SEC and ACC football coaches who are howling over Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh’s upcoming spring football practices in Florida should be reminded there is precedent for a Big Ten school traveling to the South to enhance recruiting.
The difference between now and then is when Michigan State’s Duffy Daugherty — a College Football Hall of Fame coach — staged clinics in the 1960’s segregated South, no one in the SEC or ACC protested. Coaches and commissioners were fine with Daugherty recruiting black athletes to his far away East Lansing campus.
Sometimes it takes a lightning-rod figure like Harbaugh to innocently remind us that sports long have played a vital role in breaking down citadels of prejudice. A half-century after Daugherty broke down barriers, Harbaugh’s ploy to recruit the South’s fertile football talent is regardless of skin color.
We’ve come a long way.
The double irony of the controversy Harbaugh stirred up is the NCAA may respond with a new rule to close a loophole he found to bring his team the IMG Academy Feb. 27-March 4 in Brandenton, Fla. That will put the iconoclastic Harbaugh in the company of Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant.
Not only was the wiley Bryant among those in the SEC and ACC who remained silent about segregation, he was adept at finding loopholes for a recruiting edge that forced the NCAA to write new rules. Alabama fans should appreciate Harbaugh’s boldness despite Alabama Coach Nick Saban leading the protests.
When Bryant opened a dorm for Alabama football players, the NCAA later passed a rule against it. When Bryant signed rosters of 150 or more players just so they wouldn’t play against him, the NCAA passed scholarship limitation legislation.
Bryant, of course, could have recruited plenty more talent in the South simply by getting on the right side of history. And he wasn’t alone resisting integration.
Texas’ Darrell Royal, Clemson’s Frank Howard, Mississippi’s Johnny Vaught and other southern coaches also had no objections to Daugherty mining black talent from their turf. They were among those who kept their football roster all-white long after their campus integrated.
— Alabama admitted black students in 1963 despite George Wallace infamously standing in the schoolhouse door. Bryant’s first black football player was in 1971.
— Texas’ campus was integrated in 1956. Royal’s 1969 Longhorns were the last all-white national championship team. Royal’s first black player played in 1970.
— Clemson’s campus was integrated in 1963 with a push from the school president. Howard retired after the 1969 season — some speculate rather than coach black athletes — before the Tigers’ first black player under his successor in 1971.
— At Mississippi, Army troops had to be trucked to the campus to quell a deadly campus riot over the admission of James Meredith, the school’s first black student in 1962. Vaught retired in 1970 and Mississippi football integrated in 1972.
Eric Marshall was a high school senior down the street from the Ole Miss campus at the black high school in Oxford, Ms, in 1962. Daugherty recruited to play at Michigan State.
The genesis of Daugherty’s special clinics was an invitation to speak at a clinic in Atlanta. He was dismayed black high school coaches were prevented from attending and subsequently staged his own clinics for them. An unexpected result was that he earned the trust of the black coaches and they began to send their stars to him for the chance to play Big Ten football.
Thus was born Daugherty’s version of the Underground Railroad that led to the integration of college football.
Three of those 44 southern black players Daugherty recruited from 1959 to his final class in 1972 have joined him in the College Football Hall of Fame: Bubba Smith of Beaumont, Texas, George Webster of Anderson, S.C., and Gene Washington of La Porte, Texas.
Jimmy Raye, the South’s first black quarterback to win a national title on the Spartans’ 1966 team, arrived from Fayetteville, N.C. Other stars on the 1965 and 1966 national championship teams were All-Big Ten linebacker Charlie Thornhill of Roanoke, Va., and starting cornerback Jim Summers of Orangeburg, S.C.
Among Daugherty’s last recruits in 1972 — the same year Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss were the final three SEC teams to integrate — was Tyrone Willingham of Jacksonville, N.C. He went on to have his own distinguished coaching career, which included him being the first African-American coach in any sport at Notre Dame.
Times have changed.
In March 2015, Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops backed his players when they protested a campus fraternity that filmed themselves singing a racist song. Oklahoma president David Boren shut down the fraternity and expelled students.
In November 2015, Missouri Coach Gary Finkel supported his players when they threatened to boycott playing a game in response to the racial events on their campus. Missouri president Timothy Wolfe was forced to resign and the season continued as scheduled.
Daugherty was ahead of his time.
Another irony over the outrage Harbaugh has sparked is former Michigan coach Brady Hoke used off-campus clinics to build winning programs at Ball State and San Diego State before his success at those schools landed him the Michigan job. Hoke expanded his recruiting reach traveling Indiana at Ball State and California at San Diego State.
Saban and others in the SEC and ACC, though, never felt threatened that Ball State and San Diego State would swoop in and take away their 5-star and 4-star prospects.
Note: Research for this story on Daugherty’s Underground Railroad was taken from Tom Shanahan’s book, “Raye of Light.”