Legends of the Fall: Bill Glassford
Photo Credit: Jarod Opperman

Legends of the Fall: Bill Glassford

September 22, 2016

This story appeared in Volume 3, Issue 10 of Hail Varsity. To read more great stories like this, subscribe here.

***

Bill Glassford remembers it this way.

He called his close friend, Paul “Bear” Bryant.

“You going to the convention?”

Bryant said he was.

“Are you?”

“Yes,” said Glassford.

“Well, meet me in Chicago,” Bryant said. “We’ll take the train out.”

And so they did.

Glassford had finished his third season as head football coach at New Hampshire, where his record was 19-5-1. Bryant had been the head coach at Kentucky for three seasons; his record was 20-9-2. Their destination was the annual college coaches’ convention in San Francisco.

Glassford met with George “Potsy” Clark while he was there.

“That’s how it started,” Glassford said recently.

“It” was Glassford’s tenure as Nebraska’s head coach from 1949 to 1955. Clark had become Nebraska’s full-time athletic director after serving as interim coach in 1948, following the dismissal of Bernie Masterson after only two seasons, his contract bought up by boosters.

Masterson’s record was 5-13. Those were tough times. In the 21 years following the Cornhuskers’ appearance in the 1941 Rose Bowl game until Bob Devaney arrived in 1962 and effected an immediate turnaround, they had only three winning seasons under six coaches.

All three were during Glassford’s time. And his last was 5-5.

Though his record at Nebraska was 31-35-3, his teams fared well in the Big Seven Conference, 23-18-1. And “if you took Oklahoma out of the system, we did very well,” said Glassford.

The Huskers were 0-7 against Oklahoma. But then, no conference team had beaten the Sooners since 1946. And none would until Nebraska did on Halloween in 1959.

By then Glassford was a successful insurance executive in Phoenix.

Glassford, who celebrated his 100th birthday in mid-March, was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in the fall of 2002, an honor too long delayed.

His record was a reflection of the charge given him by Clark. “Their scholarship program was one of ‘Find the best players in Nebraska and make it work with them,’” Glassford said.

“There were fine athletes (in the state), but not enough. We had enough to play against the rest of them (conference teams), but we didn’t have enough to play against Oklahoma.”

Among those “fine” athletes was one of the all-time best, Bobby Reynolds, whom Glassford recruited out of Grand Island as soon as he took the job.

Bryant told him “everybody in the country is looking for Bobby Reynolds,” said Glassford. “He said, ‘Are you going to look at him?’ I said, ‘If he’s a good one, I am.’”

Reynolds was good, all right.

“Bobby, I think, was the best I ever had. He wasn’t very big, as I recall. I think he was somewhere around 175 pounds, but he had such an immense ability to run,” Glassford said.

“Wonderful kid, very, very kind, very nice to everybody.”

Though he didn’t recruit Tom Novak, another of the state’s “fine” athletes, Glassford coached the player nicknamed “Trainwreck” as a senior in 1949. “I believe that Tom was the best lineman and backer-upper, inside player (linebacker), that I ever had, or ever saw,” he said.

Reynolds. Novak. Talking with Glassford is like flipping through the pages of a Husker history book. He earned All-America recognition as a guard at Pittsburgh, playing for Hall of Fame coach “Jock” Sutherland. Glassford played against Nebraska three times, 1933-35, all Panther victories.

Coach D.X. Bible’s Cornhuskers lost only six times total in those three seasons.

Sutherland “was very disciplined but very fair,” said Glassford.

His time at Nebraska was not without its problems and he resigned following the 1955 season, even though “he could have stayed for another five years at a fair if not handsome salary,” according to Go Big Red: The Story of Cornhusker Football, published in 1966.

Overzealous boosters played a role in his resignation.

He approached the insurance business with the same discipline and attention to detail that he brought to coaching. “I sort of missed it,” he said. But he never looked back. I’ve been with a lot of great people, as I did with athletes and a lot of great coaches that I met, for friends.”

Coaches such as Sutherland and the legendary Bryant.

“I’ve had a great career,” Glassford said.

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