Add to Calendar
Skip to main content Skip to footer

Biggie, Duffy and the Golden Age of Spartan Football

Oct. 12, 2012

Biggie and Duffy

Former Michigan State head coaches and College Football Hall of Famers Clarence "Biggie" Munn and Hugh Duffy Daugherty will officially join Spartan Stadium's "Ring of Fame" in a ceremony prior to Saturday's game against Iowa. columnist Steve Grinczel takes a look at their legendary careers.

Their legacies are secured in history books. Their iconic names have been added to the Spartan Stadium Ring of Fame, where they will appear forever. Who Biggie Munn and Duffy Daugherty were as men, mentors and caretakers of the Golden Age of Michigan State football is preserved in the memories of the Spartans who played for them.

Munn raised the program to perennial national prominence from 1947-53 and presided over its entry into the Big Ten conference as head coach and later as athletic director. After Daugherty succeeded Munn in '54, he piloted Michigan State to even greater heights during his 19-year tenure and played a key role in one of the most significant games in the history of American sports.

The Munn-Daugherty duo produced six national championships, three Big Ten titles and two victories in three Rose Bowl appearances over a 16-season span ('51-66). Munn and Daugherty turned out 46 of MSU's 79 All-Americans while fostering a major sociological shift along racial lines in collegiate athletics.

"When you're talking about those two guys, there's no question you're talking about the greatest era of Michigan State football," said Carl "Buck" Nystrom, who lettered under Munn and earned All-America honors as a guard under Daugherty in '55.

To younger generations, Munn and Daugherty are fuzzy images digitally converted from something called 16 mm film footage.

The men behind the names, however, were larger-than-life figures who insured that East Lansing got mentioned in the same breath as South Bend, Tuscaloosa, Austin, Norman, Lincoln, Columbus and Los Angeles in newsreels shown at movie houses and on radio, and eventually weekly TV highlight shows.

A former Big Ten MVP and All-American guard at Minnesota, Munn arrived at Michigan State after a one-year head-coaching stint at Syracuse charged by school President John Hannah to raise the school's national profile through football.

Biggie Munn won two National Championships (1951, 1952) and closed his Spartan career with a remarkable 54-9-2 record.

Playing as an independent, the Spartans never suffered more than three losses in Munn's first four seasons and went undefeated in '51 and '52 to win their first two national championships. Munn quickly dispelled the opinion of a University of Michigan official who claimed Michigan State would be an uncompetitive "weak sister" in the Big Ten if allowed to join the league, by winning the conference championship in 1953 - its first year of eligibility.

It was during that inaugural Big Ten season that the Spartans' 28-game win streak came to an end with a 6-0 loss to Purdue before going on to defeat UCLA in the Rose Bowl, 28-20. Munn went 35-2 in his final four seasons and 54-9-2 for a school-record winning percentage of .857.

"It's easy to point out the secret of Biggie's success," said Nystrom. "Of course he was a good football coach, but he had a great staff. Just about everybody on our coaching staff went on to become a head football coach down the line. It's just amazing.

Although Munn's knowledge of Xs and Os was expressed in his book, Michigan State's Multiple Offense, his coaching genius came through in the way he managed his teams.

"Biggie was an excellent organizer and he demanded great fundamentals ©¤ the blocking and the tackling,: Nystrom said. "He kept the systems relatively simple, but at the same time we could really execute.

"Probably his strongest suit was that he had a great personality for motivating players. He could motivate you pretty strongly, particularly when you got into the Michigan game."

After suffering a 55-0 defeat against the Wolverines in his Michigan State coaching debut - the Spartans lost the next two meetings as well - Munn closed out his coaching career with four straight wins over U-M by combined score of 80-26.

"He always had some kind of psychological effect that he would incorporate during the week," Nystrom said. "He had that rough, gruff voice and the two words that you learned from Biggie were `demand and confront.'

"He would demand that you worked hard and performed well and all of those kind of good things. But if you didn't do it the right way, he'd confront you and get on your butt. You had a little scare in you when you played for him, but he had a good way of doing it. He didn't do it in a vicious way.

Munn coined the phrase, "The difference between good and great is just a little extra effort," which he continued to work by as AD after turning the reigns of the football team over to Daugherty, his long-time protege.

Munn was Daugherty's position coach when he played guard at Syracuse. And after Munn was promoted to be the Orangemen head coach, he hired Daugherty as an assistant. A year later, Munn brought Daugherty with him to East Lansing.

"In contrast to Biggie, Duffy was more the personality guy as everyone well knows," Nystrom said. "He always had a smile on his face and that Irish reflection. He had that joking manner and a little easier way about him, but at the same time was a very smart individual.

"He also had that psychological touch, which I think he learned from playing for Biggie, but he wasn't as sharp with the confronting as Biggie was. You just loved to play for Duff. You didn't want to disappoint him. He had that great humanitarian personality, that great feeling for people and a little bit different way of doing things.

"Under Biggie and Duffy, we knew how to win, and we knew how to get there in a good way."

Munn's all-business approach transitioned into Daugherty's nurturing style almost seamlessly.

Yes, Daugherty started off by following up Michigan State's first Big Ten Championship with a 3-6 record in 1954. But a year later he led the Spartans to a national title and Rose Bowl victory over UCLA.

Michigan State won another national title in '57 but was only moderately successful in the ensuing seven seasons before reaching the program¡¯s high-water mark in '65 and '66.

"Duffy was a great recruiter," Nystrom said. "Once he went into a player's home, he had you."

Munn incorporated Michigan State's Land Grant philosophy in his program by recruiting minorities such as lineman Don Coleman, defensive back James Ellis, end Ellis Duckett and halfback LeRoy Bolden from in-state high schools. Munn also made Willie Thrower, of New Kensington, Pa., the Big Ten's first African-American quarterback.

Daugherty expanded that approach to the national level while bringing in players who were good enough to play for Southern powerhouses but couldn't because of segregation. Michigan State got roverback George Webster out of South Carolina, defensive end Bubba Smith and split end Gene Washington out of Texas, quarterback Jimmy Raye from North Carolina and middle linebacker Charlie "Mad Dog" Thornhill out of Virginia.

Those Southern players joined halfback Clinton Jones, of Cleveland, and fullback Bob Apisa, of Honolulu, to form the nucleus of a team that won back-to-back Big Ten and national titles and faced Notre Dame in "The Game of Century" in Spartan Stadium.

Duffy Daugherty won four National Championships (1955, 1957, 1965, 1966) and helped the Spartans to a 19-1-1 record and back-to-back Big Championships in 1965-66.

It was MSU's welcoming atmosphere that helped convince Washington to follow his good friend Smith up north.

"Duffy gave me the opportunity to come from an all-segregated situation and that decision was of course supported by Biggie, who was the athletic director at the time," Washington said. "One of things I really appreciated about Biggie was that he was always nice to me.

"I'll never forget that after my sophomore season, when I had a fairly good season, he sent me nice notes congratulating me on that. And when I visited him in his office he was always very appreciative and supportive of athletes like myself who came up from the South."

In 1966, the No. 2-ranked Spartans played the No. 1 Fighting Irish to an infamous 10-10 tie that served as a monumental pivot point for the way America has approached sports ever since because of the unprecedented attention it received from the media and national television audience.

"It really was the game that started it all," Chris Schenkel, the ABC play-by-play announcer who called the game, would later say.

While Daugherty's contribution in that regard can't be overemphasized, Washington is still taken by what he did without fanfare behind the scenes as the Civil Rights Movement was reaching its peak.

"He reached out to the black coaches at those smaller schools from all around the country but especially the South like Tuskegee, Southern University and Grambling," Washington said. "Those coaches didn't have a chance to participate with the major coaching association as such because it was completely segregated also.

"But Duffy made a point of bringing those coaches up to East Lansing and put on coaching clinics for them during spring ball and our practices before the season. My teammates and me, including Clint, Mickey (Webster), Jimmy Raye and Bubba, would participate in various drills, and Duffy would show them how we would run pass patterns and execute certain plays.

"It was always nice to see those coaches come up from the Houston area where I was from because they were excluded. Duffy took it upon himself to make it happen, and that meant a lot to all of us."

Washington doesn't recall Munn or Daugherty overtly taking stands against discrimination, but their actions "spoke volumes," he said.

"I'll always be grateful to them," Washington continued. "In my particular case, I didn't go home when I had the opportunities because I preferred to stay at Michigan State. Duffy realized that and made me, and the whole team, feel comfortable.

"Whether he was taking a risk never came up. We were there playing as a family. The bottom line is as I've gotten older and now I'm retired, I think back on how things were. The most important thing is that we were there, we were in school and going to class and we were playing football.

"I just love those moments and am very grateful Michigan State gave me the opportunity to have them."



Partners & Sponsors