The Blanton Collier Years 1954 -1961 (Part One)

Curse of the Bear? More likely curse of Herman Donovan - Malcolm Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Blanton Collier is not remembered as fondly by the Big Blue Nation as he should be. This is part 1 of a two-part series on Collier.

It's amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit. -Blanton Collier, Cleveland Browns Head Coach (optional)

Like Joker Phillips, Blanton Collier was a son of the Commonwealth . Collier was born in Millersburg, grew up in Paris, and graduated from Georgetown College. He returned to Paris after graduating, taught school and coached the football team for 16 years. Collier left Paris in 1943 at age 37 to join the Navy. His record at Paris High School was 73-50-10. The Paris High School football stadium bears his name.

He got the nickname "George" when he was a teacher because he affectionately called most of his male students "George" and most of his female students "Martha" - Wikipedia

At Great Lakes Naval Base in Chicago, Collier met Paul Brown, who was coaching the Navy team. Collier was the coach for the Navy swim team at the time, but also attended many football practices. The two men hit it off. After the war, Brown hired Collier as an assistant coach for the Cleveland Browns. This happened before the NFL was formed, and at the time, the Browns were part of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC).

After seven years as Brown's top aide, a span over which the Cleveland team won five league championships, Collier took a job as head football coach at the University of Kentucky in 1954. His Kentucky Wildcats teams amassed a 41–36–3 win-loss-tie record over eight seasons. – Wikipedia

At Kentucky, Collier was the last coach to leave with a winning record (41-36-3). His best record was in his first season (1954) when he finished 7-2. He was fired at the end of the 1961 season. Here’s what Wikipedia says about his firing:

Kentucky's football program was overshadowed by its successful basketball program during Collier's tenure. Collier was also criticized for his poor recruiting skills, a crucial factor for college coaches. Many fans wrote the university to complain about him and his staff. Still, several future star coaches served as assistants under Collier at Kentucky, including Don Shula, Chuck Knox, Howard Schnellenberger and Bill Arnsparger. Standout players under Collier included AAll-Americans Lou Michaels and Schnellenberger.

It seems that no one wanted to remember the recruiting restrictions that carried over from Paul "Bear" Bryant’s regime. Some have called UK’s mediocre history the Bear Bryant Curse when, in fact, it was a curse placed on several UK head coaches to some degree by the University of Kentucky under then University of Kentucky President Herman Donovan’s watch.

In 1974, Sports Illustrated had this to say in its People section about Collier:

University of Kentucky football fans were unhappy with Coach Blanton Collier in 1959, and they wrote a lot of letters complaining and asking that he and his incompetent aides be gone. The staff was gone by 1961. Of the eight coaches, exactly eight went on to success in pro football, five of them becoming NFL head coaches. Beginning from the left, they are Ed Rutledge, an NFL scout; Howie Schnellenberger, head coach at Baltimore; Ermal Allen, assistant coach at Dallas; Collier, who succeeded Paul Brown at Cleveland and won an NFL championship; Don Shula, of whom you may have heard; John North, head coach of New Orleans; Bob Cummings, his assistant; and Bill Arnsparger, who is taking over the New York Giants. Another Collier assistant, Chuck Knox, was on the staff in 1961 but not in 1959. He was just named Coach of the Year following his first season with the Los Angeles Rams. Fired anybody else lately, Kentucky?

My father called Collier, "Bleatin’ Blanton." He, too, had forgotten the recruiting restrictions placed on Bryant and Collier. People tend to have short memories -- a clear case of CRS Disease.

Upon his departure under duress from UK, Brown hired Collier as his chief assistant. When Art Modell fired Brown, he wanted to hire Collier, but Collier would not take the job without the Brown's blessings. Brown told him to take the job because he had a family to support. Collier retired in 1970 due to a hearing loss from his time as a swimming coach for the Navy. You can read more about his career with the Browns here.

Paul Bryant’s last team (1953) had 34 scholarship players on his final roster, according to Fanbase.com. 21 of those were from Kentucky and 13 were out of state players. Eight of the Kentucky players were from Louisville. The attrition was slow. Collier’s third season (1956) still had 12 out of state players on the roster. During these first three years, the Cats went 7-3, 6-3-1 and 6-4. You would think that 7-2 record would have earned a bowl game. In today's world all three years would've brought a bowl game considering a 6-6 record will get you into a minor bowl these days. While Bryant took Kentucky to bowl games, he had difficulty beating Tennessee. He managed 0-0 ties in 1948 and 1952 in Knoxville before finally beating the Vols 27-21 in 1953 in Lexington. Collier's record against Tennessee was 5-2-1. Collier was named SEC Coach of the Year in 1954.

Football in those days had fewer players on the rosters because most played on both offense and defense. Collier produced three All-Americans during his first three years. In 1955, Howard Shnellenberger made the AP first team. Lou Michaels was named a consensus first team All-American in 1956 and 1957. In Collier's last season in 1961, Irv Goode was a Time magazine first team All-American. You can find a list of player honors and awards in the 2012 Media Guide linked below. Several of his players played in the NFL, including the three above and also Calvin Bird.

Here's a list of Collier's players in the Draft, according to the 2012 Media Guide:

1954

  • Steve Meilinger, 1st, Redskins
  • Thomas Adkins, 17th, Colts

1956

  • Dick Moloney, 11th, Giants
  • Dick Shatto, 15th, Rams
  • Jack Butler, 17th, Rams
  • Howard Schnellenberger, 21st, Redskins
  • Bill Wheeler, 25th, Cardinals
  • Bradley Mills, 25th, Colts

1957

  • J. T. Frankenberger, 6th, Redskins\
  • Dave Kuhn, 17th, 49ers

1958

  • Lou Michaels, 1st, Rams
  • Henry Herzog, 29th, Lions

1959

  • Jim Bowie, 22nd, Eagles

1960

  • Glenn Shaw, 11th, Bears

1961

  • Calvin Bird, 6th, Chargers
  • Calvin Bird, 17th, Browns
  • Charles Sturgeon, 10th, Broncos
  • Tom Rodgers, 12th, Lions

In Part 2, we'll look at Collier's slide down the hill that ended with his firing.

Links:

Sports Illustrated Feburary 4, 1974 – People

A Tribute to Blanton Collier – Robert Drucker

Kentucky Football Honors and Awards

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