The season that never was Part II of our look at Dale Lindsey and the U.K. ‘Thin Thirty’

By Davis Jones

It was the cumulative effect of USD head football coach Dale Lindsey’s treatment at the University of Kentucky that led him to leave the football team in the sping of his freshmen season. Fifty-eight of his teammates in total would also leave the squad, believing head coach Charlie Bradshaw’s teaching philosophy and conditioning regimen to be excessively brutal. Not uncommon were practices featuring hits from coaches, players dropping to the ground in fatigue and psychological manipulation.
Lindsey is quick to point out, however, that he harbors no hard feelings.

“I’ve seen some of the Thin Thirty guys and some of the coaches who were there when I left. We’re all good friends. Everybody understood the situation. I have no grudges against anyone who coached me there, and certainly not toward any of the boys that stayed. It’s just the way society was at the time.

“There’s no way you could do that to guys in this day and age. No way.”

Lindsey begins his first journey as a head coach during an era when blurred lines separate ‘infectious’ coaching from scandal. Video surfaced in April of Rutgers University men’s basketball coach Mike Rice verbally and physically berating his players in practice, including throwing balls at their heads. A month later, The Newark Star-Ledger newspaper broke a story on the reason for Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann’s resignation 16 years ago as the head women’s volleyball coach for the University of Tennessee: all 15 of her players dismissed her in a team letter, accusing her of abusive behavior.

“The mental cruelty that we as a team have suffered is unbearable,” the players wrote. They were reportedly called out by Hermann in practice as “whores, alcoholics, and learning disabled.” Other accounts involved Hermann making fun of players’ weights, forcing them to do push-ups on the sideline during games and punishing them for losses by refusing them the chance to shower or to eat.

“I think the shift has been gradual,” said Lindsey when asked about the recent crackdown on this style of coaching. “Society has changed and we are less accepting of abusive-type tactics. Kids growing up today aren’t willing to accept it either. Our generation, we just did what we were told. We didn’t question authority. Coaches had greater authority. Teachers had greater authority. They told you to do something, you’d do it. In my own observation, somewhere along with the Vietnam War, all that changed. Kids from those generations started questioning the values that were coming down and what they were being told, saying, ‘No, that’s not right. I don’t have to do that.’ In my opinion, that was when the shift started. It became okay to question authority. It wasn’t okay when I was growing up.
“I think it gradually came that way,” he said. “And, in all reality, I think for the best.”

Many today would agree with Lindsey, as evidenced by the overwhelming response to both the Rutgers case and to the sex abuse allegations against head football coach Joe Paterno’s staff at Penn State. Now more than ever, the sports world is not afraid to bring into question the extreme measures some coaches will use in order to win—even if an ethical line is crossed in the process. Lindsey might have played during an era when these tactics were commonplace, but his experience at Kentucky affirmed his refusal to continue the trend. As to how he’d do so, he cites his previous coach as one of his most influential role models.

“Everything positive I learned about coaching that year, I learned from Blanton Coillard,” he said. “Now, I played for Blanton at Cleveland for six years [in the NFL], and I learned there that you don’t have to yell, scream or curse to get players to play for you. He won a Super Bowl at the time. He was a very low-key gentleman who never cursed or yelled. He never screamed. And he got grown men to do what he wanted to do, who were getting paid. They could’ve said, ‘Screw you, I don’t want to do it that way.’ He coached a team [at one point] with basically six Hall of Famers who could be very difficult. And they weren’t. They were getting a man-to-man response with him.

“And I’m sort of like that around here with these kids. If they want to call me ‘Dale,’ I’m fine with that. I really try to treat them more like men.”

USD Athletic Director Ky Snyder noticed this same quality the moment he first interviewed Lindsey last year. It was then Snyder knew he had his head coach.

“I think the biggest thing that stood out for me was how he cares about the student athletes as people,” Snyder said. “At one point when we were talking, he said, “Look. We’re here creating the next doctors, attorneys, CEOs and presidents of companies. It doesn’t matter how many games we win. If we aren’t successful in doing that, then we haven’t won anything.’ I thought that stood very clearly with what we’re all about in Torero athletics.”

Equally as clear in what Lindsey believes Torero athletics should be about are his responses on what he himself has always been about — defining his legacy by his own moral standards, and his alone.
“I think the image that somehow has been projected of me by the media is not me,” Lindsey said in a January 5 Fox interview. “I’m not (a disciplinarian), a down-the-line, military-type person. I do take football very seriously and it’s something that I approach in life that I don’t want to do perfect because I know you can’t. But I also am very fun-loving, I like to joke, I like for the kids to have fun. This game is hard enough when everything is going right. When it’s not, it’s really hell. And what I want these kids to do is enjoy the process, enjoy the moment and relish in it because these are moments that a lot of ‘em will never have again in their lives, and I want it to be memorable, and not in a negative manner but in a positive manner.”

In 1962, the “best defensive prospect” left Kentucky in the spring of his freshman year. He transferred, heading west.

He made it as far as San Diego. The rest is history.

But the “best defensive prospect” didn’t do it. Dale Lindsey did.

“You gotta be who you are,” he said. “That’s how I am with the guys around here. Be who you are. Be genuine.

“I’m just trying to be Dale Lindsey, whoever that is. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. But I’m not trying to be anyone else.”