Discover more from Football Archaeology
Today's Tidbit... Great Coaching Staffs: 1954 Michigan State
Some teams are excellent due to the talent on the roster, and others due to their coaching staff. Of course, there is an interplay between the quality of coaching staff and the rosters since success and recruiting beget high-quality recruits. Still, you occasionally come across a coaching staff and are startled by its depth of coaching talent. One staff that fit the excessive talent bill was the boys coaching the 1954 Michigan State Spartans.
How many great coaches do you recognize from the picture?
Michigan State joined the Big Ten the previous year - Biggie Munn's final year as head coach - and tied Illinois for the league title. Under the Big Ten rules of the day, the Rose Bowl invitation went to the team winning the conference title, or, in the case of ties, it went to the team that had gone the longest since their last appearance in Pasadena. As a new conference member, MSU qualified as the latter and went to the Rose Bowl, where they beat UCLA.
Duffy Daugherty, who had been MSU's line coach since 1947, replaced Munn and created a staff with holdovers and newcomers. In their first year together, the Spartans went 1-5 in the Big Ten, in addition to losing to Notre Dame and beating Washington State and Marquette in nonconference play. However, the 1955 team overcame an early season loss to Michigan and went on to a Rose Bowl win over UCLA, earning a national championship. Daugherty finished his coaching career at Michigan State in 1972, accumulating four Big Ten championships and a 109-69-5 record over nineteen seasons.
While not every staff member became a superstar, at least four earned that label, including Daugherty, so let's take a spin through the picture and summarize the accomplishments of each.
Bill Yeoman played at TCU and Army, and after meeting Daugherty while serving in the Army in Europe, he joined the MSU staff as the freshman line coach and remained in East Lansing until 1961. From there, he took over the Houston program, developed the veer offense, and won four Southwest Conference titles during Houston's eleven years in the league. He finished with a 160-108-8 record,
Bob Devaney joined the MSU staff in 1953 from the Michigan high school ranks, so he was a holdover under Daugherty and stayed through the 1956 season. He won two Skyline Conference championships in five years at Wyoming before moving to Nebraska, where he won eight Big Eight and two national championships. He remained Nebraska's AD for another twenty years, finishing with a 101-20-2 record as a head coach.
Don Mason played guard for MSU from 1947 to 1949, twice earning second-team Associated Press All-American status. He joined MSU's staff in 1952, rising to line coach, before leaving football in 1956.
Burt Smith played hockey and baseball at Michigan before joining Daugherty's football staff in 1954. He became MSU's assistant AD in 1965 and was the AD from 1972 to 1975. Perhaps most famously, he voted to send Ohio State to the Rose Bowl rather than Michigan in 1973.
Sonny Grandelius was a former Spartan All-American that enjoyed one year in the NFL before joining Daugherty's staff in 1954 as the freshman coach. He stayed five years and took over the Colorado program in 1959 at age 29. He won a Big Eight title in his third year before resigning amid a slush fund scandal. He then moved on to the NFL, where he was an assistant for three years.
Dan Devine was the longest-tenured coach beside Daugherty in 1954, having come to East Lansing in 1950. He left after the 1954 season to coach Arizona State for three years, where he raised the Border Conference pennant once. Devine then moved to Missouri for thirteen years, capturing two Big Eight titles. After that, Devine took the helm in Green Bay for four seasons before taking over in South Bend for fifteen, including one national championship with the Irish. He finished with a 172-57-9 record as a college coach and a 25-27 coach in the NFL.
The 1954 staff had five coaches who won Power 5 conference titles, four at schools other than Michigan State, and three who captured a national championship. Not too bad for a group of no-name young coaches, and you gotta hand it to Duffy Daugherty for retaining and selecting the group.
Subscribe for free and never miss a story. Support this site with a paid subscription, buy me a coffee (or two), or buy one of my books.