of UMD Athletics
A tribute to Lloyd
Peterson by Ben Korgen
the time six of his football teams had won conference championships
and two of them were undefeated, Lloyd Peterson began attracting
the attention of football experts nationwide.
Korgen, a 1956 alumnus, provides an insightful look at UMD athletic
history and at one of the personalities that laid the groundwork for
the present athletic program.
In 1929, Duluth State Teachers College (DSTC) struggled to survive.
It had no football field and a gymnasium too small for basketball
games. In spite of an ongoing economic depression, DSTC administrators
gambled on future growth by investing in an athletic program. They
could afford to hire one person. Their search focused on Lloyd Peterson,
a former Minnesota fullback.
A story concerning Petersons exploits raced through the fifty-student
DSTC campus. It focused on the third quarter of the 1924 Minnesota-Illinois
game when a previously humbled Minnesota team kicked off to national
champion Illinois. The ball was fielded by Red Grange, one of the
greatest running backs of all time. Lloyd Peterson sprinted ahead
of the pack and met Grange head-on with an ear-splitting tackle. Grange
lost momentum and Minnesota pulled off what still stands as one of
the greatest upsets in sports history.
The hero of that story came to DSTC in 1930 and stayed for 38 years,
guiding the athletic program from its infancy through the transition
to UMD and beyond. In his early years at DSTC, Lloyd Peterson was
athletic director, coach of all sports, head of physical education,
and professor of enough different subjects to personally offer a major
in physical education. He also served as professor of human anatomy
and physiology for prospective nurses and medical doctors.
His first love was football, but his efforts to build basketball were
so successful, his win-loss record became better in basketball than
in football! He even fielded a DSTC basketball team that gained national
recognition by defeating the Harlem Globetrotters!
By the time six of his football teams had won conference championships
and two of them were undefeated, Lloyd Peterson attracted the attention
of football experts nationwide. During World War II, Iowa Pre-Flight
had one of the best football programs in the nation. The head coach
there was Don Faurot, an innovator who revolutionized football by
inventing the split-T offense. Faurot hired three of the most promising
young coaches in the country to be his assistants. Two of them, Bud
Wilkinson and Jim Tatum, later became head coaches and developed national
champions at Oklahoma and Maryland. Faurot, Wilkinson, and Tatum have
been inducted into the College Football Coaches Hall of Fame. The
third assistant hired by Faurot was Lloyd Peterson.
After Iowa Pre-Flight, Lloyd Peterson had a decision to make. He had
opportunities elsewhere but could see the potential for growth at
DSTC. He decided to return to DSTC as head football coach and professor
of physical education to find out where the program was going.
World War II had a profound influence on Lloyd Peterson. Some of the
young men he had worked with did not return from the war. In the words
of Lloyd Peterson, others returned "all broken up." He decided
to live the remainder of his life not for prestige or hollow victories,
but for his family and for values that really matter. He knew that
he would be risking his superb win-loss record, reputation, and position.
When he returned to DSTC, Peterson abandoned recruiting and his youthful
zeal for the technical aspects of football. His detractors jumped
on his change of heart as evidence of decline.
But time revealed a new and positive look. Lloyd Petersons admiration
and respect for his players and his intriguing uses of humor caught
the fancy of his players and former detractors as something worth
emulating. His happy relationship with his wife Irene and his success
as a father of five children won the hearts of many more. He used
no profanity, even in the most stressful coaching situations. One
of his provosts wrote him a letter stating that virtually all the
male UMD faculty and administrators would rather be a football coach
like Lloyd Peterson than carry out their present duties.
Lloyd Peterson was a modest man who avoided the limelight. He quietly
made his contributions to his players, mostly in ways unknown to others.
He taught them values. He found part-time jobs and low-cost lodging
for those needing financial support. He served as a substitute father
for players whose own fathers had abandoned them.
Hundreds of young men wanted to be football coaches like Lloyd Peterson.
This led one media person to claim that "Lloyd Peterson prepared
more young football coaches than any other man." Peterson focused
on developing "project players," or players with limited
physical gifts, but with big hearts, big minds, or both.
One of Lloyd Petersons players was Dan Devine, who later became
the head football coach at Arizona State, Missouri, the Green Bay
Packers, and Notre Dame. Devines coaching success led him to
being inducted into the College Football Coaches Hall of Fame.
Devine differed from Peterson in recruiting and in the technical aspects
of the game, but he emulated Petersons efforts as a humanitarian
and role model. To Peterson insiders, the Hollywood movie Rudy, reveals
insights into Lloyd Petersons way of doing things. It is the
story of Rudy Rudiger, a lowly scout-team player at Notre Dame during
Dan Devines tenure as head coach. Rudy played with frantic zeal
in scrimmages, primarily to force improvements on the varsity players,
but always with the hope that he might play in a varsity game before
he graduated. Devine was portrayed as a reluctant "heavy"
who finally relents under pressure from his players and allows Rudy
to play in a varsity game. In real life, letting Rudy play in a varsity
game was Devines idea. To me, Rudy reveals Lloyd Petersons
values being expressed by Dan Devine.
In 1947, DSTC became UMD. In the late 1950s, Lloyd Peterson realized
that he could accomplish more by turning over the details of coaching
football to a younger man so he could return to developing the strong,
balanced athletic program he had dreamed of before the war. He became
the athletic director again and did everything he could to hire Jim
Malosky, his replacement as head football coach, and give Malosky
the best possible start. Malosky went on to become a living legend
Lloyd Peterson directed an athletic program that was ethically beyond
reproach. He lived beyond retirement to age 86 and died in 1986. His
successes in athletics helped to change DSTCs character and
size. More male students enrolled, and the college expanded. By 1950,
UMDs enrollment was more than 40 times the DSTC enrollment when
Lloyd Peterson arrived. As part of Lloyd Petersons legacy, the
modern UMD enrollment is at 9,000 students and still growing.
I thought of Lloyd Peterson when I read the following 2,500 year-old
passage written by the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu as advice to Army
Generals: Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will
follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved
sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.
A small number of UMD backers has endowed the Lloyd W. Peterson Memorial
Scholarship to support student-athletes with the attributes of courage
and discipline that Lloyd Peterson most admired. Anyone interested
in supporting this scholarship fund should contact Dale Race, Coordinator
of the Bulldog Club, at 218-726-8189.
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