I sent this email to a fellow named Lynn Borland who had just published a book titled, Gilmour Dobie: Pursuit of Perfection which covered the coaching career of legendary University of Washington football coach Gilmour "Gil" Dobie. It was Sunday morning November 21, 2010 and suddenly I was reading an article in The Seattle Times about the coach my grandfather William Jennings "Wee" Coyle used to tell my brother and me stories about when we were kids. As a high school quarterback at Seattle High School (later to be renamed Broadway High School) they beat North Division High School of Chicago for the National Championship and as the starting signal caller for four years at the U of W my grandfather's teams never lost a game. Along with the stories about Gil Dobie and his undefeated career at The University of Washington this was very heady stuff for young boys to process. Never losing? How could that happen? And then while his team's are still undefeated Dobie is suddenly forced from his "pursuit of perfection" after a confrontation with the school's president Henry Suzzallo.
This book will be on my Christmas "wish list" and it is available at the University of Washington Book Store to fill other people's lists.
What a great way to start a Sunday morning! Instead of more depressing news about the Mariners, the Seahawks or the Huskies, although they whipped U.C.L.A. Thursday night, here was an article about someone whom I knew was a genuine Seattle hero and who cares if what he accomplished was over a hundred years ago.
As a kid growing up in Seattle my grandfather, Will Coyle, regaled my brother Terry and me with stories of Gil Dobie as we paged through his University of Washington athletic scrapbooks. As your article in The Times confirms Mr. Dobie was a man to be feared and respected. The tone and the manner in which my grandfather spoke of his former coach suggested that those days were very special to him. Days where you worked your butt off for a man who was tough but fair, grudging in his praise but in the process instilling in a young man the certainty that if you did what he said without complaint, that he would take you to accomplishments that you would never forget.
I remember a story my grandfather told me about when he had gone to visit his girlfriend the night before his last home game of his college career. Minnie Dalby was a fellow University of Washington student and they would eventually marry and raise their two daughters Mary and Rosanne in Seattle. Knowing staying out late with the opposite sex was not part of Coach Dobie’s recommended training regimen but being a senior and the starting quarterback gave my grandfather a young man’s cocky confidence that he would not get caught. After a night of platonic courting my grandfather boarded the street car for the trip home and found himself staring at the dour face of Gil Dobie. Without hesitating young Will found a seat and stared straight ahead contemplating his fate. After a few stops my grandfather, using every bit of his peripheral vision, saw his coach silently disembark and disappear into the night. To make a long story short my grandfather slept poorly, played well in a Husky victory and was joined in the post-game shower with his fully dressed, smiling, cigar smoking coach who said, “You know Coyle I saw a fellow who looked just like you last night on the street car. That couldn’t have been you could it?” Will Coyle never disagreed with his coach so he said, “No sir!”
Remembering a book I had downstairs I dug it out and dusted off a copy of The History of American Football by Allison Danzig 1956. Opening the front cover a small packet slid out. Wrapped in thin, transparent paper were two photographs: one titled Coach Gilmour Dobie 1908 (the same photo in your article) written in my grandfather’s distinctive handwriting and the other titled Assistant Coach Joe Cutting. Where the photo of Dobie was taken on a grass surface the assistant coach’s photo was taken on a muddy field with a small grandstand of what may have been Denny Field in the background.
I paged through the book recalling as a boy the amazement at seeing my grandfather’s name in print (Bill Coyle) and the confirmation of my grandfather’s stories about the legendary Gil Dobie in not only sentences but paragraphs and pages as he continued his success after leaving the University of Washington. “Why did he leave the Huskies?” my brother and I asked. I don’t recall my grandfather’s answer or what role, if any, he played in Dobie’s departure and I don’t recall ever being aware of the Machiavellian struggles going on at the time. As you suggest, “My, how times have not changed”.
I also remember specifically the name Gil Dobie being applied to the Seattle youth football division that had formerly been called Little League. Both my brother and I played for six years with the beginning division being called Pee Wee, the middle division Gil Dobie and the older division was called Bantams. Our grandfather came to most of our games.
Thank you for your carrying the torch for Husky football and your remembrances of a man whose success rivaled any coach in the history of college football. Now let’s get this year’s Huskies to a bowl game and rebuild the University of Washington tradition for football excellence.