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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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UCLA Coach Red Sanders Dies, August 15, 1958

UCLA football coach Red sanders, 1954
Los Angeles Times file photo

UCLA coach Red Sanders "shows his tailbacks the way he wants them to throw a pass" before the Bruins play Stanford. Published in The Times, Oct. 13, 1954

Photograph by Ray Graham / Los Angeles Times

Ann Sanders unveils the bronze plaque at the Coliseum honoring her late husband. At left, George Kinsey, vice president of the Coliseum Commission, and William Young, UCLA vice chancellor, Nov. 17, 1959.

UCLA football coach Red Sanders dies

UCLA football pictures

UCLA coach Red Sanders dies

Red Sanders death stuns UCLA
By Keith Thursby
Times staff writer

Red Sanders was the first Wizard of Westwood.

Since coming to UCLA in 1949, he had transformed the football team into a national power with three league titles in consecutive seasons, two Rose Bowl appearances and the first undefeated season in school history. When he died of a heart attack at 53, The Times responded with a series of stories that showed a lot about the coach and the way newspapers approached star sports personalities during that era.

I was struck by the personal nature of the coverage. Sports Editor Paul Zimmerman, getting reaction from the nation's top coaches, told of a fishing trip he took with Sanders. The Times' Dick Hyland, in a story about Sanders' widow, wrote about the details of Sanders' living room.

"It is said that you can tell how a man thinks by what he reads. On Red Sanders' shelves were such titles as Sandberg's 'Abraham Lincoln'; volumes of Kipling; the works of Plato; 'The Blue and the Gray,' a great Civil War history; 'The Jacksonians,' Stanton Coblenz's 'From Arrow to Tomb.'"

Ned Cronin wrote about the impossible task ahead for UCLA Athletic Director Wilbur Johns, who needed to find a coach so close to the start of the season while the community mourned. "It takes a long while to recover from the effects of the shock," Cronin wrote. "A shattering blow not only to me, for I regarded Red Sanders as one of my closest and dearest friends."

It was also a little jarring to read that famous football quote--"Winning's not the main thing, it's the only thing"--without any reference to Packers Coach Vince Lombardi, who was famous for saying it. Because Sanders said it first. The Times' Al Wolf suggested he said it "presumably in jest but actually kidding on the square."

The Times published an editorial on Sanders the following day, calling him a man of "great tensions, driven by some urge to perfection that nobody, probably, could analyze. Sometimes he wound the string so taut that it broke with spectacular side results. It is not surprising, really, that such a man should die at 53. A heart is a heart."

ps. from Larry Harnisch:

Take a look at the What's Bruin post on Red Sanders from August 2007, "August 14, 1958: The saddest date in UCLA football history."

Red Sanders death stuns UCLA Death of football coach Red Sanders stuns UCLA

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Comments (5)

Really a nice job on Sanders, especially noting the coverage by the paper. Sent me into a rush of nostalgia for the Fifties - God I miss single-wing football, the commies, and the birth of the cool.

Michael Carey

He also came up with the phrase, "Beating 'SC is not a matter of life or death. It's more important than that."

No quotation from John Wooden, the UCLA Head Basketball Coach, in the TImes on the death of Red Sanders?

The Times published statements from somebody nobody ever head of called Joe Chastek, and FORMER UCLA basketball coach Caddy Works. But not John Wooden. Who, at that time had only been Head Basketball Coach at UCLA for ten years. John Wooden didn't rate as somebody worth getting a quote from in the estimation of the L.A. Times Sports Section in 1958?

Great job Larry. As always. Also notable: Sanders referenced as "the wizard of Westwood".

I was really impressed in how he was able get good players from various backgrounds and good assistant coaches who did well at UCLA when he passed on. Likewise, he gained respect, trust, and humility from them. Finally, he gained respect from others coaches for being fundamentally sound on the field. That is a genius.

As far as the single-wing, it has been used in various forms like West Virginia and Applachian State use in their option threat. The teachings of Bob Neyland of whom Sanders was a great admirer are still alive.


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