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UCLA Coach Red Sanders Dies, August 15, 1958

August 15, 2008 |  5:11 am

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