Induction Year: 1988

Paul Dietzel’s football coaching career was in deep trouble when the Louisiana State University Tigers took a four-game losing streak into their regular-season finale with Tulane in 1957.

With senior Jimmy Taylor and sophomore Billy Cannon in the same backfield, the Tigers scored a total of only five touchdowns in the four straight losses. One more defeat would give Dietzel the dubious distinction of being the first coach in LSU’s 65-years football history to have three consecutive losing seasons.

“If I don’t win this game,” Dietzel confided to a friend, “I’m through as a football coach.”

His Tigers won that game, 25-6—and their next 18 games. They won the 1958 national championship, and were ranked No. 1 in 13 consecutive Associated Press polls—the longest stretch that any team south of the Mason-Dixon line has ever stayed on top.

“it is a short trip from the penthouse to the outhouse,” was one of Dietzel’s favorite expressions. In the Camelot years that followed the 1957 victory over Tulane, he proved that the return trip can be just as short.

The 1958 national champions gave LSU its first perfect season since 1908, but it was just another perfect season for the dapper young coach. The first three had been during his playing career—first on junior high and high school teams in Mansfield , Ohio , and later with the Miami ( Ohio ) University Redskins.

LSU did not regain the No. 1 position after a 14-13 loss to Tennessee near the end of the 1959 season, but the Tigers were third and fourth in final AP polls after two of Dietzel’s last three years as their head coach.

Those three top four finishes were the highest for LSU since Bernie Moore’s 1936 Tigers were ranked second to Minnesota in the first AP poll, and no LSU team has finished a season in the top four since Dietzel left.

The Tigers were 36-7-1 over a stretch of 44 games when Dietzel did one thing thousands of LSU fans could never forgive. He left.

It was never the same again for either LSU or Dietzel, although he did manage to lead South Carolina to an Atlantic Coast Conference championship and its first bowl trip in 25 years. If you take away his last four seasons at LSU, Dietzel’s record for the other 16 years of his college coaching career was only 74-88. Of course, the rest of the story is that nobody can take those four great years away form Dietzel or LSU. He accomplished something in that span that no other LSU coach matched, before or since.

After his coaching career, Dietzel stayed in athletics as the commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference and Athletic Director at Indiana and LSU. In four years at LSU, he supervised the transition from the Charlie McClendon Era to Jerry Stovall. (BoRein was appointed to succeed McClendon, but he died in an airplane crash 42 days after taking the LSU job.)

The lobbying of his former players was a major factor in Dietzel’s return to LSU as Athletic Director, but the magic was missing for the days when he led the Tigers to a pinnacle of success they had never attained before—and might never reach again. As a coach, he had the press in his hip pocket. But a generation later, the media no longer accepted his edicts without question. Dietzel was pressured out after four stormy years, replaced by a man who would be even more controversial-Bob Brodhead.

The son of a furnace installer, Dietzel was born Sept. 5, 1924, in Fremont , Ohio . The family eventually settled in Mansfield , Ohio , where Paul excelled in three sports—football, basketball and track (he won a district title in the discus throw). He received a football scholarship to Duke University , and spent one year there before World War II interrupted his football career. He a B-29 bomber pilot in the Army Air Corps, flying a dozen missions in the Pacific.

He married the former Anne Wilson while he was in the Air Corps.=, and continued his college career at Miami University in Oxford , Ohio , because of the persistence of Coach Sid Gillman. A Little All-American center on a Miami team that defeated Teas Tech in the Sun Bowl, Dietzel was a pre-med student and president of two honor societies. But his medical aspirations ended when Gillman invited him to follow him to West Point as line coaches for the legendary Earl “Red” Blaik.

Over the next few years, he coached with Gillman at the University of Cincinnati , Paul “Bear” Bryant and McClendon at Kentucky and Vince Lombardi when he returned to Blaik’s West Point staff. Then he called McClendon at LSU to inquire about the head coaching position at Cincinnati and McClendon said, “What about LSU? Get someone at Army to recommend you down here and see what happens.”

A year earlier, Dietzel had been assured that he would be appointed the successor to Bryant at Kentucky . Then Blanton Collier, who had turned down the Kentucky job, reconsidered. But Dietzel had made a big impression in the interview at Kentucky , and they recommended him to LSU a year later. He also got a recommendation from former LSU coach “Biff” Jones, who told Board of Supervisors chairman Lewis Gottlieb he wasn’t interested in returning to Baton Rouge but suggested that they “look into this Dietzel fellow.”

Dietzel’s stiffest competition came from Ara Parseghian, who was then head coach at Miami ( Ohio ). But one of the stipulations of the search committee was that they would not consider a head under contract.

“I learned something different from each of the coaches I served under,” Dietzel said when he got the job. “Gillman gave me the foundation. Bryant taught me the name of the game is knock. And Colonel Blaik taught me organization. If I don’t make good at LSU, I’m no coach.”