”IF MICHELOSEN CAN’T DO IT, LITCHFIELD CAN”

Here is an article from Sports Illustrated dated Oct 28, 1963… just a small history lesson for the not-so-old Pitt fans. I’m dating myself but I can remember many booze and tobacco fueled conversations my parents and their friends had on this, and other, Pitt football subjects when I was a kid.

The closest the University of Pittsburgh football team ever came to being described as “fascinating”—at least in the last 50 years—was the time a New York sportswriter wrote that to see the Panther offense was like watching a very resourceful, very dedicated man rake leaves. Then, just the other day, in the flush of some extraordinary current events, the Pitt team wrung from the press box the most honored of wire service clichés, “razzle-dazzle.” If the writer’s fingers did not tremble as he wrote of the Pitt offense he was either marble-hearted or under 12. But he was accurate.

Delivered from monotony by the newly distinguished one-two-three punch of Quarterback Fred Mazurek, Coach John Michelosen John_Michelosen[1]and Chancellor Edward H. Litchfield (necessarily in that order), the fascinating, palpitating Panthers, best team in the East, surprise team of the nation, last week won their fourth straight game. Pittsburgh had won its first four games only once since 1938, when Jock Sutherland was the coach. Sutherland’s idea of razzling and dazzling was to run off right tackle on one play, then cross up the opposition by running off left tackle the next, but he was a winner and, though they have tried very hard, Pittsburgh followers have been a long time forgetting it.

The fourth victory was accomplished Saturday in Morgantown, W. Va., where Pitt defeated West Virginia University 13-10. The victory was more impressive than the score indicates. In four of the last six years that these two schools have met, Pitt was favored to win and did not. At times last Saturday the Panthers seemed unhappily aware of the hex West Virginia has on them and played a stiff, safe and uninspired game, but when they had to move the ball—at the outset and in the fourth period, when they were behind—they threw passes and took chances, offensive components formerly considered one and the same by Pitt coaches and looked upon with brooding suspicion. Once they ran on fourth and one inside their 20—and made it. They threw 12 passes, nine by the accomplished little roll-out artist, Mazurek, and now have averaged 21.8 passes a game. This is almost double the pleasure over previous years—11 more a game than they threw last year and, at the projected rate, 100 a year more than ever.

Against UCLA in the first game this season, Mazurek passed three times in the first five plays. Ultimately Pitt threw 28 passes, completed 16 for 227 yards, added 202 rushing (the offense is beautifully balanced) and won in a breeze 20-0. The next week 21 Pitt passes helped beat Washington 13-6. On one there was a mad shuffle of handoffs and Quarterback Mazurek wound up racing down-field to catch an 11-yarder from Halfback Paul Martha. Pure carnival. Late in the fourth quarter Mazurek, with a 13-6 lead to play cozy with, rolled out from the Pitt 15 and actually passed for a first down. “Jock Sutherland is spinning in his grave,” said a Pittsburgh sportswriter, who could not believe his eyes. “Jock Sutherland does not buy season tickets,” said Pitt Publicist Beano Cook, who had not believed it either but adapts quickly. The next week Pitt passed on five of the first seven plays and routed California 35-15. “Just what I had in mind,” beamed Chancellor Litchfield. “Now, isn’t this much better?”

Dr. Litchfield has not thrown a pass yet, of course, but he did throw a chancellery bomb lastPittChancellorLitchfield[1] December, and that is when the fun began. Alone with his coach and with Athletic Director Frank Carver, away from his six jobs, his multimillion-dollar building projects and his six secretaries, Dr. Litchfield said that he might not know what it was like to be a football coach but he certainly knew what it was like to be a Pitt football fan: it was a bore. He said winning all the time, losing all the time and being dull were three things he found intolerable. He said he was tired of seeing Pitt’s fullbacks “wearing themselves out running on and off the field with plays from the bench. Let the quarterbacks call the plays.” He said he wanted one good team captain and not a committee to make decisions on the field. He said he liked Michelosen fine but, “like real estate, John needs redevelopment.” He said he was apprised of the fact that students, faculty and alumni were “fed up” (Pitt had had a 3-7 season in 1961 and was 5-5 in 1962 in spite of great expectations). He did not have to say that nothing makes a college president look worse than a bad football team. To make sure there was no mistaking him, Dr. Litchfield let his views leak to the press, the way the Colorado River leaks through Hoover Dam.

There followed some sensational scrambling as reporters raced from one office to the other to compare quotes. For example. Litchfield: “It’s perfectly clear that John is playing ultraconservative football. He’s out to win alone and not for the entertainment of the fan.” Michelosen: “I didn’t think I was in the entertainment business.” It was all good clean rank-pulling, and everybody enjoyed it except, perhaps, Michelosen, who took it in fine spirit but was clearly and dangerously on the spot, and knew it. Nevertheless, said the chancellor, he had just as much right to tell his football coach how to do his job as he did the head of the chemistry department. “I’m not a coach,” he said, “but I’m not a chemist, either.” He denied that he had delivered an ultimatum to Michelosen, but added that the consequences would be “whatever they would be for anyone who doesn’t follow administration instructions.”

As a result, Pitt’s startling success has been in no small measure attributed to Chancellor Litchfield. “It’s very simple,” explained a Pittsburgh cab driver the day before the West Virginia game. “The chancellor has this phone, see, from his box to the field, see, and whenever he wants to get a play in, he just calls up. Get it?” Students stole in and pasted “Coach” on the chancellor’s door. Where once they booed his arrival at games (his 45% tuition hike and his wheeler-dealer activities as an executive for Studebaker, Avco, Smith-Corona Marchant and Oakland Corporation have not made him outrageously popular), they now cheer, and when Mazurek pulls off some new breathtaker they yell, “Hail, Caesar,” and wave their empty wallets at the chancellor. He waves back. They have a chant: “Michelosen, Michelosen, /He’s our man. /If he can’t do it, /Litchfield can.” Far from being abashed, Litchfield thinks the cry is “cute.”

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