisted. Before long, Blaik was taking the autumn months off to be an assistant coach, first at Wisconsin, then at West Point.
IN 1933 HE WAS offered the head coaching job at Dartmouth, and Business man Blaik was no more.
The hard-driving redhead took a sagging squad, developed it into a precision rock, sock team and hung up a 45-15 won loss record before he went back to West Point in 1941 as the first civilian coach in 30 years. (He shortly returned to active duty, retired as a colonel.)
The grave, austere Blaik (who has been described as half MacArthur, half Knute Rockne) plotted games like battles. He lived to win, said: “There never was a champion who to himself was a good loser. There is a vast difference between a good sport and a good loser.”
Under his hard-working leadership (Blaik slept with a pad by his bed in case he dreamed a new play), Army snapped out of the football doldrums and marched to a national championship in 1945. In 1946, with three undefeated seasons behind him, Blaik was named “Coach of the Year.”
THEN IN 1951 everything crumbled. A cribbing scandal that rocked the nation cost him nearly every member of the varsity squad including his own quarterback son, Bob. Rumors piled up that Blaik would resign or be replaced, but the aging soldier refused to quit under fire.
At 54 he started a rebuilding job he estimated would take five years. It took three. Blaik calls 1953, when an undermanned cadet team lost only one game, the most satisfying season of his life.
In January, 1959, fresh from an undefeated season and the toast of the coaching set for his flashy new “Lonely End” offense, Blaik, 62, quit suddenly. He said only: “This is the proper time to withdraw from college sports, as to overstay a coaching career is unthinkable.”
Today Blaik is chairman of the executive committee of the Avco Corp., and writes a syndicated newspaper column during the football season.
HE LEFT West Point with a 121-33 record and six undefeated seasons out of 18. The “Lonely End,” the mobile backfield, the sprinting line—those are some of the marks Blaik left on football.
As for the marks he left on his players, former President Eisenhower summed that up when Blaik retired:
“I have never known a man in the athletic world,” the ex-President said, “who has been a greater inspiration for the men he is teaching.”
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