Former Gamecocks head coach, AD Paul Dietzel dies

Former South Carolina football coach and athletic director Paul Dietzel tosses the coin as referee Thomas Ritter looks on before the start of the Gamecocks' game against Arkansas in 2008 at Williams-Brice Stadium. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

Staff and wire report

Paul Dietzel, one of the most influential leaders in University of South Carolina athletic department history, died Tuesday at his Baton Rouge, La., home. He was 89.

USC coach Steve Spurrier said he first met Dietzel last year at a function for former Gamecocks players and coaches.

“Coach Dietzel was a heck of a guy, coach,” Spurrier said Tuesday afternoon. “One of the best to coach college football passed away today. He was close to 90 years old, had a wonderful life. So we’re thinking about him, and condolences to his wife (Anne). He had a wonderful life, Coach Dietzel.”

Though best known for guiding LSU to the 1958 national championship, Dietzel was head football coach and athletic director at South Carolina from 1966-74. He led the Gamecocks to the school’s only conference title in football, the 1969 Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

Dietzel’s Gamecock football record was 42-53-1.

Off the field, he was instrumental in South Carolina’s controversial decision to withdraw from the ACC because of the league’s high academic standards. Dietzel, however, oversaw modernization of the school’s athletic facilities and booster club.

Dietzel also served as head coach at Army – he was the first civilian head coach at West Point – over a long football and administrative career.

Dietzel coached LSU from 1955 until 1961, leaving for Army and South Carolina. He also broadcast Southern Conference football games and helped create Samford University’s athletics department before returning to LSU as athletics director from 1978 until 1982.

Dietzel was the last living member of the staff that guided LSU to an undefeated season and national championship in 1958. The Tigers beat Clemson in the 1959 Sugar Bowl.

Dietzel’s memoir “Call Me Coach: A Life in College Football” was published in 2008 by Louisiana State University Press.

“Coach Dietzel was a man of great honor and integrity. He was the perfect role model for young people, and I will always cherish the moments that I was able to spend with him,” LSU vice chancellor and athletics director Joe Alleva said in a statement from LSU. “Looking back at what he accomplished here at LSU, he was way ahead of his time as a football coach. His 1958 national championship set LSU on a path of being what it is today.”

Coach Les Miles tweeted, “Very sad to hear of passing of Paul Dietzel...was a key part of this LSU program...From one coach to another you will be missed..LM.”

Dietzel was born Sept. 5, 1924, in Fremont, Ohio. The family moved to Mansfield, in northwest Louisiana, where he played football, basketball and track in high school.

He was a freshman engineering student at Duke when he got a draft notice and left school to enlist in the Army Air Corps, beginning pilot training in January 1944 on a Stearman biplane and that fall on a B-24 bomber. His bomber was among 300 that firebombed Tokyo in May 1945, according to his memoir.

After the war, he enrolled as a pre-med major in Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he played under Sid Gillman, winning first-team All-American honors in 1947 from Williamson National Rating System Inc.

He worked as an assistant for Gillman at Miami, West Point and the University of Cincinnati, becoming plebe coach at West Point instead of enrolling in medical school at Columbia University. At Cincinnati, he named his defense the “Chinese Bandits” — a name that later became famous at LSU — after bad guys in the comic strip “Terry and the Pirates.”

He left Cincinnati in 1951 for Kentucky, as Bear Bryant’s offensive line coach.

After LSU fired Gus Tinsley, Dietzel got a three-year contract for $13,000 a year. He was 29 and the youngest member of the LSU staff, according to the university’s obituary.

His first three seasons the Tigers were 3-5-2, 3-7 and 5-5. But the players he signed as freshmen in 1956 included Billy Cannon.

The undefeated season in 1958 ended 62-0 at Tulane before 83,221 people, then an SEC record. LSU then beat Clemson 7-0 at Tulane Stadium in the Sugar Bowl.