Tradition • Character • Service

Tradition • Character • Service

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Great Muddy Waters Article

I missed this article at the time of Muddy's passing, but pass it along now.

By Joe Rexrode
Lansing State Journal

He was there when Clarence "Biggie" Munn took over the Michigan State football program in 1947, a hard-driving fullback who helped Munn build a national powerhouse.

He had tremendous success as a small-college coach, watched his son play for Duffy Daugherty at MSU and eventually got the head coaching job at his alma mater. He's a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. But all these things are secondary for the people who truly knew Frank "Muddy" Waters.

"He was a super guy, I can't even describe it," said former MSU great Don Coleman of Waters, who passed away Wednesday at the age of 83. "He took a humanistic approach to everything, he was a very sensitive person. No one was classier. He was a hell of a football player, too. He was a team leader, an outstanding leader."

Waters died in Saginaw of congestive heart failure, said his son, Frank "Murky" Waters III. Funeral arrangements are pending. Waters, who was born Jan. 30, 1923 in Chico, Ga., is survived by three sons, their wives and seven grandchildren. His wife, Mary Lou, passed away in 2003.

MSU plans to honor Waters in some way before Saturday's home game against Notre Dame. It was already certain to be a night filled with emotion and tradition, considering the 40th anniversary of the 1966 "Game of the Century" 10-10 tie between No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 MSU, and the retiring of Bubba Smith's number.

Spartan from the start

Waters has been a part of MSU's tradition for 60 years. He arrived in 1946 to play for Charlie Bachman, fresh out of World War II and after shunning an overture from Michigan.

Munn replaced Bachman in 1947, and in 1948 Waters scored the lone touchdown in a 13-7 loss to Michigan that signaled great progress for the Spartans. Coleman - the star tackle on Munn's 1951 unbeaten national championship team, and one of two Spartans to have his number retired - was a freshman on that 1948 team.

"I have tremendous memories of him," Coleman said of Waters. "When I was a freshman he would always give advice and help me whenever he could. People gravitated toward Muddy."

Waters idolized Munn and began a career in coaching. He got the head job at Hillsdale in 1954 and went 138-46-5 in 20 seasons there. Then he built Saginaw Valley State's football program from the ground up, managing a 25-26-2 record there in five seasons. In 1980, the MSU job opened up after Darryl Rogers left for Arizona State.

Waters was the surprise hire, at an annual salary of $47,000. He inherited a program that was short on talent, thanks to the scholarship limitations of NCAA probation dating back to the 1970s. He had to put his staff together hastily.

"The cupboard was bare when he got here," said Sherm Lewis, the lone member of Rogers' staff retained by Waters, "because we hadn't recruited well in the years prior to that."

And violating NCAA rules to get players was never an option. Waters spoke out near the end of his short MSU tenure, telling the Detroit News: "I realize this is big-time football and sometimes I'm referred to as a 'Pollyanna,' but there are ideals and principles I can't compromise. And if I have to compromise them, I'll get into another profession."

Class to the end

Waters went 10-23 in three seasons at MSU. He was fired before the final game of the 1982 season. After that 24-18 loss to Iowa at Spartan Stadium, Waters was actually carried off the field by adoring players and students.

"MSU never had a classier coach or someone who loved the school more," said Jack Ebling, who broke the news of Waters' firing for the State Journal. "And there's no question, he was a great football coach. ... He wouldn't cheat, it just wasn't in his lexicon, and that probably hurt him."

The firing stung Waters, but he stayed in East Lansing and close to MSU for the rest of his life.

"He never held a grudge against anybody," said son "Murky" Waters, a member of MSU's 1966 team.

"I'll never forget him standing side by side with (athletic director) Doug Weaver to make the announcement (of his firing) at the International Center," said MSU spokesman Terry Denbow. "I was pretty new here, and I recall being moved by a man who wanted to show Spartans that leaving home didn't mean leaving the family."

Ebling attended Waters' 2000 College Football Hall of Fame induction and said about half of Waters' players over 30 years of coaching showed up - making it the largest single turnout for an inductee.

That explains why former Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian, who was there as a presenter, said: "I want to thank Hillsdale College for inviting me to the Muddy Waters enshrinement festival."

And it helps explain why Waters' passing so affected those who knew him.

"I can't say too much really, except I'm sorry he's gone," said a tearful George Guerre, an MSU teammate of Waters' and one of his closest friends. "He was dear to me and a lot of us."

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