Last Saturday, we posted the first part of an interview that Brooks Wilson did with former Trojan lineman Ron Fletcher. Ron has an extremely interesting past, playing in the mid '50s alongside Jon Arnett, C.R. Roberts and Marv Goux, to name a few.
In the first installment of his interview, Ron shared his wonderful memories of a nostalgic time, commenting on Los Angeles High School in the early ‘50s where he played against such famous Angelinos as Don Drysdale and Jack Kemp. Ron also talked about his recruiting, and the fact that he almost attended UCLA. (photo right, USC tackles in 1955. Left to Right: Fletcher, Schmidt, Abram, Wesphal, Enright and Bellotti). And Ron gave us a brief history on his playing career, again referring to having Marv Goux, Jon Arnett and C.R. Roberts as teammates.
In today’s part 2 of Brooks’ interview, Ron expands on the Trojans' PCC and NCAA penalties in the ‘50s and the harm that the sanctions did to USC and UCLA.
Tell us about the NCAA sanctions on USC when you were there and the split squad. How did it affect the team’s performance? How was Trojan football history affected; Particularly 1956?
The sanctions leveled on USC, UCLA and Washington were by the Pacific Coast Conference. I am not sure what happened with the NCAA. The penalties were ineligibliity for the Rose Bowl; for USC and Washington they were ineligible to pay in the Rose Bowl until January 1st 1958 and UCLA until January 1st 1959. On top of that, the penalties for players who received unauthorized money at each school would be as follows; the seniors of 1956 would be restricted to 5 games, the juniors would be ineligible for the whole 1957 season and the sophomores for 5 games in 1958.
In 1957, during head coach Don Clark’s first year. the team went 1 and 9 beating only Washington State 19 to 12. There were 17 players on the 1956 team who were juniors and ineligible in 1957. CR Roberts lost his senior year. At least 10 would have been the backbone of the team. The team was captained by Jim Conroy and Mike Henry both juniors. Jim is in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as a DB and Mike was a LB for the Rams and Steelers. Mike ended up a movie Star and was cast as "Tarzan.”
In 1958 the team went 4 - 5 and 1. They beat Oregon State, Washington State, Stanford, Washington and tied UCLA. They lost to Michigan 19 - 20, North Carolina 7 - 8, Oregeon 0 - 25, Cal 12 - 14 and Notre Dame 13 - 20.There were 22 players on the 1956 team that could have been affected by the penalties. Ken Antle and Monte Clark were the Captains and were both seniors. Monte Played 11 years in the NFL and went on to become head coach of the Forty Niners and Lions. He was also the head coach of Stanford.
In 1959 USC was now over the PCC penalties but was not eligible for the Rose Bowl due to an NCAA penalty. The team went 8 - 2 losing to UCLA 10 - 3 and Notre Dame 16-6. Willie Wood and Ron Mix were the senior Captains and are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The McKeever twins were also on this team as juniors. Don Clark resigned and went into the family business and John McKay was named head coach. I really do not remember the reasons for the NCAA penalty, but suspect that it had to do with AL Davis
The period from 1956 through 1960 was obviously highly affected by the penalties. For that reason I bristle when I hear the extreme criticism of Don Clark as a coach. He was the best coach on the USC staff when I played and Marv Goux was his protégé and Don brought him in as a coach in 1956. Coach Clark also hired John McKay as an assistant in 1959.
The failure to abide by the rules goes back far longer than 1956. I know that these problems existed in the 20's at the high schools and colleges. They still exist today Bushgate. Oklahoma and many others. You can not legislate morals and ethics and unfortunately the situation is a bigger mess now than it was in 1956.
The system is corrupted by money and pride. The players are the ones who pay the penalty for mistakes of the alumni, college presidents and fans. The Alumni and Presidents sell their souls for money and victory. The fans stand by and due nothing to demand that a corrupt system is reformed. In the name of institutional control we have surrendered our constitutional rights to the NCAA and the Universities.
What were the reasons for the sanctions and the penalties?
In 1953 when I entered USC our scholarship included tuition and a job from which you could earn $75 a month. We also recieved four 50-yard line tickets to the game and the option to buy four more. The Athletic Department helped us get jobs in the summer and during other vacation periods.
The jobs were working for the Operations and Maintenance Department. We referred to this as our O&M job. We had to punch in and out for 40 hours a month. To most of our classmates the jobs were a joke. One former student today still tells the story of a Fraternity Brother whose job it was to weave the Ivy thru the fence. The amount of work done depended on the supervisor. I never remember doing any work.
We could give our tickets to our family or sell them. The vast majority were sold to Alumni and businesses. The going rate was $25 to $50, at that time face value was about $5. For the Rose Bowl we got eight tickets and the option to buy eight more. They went for as high as $125 apiece.
Many players also got their Screen Actors Guild Card and work as extras in the movies. That was very lucrative. In the summer we worked construction, went out on deep sea fishing boats and what other jobs the coaches could scrape up.
Other than in-season training table we had to pay for room & board and books etc. The rationale the Alumni and coaches used to justify handing out money under the table was that $75 a month wasn't enough to live on. As a result the coaches at UCLA and Alumni at USC handed out $50 to $75 a month extra. They always told us everyone was doing it, so it was alright. Not all scholarship players received this money.
Although I am not sure when this started, I am fairly certain that it escalated in 1949 when Red Sanders came to UCLA. He came from Vanderbilt and the South was known for abusing the rules. John Wooden also came to UCLA at this time and both are considered to be the best coaches in their sports that UCLA has ever had. The two were as different as night and day, Wooden a gentleman and model citizen and Sanders the complete opposite. Sanders was a great coach but he was in more trouble than the problem players we have seen at both USC and UCLA in the last few years. After winning the National Championship in 1954, Sanders had become bigger and more powerful than the school in my opinion. He was ruthless and the other schools started to go after him and caught up with him in the spring of 1956.
Unfortunately for USC the assistant District Attorney of Los Angeles was a Bruin and he got a hold of the tax records of the payments made to the USC players by their sponsors and the rest is history. In August of 1958, Red Sanders died in a hotel room with a prostitute. The room was rented to her pimp. That was the end of that era of Bruin football.