“That was the game which was to change the face of New Year’s Day in the years to come.” —Rose Bowl historian Rube Samuelsen
In the first four decades of the 20th century, hardly a week went by during football season when the name of William H. “Lone Star” Dietz’s didn’t appear in the nation’s sports pages. Today it’s rarely heard in Pullman, or anywhere else. In spite of that near silence for 60 years now, the one-time Washington State College football coach (1915-1917, 17-2-1 record) left a legacy that could land him in the College Football Hall of Fame next year.
He began his coaching career in 1912 as an assistant to Pop Warner at Carlisle (Pennsylvania) Indian Industrial School after playing there in 1907. He last coached during the 1942 season at Albright College, Reading, Pennsylvania.
His paintings still adorn the walls of Albright, alma mater of former WSC athletic director J. Fred Bohler, who hired him at WSC. Visitors to the Albright field house can see Dietz’s portrait of Dick Riffle. The All-American quarterback starred on the Lion’s undefeated team in 1937, Dietz’s first year at the helm. Prominently displayed in the Career Development Center across campus is Lone Star’s painting, The Pursuit of Knowledge: A College Fantasy, a gift from the Class of 1959.
The Washington Redskins still conduct their summer training camp in Carlisle, home to Lone Star when he was playing and coaching at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (1907-1915). Although Dietz coached the then Boston Redskins for only two years, the pro team remains eternally tied to him.
Lost to posterity are the details of exactly how the Boston Braves football team became the Boston Redskins in 1933, when Lone Star took the coaching reins. (The Redskins moved to Washington, D.C. in 1937.) What is known is that Redskins owner George Preston Marshall wanted a name change to differentiate the Boston football team from the better-known Boston Braves baseball team. In any event, the Braves became the Redskins in 1933 with Lone Star working the sidelines.
Marshall, a Washington, D.C.-based laundry tycoon and showman, was interested in improving the Redskins’ financial position. One way was by capitalizing on its colorful coach’s Sioux heritage in promotional materials. Fliers featured photographs of Lone Star in Indian regalia, in a business suit, and in moleskins with his Carlisle letter sweater under his arm, according to Richard Whittingham, author of The Washington Redskins: An Illustrated History.
Dietz’s legacy, however, doesn’t end with the National Football League, or even the East Coast. It extends far beyond.
The nation’s New Year’s Day football tradition is thought to be a result of his masterful coaching. Prior to 1916, some football games had been played on New Year’s Day, even some intersectional games, including one in Pasadena in 1902, which was stopped in the third quarter with Michigan ahead 49-0, and Stanford unable to field 11 players due to injuries. But none successfully captured the fancy of the sports public until Lone Star’s Washington State College charges proved themselves to be the equal of Cornell, the best team in the East that year, according to Walter Eckersall, who officiated the game, as quoted by football historian Terry Fitzgerald.
Although oddsmakers considered WSC vastly inferior, Lone Star and his players put West Coast football on the map by blanking Brown 14-0. The WSC defense held star halfback Fritz Pollard to 40 yards net rushing. And the entire Brown team gained only 96 yards that day. Lone Star’s offense operated with precision, gaining 325 yards even though stripped down to its most basic plays by playing conditions on a muddy field.
When celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1916 historic contest, Rose Bowl historian Rube Samuelsen wrote, “That was the game which was to change the face of New Year’s Day in the years to come. That game provided the stimulus which turned the holiday from the day after the night before (of celebrating) into a day of football in many parts of the country-yeah, even the world-as bowl games sprung up without number.”
Current Washington State head coach Mike Price has a copy of the 1915 team photograph on his desk in Bohler Gym as a constant reminder that Lone Star is the only coach in school history to lead his team to a Rose Bowl victory.
A photograph from the Washington State University Library depicting the original event and several pages devoted to Lone Star are included in Dick Fry’s wonderful book about Washington State sports, The Crimson and the Gray: 100 Years with the WSU Cougars. Fry notes that Lone Star was not on the train with his team when it returned to Pullman. The coach was in Hollywood making movies, another legacy.
William H. Dietz has been nominated for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003. Football fans familiar with Lone Star’s legacy hope he will be selected and receive the long overdue recognition he merits.
Tom Benjey is author of Keep A’Goin’: The Life of Lone Star Dietz. Read the WSM review.