Countdown to Blue-White / 10 Days: Year Two Has Had Ups and Downs for Former Penn State Head Coaches
This is the 24th in a 33-day series about Penn State football program leading up to the Blue-White Game on April 20. Click here for past installments in the series.
Contrary to how it may have felt, the late Joe Paterno wasn't the only man to call himself head coach of the Penn State football program. As a matter of fact, 10 coaches led the Nittany Lions from 1900 until 1966 when Paterno took over. So as Bill O'Brien gears up for his second year at the helm, how well did his predecessors do in their second year? The game has changed and the stadium is larger, but the history still remains. Here is a look at the second years of the four coaches to call Happy Valley home for 10 or more seasons.
Hugo Bezdek: The 1919 Season (7-1)
Born in Prague, Bezdek was looking to rebound following a 1-2-1 season that included a 6-6 tie with the Wissahickon Barracks. The Nittany Lions delivered, going 7-1 the next year including a 20-0 victory over Pittsburgh at Forbes Field. Bezdek would go on to post a 65–30–11 record in his 12 seasons at Penn State including a 14-3 loss in the 1923 Rose Bowl. At the time Bezdek's 65 wins marked the peak of the Nittany Lions' All-Time win list by 45 games. Before his time at Penn State, Bezdek served as head coach for Oregon, Mare Island, and Arkansas', winning the 1917 and 1918 Rose Bowls.
Bob Higgins: The 1931 Season (2-8)
One of the first in-house hires for Penn State, Higgins had played end for the Nittany Lions and was a two-time All American. Higgins played at Penn State from 1914 to 1916. After spending World War I in the service, he returned to captain Penn State, earning All-America honors again in 1919
His tenure at Penn State as head coach began in 1931 following Bezdek's departure with a 3-4-2 record and struggled again in his second year at the helm.
A seven game losing streak in 1931 featured a 33-0 loss to Lafayette and a 41-6 loss to Pittsburgh. The Nittany Lions won their final game of the season 31-0 over Lehigh. Higgins would go on to better his predecessor's record with a 91–57–11 record over 19 seasons.
Penn State would take a 9-0 season mark into the 1948 Cotton Bowl against Doak Walker's SMU Mustangs. The Nittany Lions and Mustangs tied 13-13 in a game that featured a 6-yard touchdown catch by Penn State legend Wally Triplett in the third quarter. The ensuing extra point was missed keeping the teams tied at 13-13.
Higgins is the great grandfather, of former Penn State running back Joe Suhey and former quarterback Kevin Suhey. Higgins is also the grandfather of current board of trustees member Paul Suhey.
Rip Engle: The 1951 Season (5-4)
With Penn State beginning to enter a more modern era of football, Rip Engle took over coaching duties in 1950 on his way to a 104–48–4 record over 16 seasons. The start of Engle's tenure at Penn State had a bit of a bumpy start with a 10-7-1 record over two seasons. The 1951 season did include a 15-7 victory over Nebraska but ended with a 7-13 loss to Pittsburgh.
Engle would go on to win three straight bowl games in the early 1950s paving the way for assistant Joe Paterno to take over in 1966.
Joe Paterno: The 1967 Season (8-2-1)
A 5-5 record in 1966 was not the way Paterno wanted to start his head coaching career. Paterno would go on to coach Penn State to a 8-2-1 record after losing two of the first three games despite a victory over Miami. A 58-28 victory over Boston College to even the season record at 2-2 set off a streak of 30 straight games without a loss. Penn State tied the season ending 1967 Gator Bowl 17-17 against Florida State.
Undeniably Paterno would go on to be one of the great coaching figures in college football history.