Friday, February 11, 2011

REVIEW - Gilmour Dobie: Pursuit of Perfection

In a post I wrote on November 21, 2010 I mentioned a book I had read about in The Seattle Times titled, Gilmour Dobie: Pursuit of Perfection. The book had caught my eye because Gil Dobie was my grandfather William J. "Wee" Coyle's football coach at the University of Washington for four years from 1908 to 1911. During that time and until the end of the 1916 season Dobie's teams were undefeated until he was forced out after a Machiavellian conflict with the school's president Henry Suzzallo. The book promised not only individual and sports drama but also political intrigue; a promising combination of themes.

After purchasing several of the books for Christmas presents I read it myself and posted the following review on


The University of Washington football team’s record one hundred years ago is similar to that age old question: If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? Since very few people know that the U of W was undefeated for nine straight years, a long time ago, does that mean it didn’t happen? The answer is an emphatic NO because the answer to that age old rhetorical question has now been provided by Lynn Borland in his heavily researched, historic, psychological book titled, Gilmour Dobie: Pursuit of Perfection.

Borland’s writing covers every game that Dobie coached at Washington from 1908 to 1916 which resulted in a national collegiate record of 59-0-3 that has never been broken! Borland has a unique way of making each game an individual example of Dobie’s genius. It’s one thing to be a coach but it is another thing to be a master tactician and motivator of single minded young men in game after game, season after season. In his final years at Washington there were people in high places who took Dobie’s record for granted and his leaving in 1916 could have been taken from today’s headlines.

Dobie’s teams didn’t dazzle their opponents with a myriad of fancy plays and trickery. His style, honed in his closed practices where he would drill his team mercilessly with endless repetition, was to use a minimum of plays that were executed to perfection. From the first snap on game day his team would begin the process of grinding the other team down with either perfectly performed off-tackle runs or the relentless pursuit and submission of any foe carrying a football. By the fourth quarter Dobie’s well-conditioned lads had the other team frustrated and exhausted as the Huskies continued their march down the field.

Even though "Gloomy Gil" predicted disaster to his players prior to every game, Borland has found a way to make the coach’s latest psychological ploy seem different than the one he used on the team the week before. Dobie’s greatest fear was of his players overconfidence or thinking of themselves instead of the team and he was an expert at humbling a cocky young man whom he would demote to the second team but would reassign to the varsity on game day.

Instead of reprinting individual articles from Seattle papers that promoted Dobie’s coaching genius, followed by rebuttals from the East negating Dobie's skills while at the same time promoting their legends; Stagg, Rockne, Warner etc., Borland has combined the individual game accounts into one coherent and linear text. This total narrative puts Dobie’s career in the proper context which provides evidence that the man deserved to be included with the greatest coaches ever. This also gives credence to the U of W's claims of having teams that could compete with any of the highly publicized teams of the East. In 1941 Dobie chose his 1909 team, quarterbacked by my grandfather William J. “Wee” Coyle, as his “all-time greatest” and this included two national championship teams he coached at Cornell. Borland documents Dobie’s continued success from 1917 to 1938 at Navy, Cornell and Boston College and continues to delve into the unique occurrences that shaped a unique man.

One feeling that is consistent throughout the book is the obvious respect and love the young men had for their coach who was a father figure and a man for whom they would reach deep inside themselves on a muddy field, in the fourth quarter and the undefeated streak on the line. Obviously the young men of Washington were positively influenced by Gil Dobie and they held that memory in a special part of their heart for the rest of their lives. I know my grandfather did as, with a peaceful smile, he told his grandsons about a special time in his life.

No comments:

Post a Comment