Honesty Is His Policy : SDSU's Denny Stolz Takes the Straightforward Approach

Times Staff Writer

The home coach got to speak first at the California Bowl banquet in 1982, which didn't seem very neighborly of the people in Fresno.

Jim Sweeney, Fresno State coach, used the opportunity to present what seemed like a filibuster. Finally, the microphone was turned over to Denny Stolz, then Bowling Green's coach.

"Jim," Stolz said to Sweeney, "you talked so long that I think my shoes have gone out of style."

Stolz's one-liner affirmed two things folks from Bowling Green have been saying about the new San Diego State football coach. They say that Stolz has (a) a dry sense of humor, and (b) a habit of being brutally honest.

Bowling Green players and coaches talk about Stolz as if he is the next best thing to George Washington. They view him as a man who will never lie about what he's thinking, even if it means putting somebody in his place.

Two assistant coaches were hard-pressed to recall anything Stolz had not been straightforward in discussing. Finally, defensive coordinator Tim McConnell had a response.

"He's not honest when it comes to his handicap in golf," McConnell said. "He'll tell you he's a 21 when he's a 15."

Several minutes later, Stolz was asked his golf handicap.

"High," he answered.

When pressed on the subject, Stolz said his handicap is "about 18."

"See," McConnell said. "I told you about that."

What do Bowling Green affiliates mean when they talk about Stolz's straightforwardness?

Take linebacker Troy Dawson. When Stolz recruited Dawson, he was told he was not among Bowling Green's first choices and would get a scholarship only if any were left. As it turned out, Dawson did get a scholarship. He was named to the All-Mid-American Conference second-team this season.

"You can go in at any point with Denny Stolz and ask whether you will play," Dawson said. "If he thinks you won't play, he'll tell you. He tells you the truth. You always know where you stand with Denny Stolz."

Before the 1985 season, Bowling Green knew where it stood in the Mid-American. The Falcons were picked to win the conference, and they did.

According to team personnel, Stolz never attempted to talk down his team's ability.

"In team meetings, he doesn't try to snowball the squad," McConnell said. "He calls a spade a spade. If we're an underdog and we're going to play in lousy weather, he tells us that. If we're a unanimous favorite to win the Mid-American Conference championship like we were this year, he doesn't try to hide the fact from people that we're good. He told us flat out that we should win the league. He's very up front and honest."

When Stolz became Bowling Green's coach in 1977, he gave an honest appraisal of the team's weight room. It was lousy, and he said so.

In the ensuing years, Bowling Green went to work on a new weight room. It now has one that the locals consider of Division 1-A caliber.

"Denny is probably the most direct and honest coach I have ever seen," said Jim Lessig, Mid-American Conference commissioner and former Bowling Green athletic director. "He tells it to you straight. It might not be what want to hear, but he'll tell it to you."

On the field, Stolz is known for being candid with officials.

Said Bowling Green defensive back Raymond Redd: "Some of those things he says to referees, I didn't know you could say those things to them."

However intense Stolz might be in his relationship with officials, Dawson said people tease him about "country club practices."

But, Stolz is a different man on game days. His game face appears early Saturday morning and does not disappear until well after the game.

"He wants a family-type of relaxed atmosphere during the week," quarterback Brian McClure said. "He doesn't want it to seem too much like a job except on Saturday. The only time he'll joke around on Saturday is if you're 30 points ahead with three seconds left."

Said cornerback Melvin Marshall: "He's not a real hard-core coach like Bear Bryant. He doesn't yell at you all the time, he just gets his point across. He'll be the first to tell you if you mess up."

Like others, Marshall described Stolz as straightforward and honest.

"Kids are smart," Stolz said. "It's like with your family. You can fool them for a day, but you're around them too long to fool them all of the time."

If there is one blot on Stolz's coaching career, it is from Michigan State. He resigned under pressure before the 1976 season when the Spartans were put on NCAA probation for 34 recruiting violations.

Stolz sat out the 1976 season and was hired at Bowling Green in 1977.

"Everyone I talked to at Michigan State said it was not his fault," Lessig said. "They said he took the blame for what an assistant coach did. I wasn't the AD when Bowling Green hired him, but I know they checked him out."

Stolz admitted it was a step down, but he said he accepted the Bowling Green job because he wanted to stay in the Midwest and thought the program had great potential.

However, before he could go to Bowling Green, he had the Michigan State scandal to deal with.

"What people have to realize is that if I had been involved, I never would have been hired at Bowling Green," Stolz said. "Don't think for a minute that the people there didn't check me out thoroughly."

Nine years later, Stolz is still frequently asked about the Michigan State ordeal.

"It's part of your background," Stolz said. "My background with Michigan State might be the same as what other schools have had. In the same breath, we beat Ohio State on TV when it was No. 1, and we beat Notre Dame at Notre Dame. That's part of your background. That (probation) did happen at Michigan State, and I certainly wish it didn't happen."

Fred Miller, SDSU's athletic director, said he examined Stolz's past. Like others, Miller blamed the recruiting scandal on an assistant coach.

The nature of a head football coach is that he spends most of his time with his assistants.

The oldest of Stolz's eight assistant at Bowling Green was 34-year-old Jan Quarless. Stolz, 51, almost looks as young as some of his assistants.

McConnell, 30, is Bowling Green's only holdover assistant from the 1982 California Bowl. Other assistants moved on to Ohio State, Washington, Purdue, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh and Rutgers.

Some have jokingly referred to Stolz as the maker of assistant coaches.

"I'll tell you what," said Ed Schmidt, Bowling Green defensive line coach. "He's a great coach to work for. A lot of head coaches give you a job and spend their whole time checking on you. Denny gives you a job and lets you do it. He's not demanding on your time. But, when he comes to you, he wants the job to be done."

Assistant coaches said Stolz also attempts to check on whether his players attend class.

"I've been with him four years, and he has treated me like a son," McClure said. "Without him, a lot that I have accomplished wouldn't have happened. He has guided me in directions on and off the field. When I first came here, I had a hard time dealing with school. He made me realize how important school was. Another coach might have let a kid like me go."

When Stolz goes public, he can be a charmer. His statement to Sweeney at the 1982 California Bowl was an example of his dry wit.

At Bowling Green the past season, the booster club had luncheons before every home game. Stolz's running joke with the fans was that he would not show game films unless they begged. Stolz gave in to the fans every week.

"Denny's a very relaxed speaker, and he has a very dry sense of humor," said Steve Keys, Bowling Green booster club president. "When he gets up in front of a crowd, if something is important to him, he'll have a dry or satirical way of getting his point across. It's like when Woody Hayes was at Ohio State and always referred to Michigan as the team up north. Denny did the same thing with Toledo, our biggest rival. To a lot of people, it might have seemed like a casual comment. People who know him knew how much he wanted to win that game."

Stolz often made public appearances in Bowling Green, located near Toledo, Ohio.

When informed that there seemed to be public apathy toward SDSU, Stolz said he would go public as much as possible.

"We'll be out there with them," Stolz said. "We'll be a part of the community. I'll represent the university, and I will get to know the high school and junior college coaches."

Said Lessig: "Denny is as good as any coach I have been associated with at speaking on his feet. He is also a private person. He's not the type to glad hand a lot of people."

Jack Gregory, Bowling Green athletic director: "Socially, I think he's excellent. In my association with Denny, he has always been where I asked him to be. He may not socialize as much as others. I don't think I have ever seen him smoke or drink. He's not as much into parties."

Away from the field, Stolz is known as a private man who likes to be with his family. He and his wife, Cena, have three children, Doak, 25, Dawn, 24, and Denise, 18.

When Stolz was hired by San Diego State, he said Cena, "Could recruit your socks off."

Cena is the co-owner of a real estate company in the Bowling Green area.

Stolz has two loves away from football--standard bred horses and golf. He has raised and sold numerous standard breds in Ohio. It's strictly an off-season hobby, one he does not have time for during the season.

Golf is his No. 1 hobby. When SDSU inquired about hiring Stolz, one of his first questions was, "How many golf courses do they have out there?"

Once Stolz was told there were numerous courses in the area, he was sold on working in San Diego.

"Denny PRs as well as any head coach I've seen," Ed Schmidt said. "He's also very family-oriented. He'd rather be home with his family than socializing with the boys down at the tavern."

The boys at the taverns of San Diego must have had fun talking about Stolz last Saturday night.

Three days after Stolz was named SDSU's coach, Bowling Green lost to Fresno State, 51-7, in Stolz's last game as Falcon coach. It was almost as if the Aztec season had been extended with another loss.

Stolz will take over a program that has had three straight losing seasons for the first time in 25 years. Public apathy reached a point where the Aztecs barely drew 10,000 fans for each of their last two home games.

"I don't know much about what has gone on there," Stolz said. "I think that's good. I think that coming in with a clean, fresh approach will be good for them. I don't want people saying this guy can or can't play, or you can or can't win here or there. Let me find out my way."

Stolz's way includes a sense of immediacy. He has twice met with Aztec players, telling them he believes they could play in a bowl game next year.

Doug Scovil, SDSU's previous coach, started a five-year plan in 1981 centered on recruiting freshmen, not junior college transfers. Scovil was fired after SDSU finished 5-6-1 this year.

"I hope we have the talent where we can win the first year," Stolz said. "I don't like references to long, drawn out programs. Kids don't like that. We want to go to a bowl game next year. Maybe we're not good enough, but we're going to try."

One criticism of Scovil among players was that while he had a great mind for offensive game plans, he was not a motivator. According to Bowling Green players, Stolz may help in that regard.

"He has a way of motivating by the way he talks," defensive back Raymond Redd said. "He gets your adrenalin flowing. I guess it's a magical touch some coaches possess."

Stolz possesses an offensive touch San Diego fans are familiar with--throwing the football. In a first-quarter series during the California Bowl, Bowling Green passed on 11 of 13 plays.

"He loves to throw the football, no doubt about that," McClure said. "When he goes to San Diego, it's going to be different from the Midwest. In our conference, we're the only one who throws. In (the Western Athletic Conference), they all throw."

Stolz loves to throw because he is a former quarterback. He played for Alma College, a small Presbyterian school in central Michigan, before coaching high school football for 10 years.

In 1965, Stolz took over an Alma team that hadn't had a winning season in a decade. After two more losing seasons, Stolz led Alma to consecutive 8-0 records in 1967 and 1968.

He was 34-16 in six seasons at Alma before becoming Michigan State's defensive coordinator in 1971. Two years later, he replaced Duffy Daugherty as coach.

The Spartans were 19-13-1 in three seasons under Stolz, being among only three Big Ten teams (Ohio State and Michigan were the others) with winning records in that time.

After Stolz took over at Bowling Green in 1977, the Falcons had four straight losing seasons before a .500 year in 1981. Bowling Green had lost five games in 1980 by a total of nine points.

"A lot of people thought I should have made a coaching change," Lessig said. "Bowling Green had been successful for a long time. I knew Denny's recruiting was in place and that the team would get better."

It certainly did. The Falcons are 34-12 in the last four years.

Stolz has a .598 winning percentage in 18 years of college coaching, ranking 16th among current coaches.

"The one thing he really did for us was put the passing game in," Jack Gregory said. "Because we put the ball up so much, people want to come watch us play. We've had great attendance. We have broken all of our attendance records in the last four years."

SDSU had its second-worst attendance in 19 years at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium the past season. That's another phase of the game Stolz must work on.

Aztec Notes Denny Stolz has selected seven of his nine assistant coaches for next season, according to SDSU sources. Tim McConnell and Ed Schmidt are coming with Stolz from Bowling Green. Other Aztec assistants will be Dan Underwood, Steve Fairchild, Wayne Moses, Al Tanara and Dave Atkins. Underwood was coach at Ferris State in Michigan this season and Fairchild was among his assistants. Fairchild played quarterback for Patrick Henry High, San Diego Mesa College and Colorado State. Moses, a former assistant under Stolz at Bowling Green, was at Rutgers the past season. Tanara was at Nevada Las Vegas and Atkins is the lone holdover from the SDSU staff.

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