There’s a building on the Michigan State University campus named for him. A few plaques on Spartan Stadium sport his name, but what is lacking is a traditional bronze statue recognizing MSU’s legendary football coach Hugh “Duffy” Daugherty.
Sparty has one, William Beal has one, Magic Johnson has one and, of course, former President John Hannah has a statue in his honor. I’m sure you will agree after reading “Duffy Daugherty: A Man Ahead of His Time,” by author David Claerbaut, that Daugherty should have one as well.
In the first biography of Daugherty, Claerbaut mines the historical record to reveal the story of not only a great football coach, but a figure who helped integrate college football at a time when African- Americans were essentially banned from playing for major college football teams.
Daugherty may not have that statue, but it’s safe to say no other representative of MSU, besides Magic, has graced the cover of Time Magazine, as Daugherty’s smiling face did on Oct. 8, 1956.
Nor has any MSU coach been a guest on “The Jack Benny Program,” as did Daugherty on New Year’s Day 1956. He and UCLA head coach Red Sanders bantered with Benny about the day’s Rose Bowl game. The show featured a clever rendition of MSU’s famous fight song, “On the Banks of the Red Cedar,” tied into an ad for the show’s sponsor Lucky Strike cigarettes.
Daugherty would do anything to promote his beloved Spartans. He talked to countless to alumni groups and high school sports’ banquets, sometimes attending several events in one day. On the “rubber chicken” circuit he could wing it for 30 minutes without any notes, while putting the audience in stitches. He even went before a Notre Dame alumni group, which Claerbaut cites in his book.
Daugherty’s record at MSU is impressive, with 109 victories, 69 losses and five ties over 19 seasons from 1954-1972. But Mark Dantonio’s record of 103 wins and 47 losses should easily eclipse Daugherty’s record.
However, as Claerbaut writes in his chapter “At the Summit,” Daugherty’s major accomplishment may have been his determination to desegregate college football.
Daugherty could boast of coaching 33 All- Americans, winning two Rose Bowls and two national championships, but he was equally proud of recruiting 59 black players to play football at MSU. Of the first eight players drafted in the 1967 National Football League draft, four black MSU football players were drafted: Bubba Smith, Gene Washington, George Webster and Clinton Jones.
Claerbaut doesn’t duck some of the tougher moments for Daugherty. Daugherty challenged his boss and mentor, athletic director Biggie Munn, and on April, 1968, two dozen players walked out of spring practice, demanding that African-Americans be represented in the football hierarchy. At the time MSU, like most colleges, had no black coaches, administrators or cheerleaders.
The author also delves into the little known tiff Daugherty had with superstar Bubba Smith, both while he was playing and later when his younger brother Tody played at State. Daugherty and Smith also had a go around about what Claerbaut refers to as a “shiny new car,” which Smith liked to park outside the stadium. Locals will remember the car as a white Riviera.
Claerbaut said originally it wasn’t his idea to write a book on Daugherty, but he soon became enamored by Daugherty the person.
Claerbaut, has written 15 books, including a biography of Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr and a book on college recruiting, but he considers Daugherty to be unique, "the most interesting person I've read about."
“He was smart and funny and his story needed to be told,” he said.
Although Claerbaut is not an MSU alumnus, he followed MSU football closely as a student at Calvin College in Grand Rapids during the ‘60s.
“You could almost hear the noise from East Lansing,” he said.
Claerbaut also has a different take on two of Daugherty’s most notable and disappointing games. The “Game of the Century” with Notre Dame in 1966 and the 1966 Rose Bowl loss to UCLA. The Notre Dame game, being played for a national title, ended in a 10-10 tie and Daugherty called the outcome “like kissing your sister.” In the Rose Bowl loss, a likely game-winning touchdown by All-American Bob Apisa was stopped short of the goal line, giving UCLA a victory against the defending National Champion MSU.
“Those two games gave MSU a lot of notoriety and still do,” he said.
The author also believes that Daugherty did a disservice to himself by writing his autobiography “Duffy” in 1974. It came too soon after his departure from MSU in 1972 following a 5-5 season.
“The book had a bitter tone. He was hurt,” Claerbaut said.
Claerbaut said besides his football genius, one other thing that separated Daugherty from other contemporary coaches was his marketing ability.
“He was so far ahead of his time. He marketed himself and the program. There was nothing phony about him,” he said. “Ultimately, he was the star of the team.”
David Claerbaut Author Appearance Free
Thursday, Oct. 25 7 p.m. Library of Michigan 702 West Kalamazoo St., Lansing (517) 335-1477 www.michigan.gov/ libraryofmichigan