Cal's Greatest Football Coaches: #2 Pappy Waldorf

 Note: This is the seventh in a series by OhioBear and CalBear81 about the eight greatest football coaches in Cal history.  Click here for the earlier installments: #8 Mike White, #7 Garrett Cochran, #6 Nibs Price, #5 Bruce Snyder, #4 Stub Allison, and #3 Jeff Tedford

Lynn O. "Pappy" Waldorf was the most beloved football coach in Cal history: beloved by his players, by the fans, and even by the Bears' opponents.  He was a great coach.  A career record of 157-89-19, and a 67-32-4 record at California, are evidence of this.  So are three straight Rose Bowl appearances and back-to-back 10-win seasons for only the second time in Cal history.  And so is his history of turning around losing football programs everywhere he went, from Oklahoma City University to the University of California, and of winning conference championships at all five schools where he was the head coach. But there was something more than this that made people love him. Something more, even, than his 7-1-2 record in the Big Game. There was something so special about Pappy Waldorf that 55 years after he retired from coaching, and 30 years after his death, his former players, men in their 70s and 80s who still call themselves "Pappy's Boys," gather regularly to remember and honor him.  He was not just a great coach, he was a good man.


Lynn O. "Pappy" Waldorf

Lynn Waldorf was born on October 3, 1902 in Clifton Springs, New York.  His father, Ernest, was a well-connected Methodist minister, who later became a bishop.  The family moved to Cleveland, where Lynn grew up.  He followed his father to Syracuse University where, although he was considered too short to play football, he made the varsity squad, and was named an All American twice.  At Syracuse, he also met Louise McKay, whom he married in 1925 in what, by all accounts turned out to be an extraordinarily happy marriage.


Lynn Waldorf at high school graduation

Waldorf graduated from Syracuse with degrees in sociology and psychology, and set about looking for work. His father, Bishop Waldorf, contacted the president of Oklahoma City University, a Methodist school, about getting his son a teaching job.  Instead, the younger Waldorf was offered the substantial salary of $4,000 to take on the jobs of football, basketball, and track coach, and athletic director.  Lynn took the job, and took charge of the 1-7 Goldbugs. Only 14 players turned up for the first practice, and Waldorf had to find additional players -- his starting team would eventually include six players who had not even played high school football.  But, by focusing on fundamentals of blocking and tackling, Waldorf was able to lead the Goldbugs to a 4-6 record, the best in school history. Two years later, in 1927, the Goldbugs were 8-1-2, and tied for the conference championship.

In 1928, Waldorf went to the University of Kansas as an assistant, before being hired as the head coach of Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) the following year. In five years at Oklahoma A&M, Waldorf's record was 34-10-7.  He won three conference championships, and never lost to arch-rival Oklahoma.  In 1934 he was hired as the head coach of Kansas State.  In his single season there, he won the Big Six conference title -- the first time Kansas State had ever won the championship, and the only time it would do so until 2003.

Waldorf was a very hot property by now, and the next year he was wooed away to Evanston, Illinois by Northwestern University. Waldorf recognized that his players were not outstanding, and would probably not win many games.  So he decided on a limited focus. He later explained, "When you're faced with one of those years when your material is only fair and you're not going to win many games, put your eggs in one basket. Pick a tough team and lay for it. Knock if off, and you've got yourself a season. . . . I chose Notre Dame." Waldorf's "secret weapon" against Notre Dame was a brand new strategy - changing defensive formations on each play. It worked.  Notre Dame was completely confused by the changes on defense by Northwestern, and the Wildcats pulled off a startling 14-7 upset. When the coaches went out that night for a drink to celebrate, the bartender, noticing Waldorf nursing a single drink all night long, started calling him "Pappy."  His assistants picked up on it, and the nickname stuck. Northwestern finished the season 4-3-1, and Pappy Waldorf won the first-ever National Coach of the Year Award. 

The next year, 1936, was even better.  Waldorf developed a new formation, an unbalanced line which he called the "Cockeyed Formation," and which is now recognized as the first slot formation.  It allowed four receivers to head down field, instead of the usual two.  Waldorf debuted the new formation against Ohio State, leading to a Northwestern victory.  The Wildcats ended the season 7-1, and won the Big-10 Championship.  At the end of the season, Waldorf was invited to the East-West Shrine game in the Bay Area as the Big-10s "observer." The Waldorfs fell in love with northern California, and Pappy decided that if a job came open there in the future, he would accept it. But in the meantime, Waldorf continued his success in Evanston.  His 49 career wins at Northwestern remain the most in school history.

While Pappy Waldorf was enjoying success at Northwestern, things were not going well in Berkeley. The Bears had won the Rose Bowl and a National Championship under Stub Allison in 1937, but the 1940s had been a disaster. Allison had not adjusted to the changes in the game in the early 1940s, and World War II had made it difficult to even field a team.  In 1944, Allison resigned and was replaced by Lawrence Shaw. Shaw was, in turn, replaced by Frank Wickhorst for the 1946 season, in which the Bears went 2-7. Worse, Wickhorst lost the support of his team. 42 of the 44 varsity players signed a petition calling for his firing.  The students were equally upset, to the point that during the embarrassing 1946 Big Game loss, they began tearing up the seats and passing them down onto the field.

Cal athletics had a unique organizational structure. Since 1904, management of the athletic department had been in the hands of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), whose Executive Committee had the power to hire and fire coaches. Two weeks after the 1946 Big Game they did just that, firing Wickhorst and two of his assistants. The actions of the ASUC shocked the college football establishment. The University of California was condemned for allowing students to exercise that kind of control over coaches, and it was widely predicted that no respected coach would be willing to come to Cal under such circumstances.

University president Robert Gordon Sproul stepped in to limit the damage by creating the position of Athletic Director, with the power to hire and fire coaches.  The job was given to Cal's highly respected track coach, Brutus Hamilton. Hamilton offered the head coach job to Fritz Crisler at Michigan, who turned it down. Then, at a  meeting of the American Football Coaches Association in January 1947, Hamilton mentioned the Cal coaching job to Pappy Waldorf.  Waldorf, remembering his fondness for northern California, immediately expressed interest. To the shock of the college football world, Pappy Waldorf accepted the job as the California's head coach in February 1947.  At a press conference at the Claremont Hotel, Waldorf proclaimed that he had come to Berkeley, "to awaken a sleeping giant."


Pappy Waldorf meets with the 1947 Golden Bears at their first practice

Despite Waldorf's history of success, the California football program had been so troubled that his arrival was greeted skeptically. San Francisco Examiner sports columnist Prescott Sullivan summed it up:

Big, meaty Lynn O. "Pappy" Waldorf is the new head coach at the University of California. We realize there is nothing particularly distinctive about that. California's always getting a new football coach. Waldorf is the fourth the school has had in as many years. We hope Waldorf is a man of independent means. The job over there in Berkeley ain't too steady.

But Waldorf quickly won over the players, the fans, and even the reporters. Waldorf was a great story-teller, and he would host cocktail parties for the press where he told stories and recited some of his seemingly endless store of limericks, while puffing on a cigar and sipping bourbon. He could talk about Plato and Shakespeare, debate the details of Civil War battles, and discuss the football theories of his friend Amos Alonzo Stagg, with equal enthusiasm. The press was charmed.

At the first team practice, 255 students showed up to try out. Since the rule allowing free substitution of players, which had been implemented during the war, remained in effect, there were plenty of opportunities. Many of those who showed up had no football experience, but Pappy did not discourage them, as he wanted to create an atmosphere of enthusiasm. When one student lined up at quarterback under a tackle, Waldorf just said, "That cow's dry, son.  Move over." Then the student lined up behind a guard. "That one's dry, too. Keep movin' over," Pappy told him. Team manager Sedge Thompson said, "He didn't show any sign of being mad or disgusted that entire spring."  He set about learning the names of all 255 potential players, developed carefully organized practice schedules, and required every player to carry a notebook, which the coaches inspected to ensure the recruits were taking proper notes.  Waldorf focused on careful drills, with every detail of each player's performance critiqued by the coaches.

Waldorf's attention to detail paid off.  The very first play from scrimmage by the Bears under Waldorf was a 39-yard touchdown run by halfback George Fong against Santa Clara, and the Bears went on to a 33-7 win. Thousands of fans gathered under the north balcony of Memorial Stadium chanting, "We want Pappy!" Waldorf went onto the balcony with team captain Rod Franz, and thus began the tradition of Pappy Waldorf's post-game balcony addresses to the fans.

Pappy Waldorf on Memorial Stadium Balcony

Pappy Waldorf and Cal team members address fans from the north balcony of Memorial Stadium

The next week, California faced a much bigger challenge in a great Navy team. 83,000 fans showed up -- the biggest crowd in the history of Memorial Stadium.  When Cal took the lead right before the half with a touchdown on a scramble by quarterback Bob Celeri, the crowd's reaction registered on the campus' seismograph.  The Bears led 14-7 with minutes to go in the game, when Navy went on a drive. But an interception by unknown sophomore Jackie Jensen sealed the Bears' victory. This was only the beginning.  The next week the Bears beat highly regarded St. Mary's 45-6, rushing for 432 yards in the process. The week after, they traveled to Madison, where they walloped Wisconsin 48-7, in a game that featured both a 22-yard touchdown run and a 23-yard touchdown pass by Jensen.

Going into the Big Game, the Bears were 8-1, with only a loss to #11 USC marring their record. After a 60-14 drubbing of Montana the week before the Big Game, Jackie Jensen told the fans from the north balcony, "We're sorry the score went so high today." After a pause he added, "But we don't care how high it goes next week!"  The crowd, starved for their first Big Game victory since 1941, went wild. The Indians made the game closer than expected, but the Bears emerged with a 21-18 win.  In his first season in Berkeley, Pappy Waldorf had turned a 2-7 team into a 9-1, nationally recognized, power. 1948 would be even better.

The 1948 season, like 1947, began with a game against Santa Clara.  And once again, the Bears' first play from scrimmage was a touchdown, this time a 62-yard run by Jackie Jensen. Waldorf described Jensen's running as "almost magical. He eludes the hand his eye cannot see." The Bears compiled a 6-0 record heading into the critical match-up against USC in Los Angeles. Several members of the California team had actually delayed their graduations for the specific purpose of getting another shot at the Trojans. Once again, Jackie Jensen was the star, running for 132 yards on 27 attempts, and scoring both of the Bears' touchdowns, for a 13-7 California win. After the game, several Cal players, including Jensen, took a short field trip to take a look at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.


Jackie Jensen, with one of his 27 carries in the 1948 USC game

The Bears were prohibitive favorites in the Big Game. A win would guarantee the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1938, and tickets were impossible to obtain. But once again, Stanford proved to be a bigger challenge than expected.  The Bears scored a touchdown on their first drive. But the Stanford defense stepped up, and kept the Bears from scoring again.  In the third quarter, the Indians scored a touchdown, but Cal's Jim "Truck" Cullom blocked the extra point.  The Bears held on for a 7-6 win, an undefeated 10-0 regular season, and the Rose Bowl.

The Bears faced Pappy's old team, Northwestern, in Pasadena on January 1, 1949.  With the game tied 7-7 in the second quarter, Northwestern went on a drive to the Cal goal line. But Cal's Norm Pressley grabbed the arms of Northwestern ball carrier, Art Murakowki, from behind, causing a fumble, which the Bears recovered in the end zone for a touch back. Except that the referee called it a touchdown. Looking at photographs after the game, the press was unanimous that Murakowski had fumbled before he reached the end zone, but the infamous "phantom touchdown" stood.

1949 Rose Bowl fumble

Art Murakowki's "Phantom Touchdown" in the 1949 Rose Bowl

The Bears took a 14-13 lead in the third quarter, but then Jackie Jensen went down with a foot injury.  With Jensen out, the Bears were not able to score again.  A late Northwestern touchdown gave them a 20-14 win, and left Cal fans complaining about the "Phantom Touchdown" for years.

The Rose Bowl loss was all the more discouraging to Cal fans, because the Bears were losing many of their best players. Most notably, Jackie Jensen, with Pappy Waldorf's encouragement, decided to leave school a year early to accept an offer to play professional baseball. (He would become the first person ever to play in the Rose Bowl, the World Series and the All-Star game). Nevertheless, Waldorf's 1949 Golden Bears remained strong. They were 4-0 heading into another big showdown with USC, in what would be the Bears' first televised game. USC took a 10-7 lead in the fourth quarter on a Frank Gifford field goal.  But on the ensuing kick-off, Cal's Frank Brunk fielded the ball in the end zone and, with extraordinary blocking from his teammates, ran it back for a 102-yard touchdown. The last USC player with a shot at him was Frank Gifford, who is seen in the photographs face down on the turf, having missed the tackle. Because the game was televised, Brunk's run became legendary. California ended up with a 16-10 victory.


Frank Brunk's famous 102-yard touchdown run in the 1949 USC game

Once again the Bears were undefeated heading into the Big Game.  But this year, Stanford would prove no obstacle. California won the game easily, 33-14, out-rushing the Indians 390-167. After a second-straight 10-0 regular season, and ranked #1, the Bears headed back to the Rose Bowl. Once again, however, the Bears were frustrated in Pasadena. They faced a talented Ohio State team, and were fortunate to have a 14-14 tie late in the fourth quarter. But with two minutes left, a bad snap caused Bob Celeri to shank a punt, giving the Buckeyes the ball on the California 13-yard-line. Ohio State kicked a field goal for a 17-14 win. The Bears ended the year ranked #3.

1950 was expected to be a rebuilding year. But Pappy had brought in another unknown who would turn into a star almost overnight, running back Johnny Olszewski. While Jackie Jensen had been quick and light on his feet, Johnny O was fast but amazingly powerful. Running backs coach Wes Fry said of Olszewski, "He's the most elusive player you'll ever see . . . but he's also equipped with an additional weapon. If there's no place else to go, he'll take on the other guy, and he usually doesn't come off second best."


Johnny Olszewski

The 1950 Golden Bears didn't miss a beat. They began the season with convincing wins against Santa Clara, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, before facing USC.  The Trojans had sent Sam Barry, a long-time friend of Pappy's, to the Santa Clara game to scout the Bears. Barry had given Waldorf a USC tie in 1947, which Pappy wore for luck during every game. On his way to the Santa Clara game, Barry suffered a fatal heart attack. Although there was an informal conference rule against using game film for scouting, Pappy Waldorf sent the film of the Cal-Santa Clara game to USC's head coach, Jeff Cravath, with a note saying, "I deeply regret your loss and that Sam was unable to scout Cal for you. He was a good friend and his work should not be left unfinished. I hope you can make do with the enclosed film."  For once, a good deed did go unpunished. Cal beat USC,13-7.

For the third straight year, the Bears headed into the Big Game undefeated. This time Stanford was finally able to pull off something of an upset, holding the Bears to a 7-7 tie. The star of the game for Cal was Les Richter (who in 2011 became the first Cal Bear to enter the NFL Hall of Fame). Richter stopped one Stanford drive by intercepting the ball at the two-yard line, and stopped another with a 15-yard sack, preserving the tie.


Les Richter

This left California 9-0-1 on the season, and headed to its third consecutive Rose Bowl.  Alas, it was another disappointment for the Bears. Cal dominated the first half, out-gaining Michigan 192-65 yards. But the Bears only managed to score 6 points. Late in the fourth quarter, Michigan took a 7-6 lead. Then, when Cal's desperation fourth down play at the end of the game failed, Michigan took over deep in Cal territory and scored again, for a 14-6 final score. Always dignified, Pappy Waldorf once again went to his opponents' locker room to offer congratulations.  Said Waldorf's assistant, Paul Christopoulos, "I learned from Pappy Waldorf how to lose with dignity. It is a virtue that many among us sorely lack."

The 1951 team dropped off a bit because of injuries to key players, including a knee injury to Olszewski, suffered against USC. After Johnny O went down on his first carry, the USC tackler, Pat Cannamela, appeared to deliberately give his right leg an extra twist as he lay on the ground, leading to a near-brawl, both on the field and in the stands. Cal Athletic Director Brutus Hamilton and faculty representative Glenn Seaborg protested to the conference to no avail. Years later, Seaborg wrote that it was clear that Cannamela had deliberately injured Olszewski, and complained, "The only satisfaction I got was an evasive non-apology from USC Coach Jess Hill."  Although Olszewski returned for the 1952 season, he was never the same player again. Thus, although the Bears began the 1951 season 4-0 and ranked #1, by the time the Big Game rolled around they were 7-2 and ranked #19.  It was Stanford, undefeated and ranked #3, that had visions of a national championship. But the Bears pulled off a stirring 20-7 upset to ruin Stanford's dreams, and, incidentally, to finish the season 8-2. After five seasons, Pappy Waldorf's regular season record at California was an astonishing 46-3-1. (For more on the 1951 Big Game, click here.)

The 1952 Bears had lost several All America players, and Johnny O had not returned to form. A bright spot was outstanding quarterback Paul Larsen. And the Big Game was a 26-0 triumph, featuring a Larsen run for a touchdown, a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown by Lloyd Torchio (whose son would be the unexpected hero of the 1980 Big Game), and a fine performance by Johnny Olszewski, who gained 122 yards on 25 carries in his last game as a Golden Bear. California ended the year 7-3.  But it would be Pappy's last winning season.

In 1953, the NCAA abandoned the free-substitution rule that had been in place since World War II, and required all players to play both offense and defense. This radical change in the game destroyed the system Pappy Waldorf had carefully crafted over the previous decade for developing offensive and defensive specialists. This rule change, along with the graduation of 29 varsity players, had severe consequences. The Bears went 4-4-2 in 1953 and 5-5 in 1954. Things got even worse in 1955, when the Bears had their first losing season since 1946, ending with a 2-7-1 record and, worse yet, Pappy's first-ever loss to Stanford.

During the summer of 1956, California became embroiled in the Ronnie Knox scandal. Knox was a highly regarded quarterback recruit from southern California, with a domineering step-father, who seemed to be cashing in on Ronnie's talents. Ronnie Knox decided to go to Cal in 1953, after members of a Cal booster club led him to believe he could be paid to write sports articles for the Berkeley Gazette, and would be receive $500 a year in "pocket money" for selling game tickets. When the University learned of these promises, they put an end to them, and after playing a year with the freshman squad, Knox transferred to UCLA, where he got into further trouble. Although Waldorf was unaware of the actions of the booster club with regard to Knox, a subsequent investigation revealed that he had approved the creation of a booster fund to make payments to players in emergencies. This was permissible under NCAA and conference rules, but Waldorf had not sought the approval of the University president.  As a result, Berkeley Chancellor Clark Kerr issued a formal reprimand to Waldorf, and Pappy issued a formal apology.

The Knox affair led to a wider investigation of conference booster clubs, which resulted in harsh penalties to UCLA, USC, and Washington, and lesser penalties to California. Although UCLA came in for the harshest penalties of all, including three years of probation, the UCLA chancellor offered no reprimand to head coach Red Sanders, and Sanders made no apology. (For an in-depth look at the Ronnie Knox scandal and its effect on the Pacific Coast Conference, click here.)

After this difficult summer, the 1956 season was equally difficult, with the Bears having a 2-7 record going into the Big Game against heavily-favored Stanford. The Bears were down to their third-string quarterback for the game, having lost the first two to injuries. The Big Game would be in the hands of an obscure sophomore named Joe Kapp.


Sophomore quarterback Joe Kapp

During the season, Waldorf decided that the time had come for him to retire. He made the announcement a few days before the Big Game. The Cal band showed up that night at Pappy's home on Grizzly Peak in full uniform to serenade him. Pappy told the band members, "This is one of the finest compliments ever paid me. It is a grand gesture. Your band is the epitome of the University of California."

In storybook fashion, the 14-point underdog Bears pulled off one of the biggest upsets ever in the Big Game. The team came onto the field inspired, building up leads of 14-0 and 20-6, before holding on for a 20-18 win. Joe Kapp was the star, rushing for 106 yards on 18 carries. After the game, the team carried Pappy off the field on their shoulders, and Pappy made his final appearance on the north balcony of Memorial Stadium to tell an emotional crowd of 18,000 fans, "I love you, and I always will." (For more on the 1956 Big Game, click here.)


Pappy Waldorf is carried off the field by his players after the 1956 Big Game

A few years after his retirement from Cal, Waldorf was contacted by the San Francisco 49ers to see if he would scout for them. He became the 49ers director of college scouting for the next 12 years. Pappy's friendships with coaches and athletic directors around the country gave him an access that other NFL scouts could only envy. In fact, when he was in Ohio, he stayed at the home of his friend, Ohio State coach Woody Hayes. In New York, he always stayed at the home of former USC player, NFL player and, later, broadcaster, Frank Gifford.

Pappy finally retired from the 49ers in 1972, at the age of 70.  But he continued to support his beloved Cal Bears. In 1980, he was asked by the California head coach, Roger Theder, to address the team before the Big Game. The Bears had had a terrible season. They had a 2-8 record, and were 15-point underdogs to a Stanford team led by sophomore quarterback John Elway. Pappy told the players,"The Big Game is college football in its purest form.  There is nothing else like it." His talk seemed to inspire the team. Led by back-up quarterback J Torchio, son of Pappy's player Lloyd Torchio, the Bears went on a 80-yard touchdown drive on their first possession, built up a 21-7 halftime lead, and hung on for a gutsy 28-23 upset.  Pappy was elated.  It turned out to be his last Big Game, as he passed away on August 15, 1981. (For more on the 1980 Big Game, click here.)

Pappy's former players formed a group called "Pappy's Boys" in tribute to their coach, and they remain in regular contact. It was Pappy's Boys who led the drive to place a monument in tribute to the man they so admire in Faculty Glade on the Berkeley campus in 1994, ensuring that he would be remembered by future generations of California students.

Pappy's Boys

A few of "Pappy's Boys" pose with his statue in Faculty Glade




Anonymous, "Art Murakowski," Wikipedia,

Anonymous, "Jackie Jensen," Wikipedia,

Anonymous, "Pappy Waldorf," Wikipedia,

Brodie, S. Dan, 66 Years on the California Gridiron, Fontes Printing Co., Oakland, CA (1949)

Cameron, Steve, and Greenburg, John, Pappy, The Gentle Bear, Addax Publishing Group, Lenexa, KS (2000)

Fimrite, Ron, Golden Bears, MacAdam/Cage, San Francisco (2009)

Fimrite, Ron (ed.), Pappy's Boys, The Rose Bowl Years, Pappy's Boys, Berkeley, CA (1996)

Peters, Nick, 100 Years of Blue and Gold, JCP Corp. of Virginia, Virginia Beach, VA (1982)

Sullivan, John, The Big Game, Leisure Press, New York (2nd ed. 1983)

Be nice. You can find the original CGB team at

Recent FanPosts

In This FanPost


Trending Discussions