Wednesday, Sept. 23, 1931: The scoop on Bernie Bierman

Posted on January 3rd, 2007 – 7:05 PM
By Ben Welter
Bierman and blackboard
Coach Bierman at the blackboard in the 1930s. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

Back in September 1931, one of Sid Hartman’s predecessors at the Minneapolis Tribune had the scoop of the year: Bernie Bierman, former Gophers athletic star, would be the next Gophers football coach. The official announcement came three months later, after Bierman’s Tulane team won its final regular season game.

Bierman’s years as Gophers coach were indeed golden: His teams completed a 93-35-6 record and won six Big Ten titles and five national championships.

CRISLER TO ENGAGE BIERMAN AS COACH IN ’32, REPORT

Agreement Reached,
So Rumors Declare

News of Appointment Will Be Withheld Until Close of Season, It Is Said. Crysler Denies Story.

Bierman with players
Coach Bierman with some of his players in the 1930s. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

By George A. Barton.

(Copyright, 1931, by The Minneapolis Tribune Co.)

Here is a story which will be denied in two cities – Minneapolis and New Orleans – but we will give it to you for what it is worth, and we have sound reasons for believing it is worth considerable from a standpoint of authenticity as well as marking an important epoch in athletic history at the University of Minnesota.

Give us your ear, neighbor, and we’ll slip you the news that’s going around. Here ’tis – Fritz Crisler either has, or will engage Bernie Bierman, former Gopher athletic star, as head football coach for Minnesota in 1932. We have heard rumors to this effect around and about for the past two weeks, but gave them little credence until getting the lowdown from two “M” men who evidently know what they are talking about.

Crisler himself seemed quite startled when we asked him over the telephone the other day whether he was considering Bierman as his head coach a year hence.

“Where did you get that story?” Crisler queried.

“Oh, from some of the boys over town,” answered your correspondent. “Is there anything to it?”

“I haven’t anything to say at this time because I am not looking any further ahead than this season,” was Crisler’s courteous, but firm reply.

If Bierman already has been engaged, or agreed to accept the coaching post at Minnesota, it would not be good policy on Crisler’s part to make a public announcement to the effect at this time, largely because Bierman is still head coach at Tulane university at New Orleans, and a statement that he is leaving the southern institution to return to his alma mater might have a tendency to disrupt the football morale at Tulane where Bernie is popular with the alumni, student body and general public.

Bierman on sidelines
Bierman on the sidelines, about 1940. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

Rumors persist, however, that Crisler and Bierman have reached an understanding. Prominent alumni of the university have ventured this news to us at several luncheon clubs, and when we got the information from two “M” men who seem to be in the know, we decided it was time to let our readers in on the secret.

According to our informants, Crisler and Bierman reached an agreement during Bernie’s visit to Minneapolis this summer, Bierman having spent a month here with his mother.

We happen to know that Bierman would like very much to return to Minnesota as head football coach. We also happen to know that Bernie was the unanimous choice of the university “M” men as the successor of Dr. Clarence W. Spears when the doctor accepted an offer from the University of Oregon, and that the “M” men were bitterly disappointed when Crisler was given the preference over Bierman. We also happen to know that Bierman, for a time, was given serious consideration by members of the university senate, so serious, in fact, that two members of this committee conferred with Bierman in Chicago shortly before Crisler received the appointment.

Crisler himself has stated on several occasions at public gatherings that it was his aim, in time, to appoint a Minnesota man to every coaching position at the university, thereby creating a spirit which would perpetuate Minnesota’s glory on the athletic field.

Bierman with cigarette
In his first season, smokin’ Bernie Bierman guided Minnesota to a 7-6 victory over visiting Nebraska on Oct. 15, 1932. The Gophers scored their touchdown on “forward-lateral pass” from Pug Lund to Brad Robinson to Jack Manders. From the newspaper clips, sounds like it was a good old hook-and-ladder play. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

BIERMAN MEETS CRISLER’S REQUIREMENTS.

Bierman is the type of man that Crisler would prefer to select for the important position of head football coach because he is a fellow of high ideals, has gained national recognition as a coach and strategist, is a native born Minnesotan, and is one of the state university’s athletic immortals. Furthermore, the appointment of Bierman as coach would cement the friendship between the university athletic department and the “M” club, and Crisler strongly desires an affiliation of this sort with the men who won their letters for representing Minnesota on the athletic field.

Bierman would be no experiment. He has won his spurs as football coach in big time competition. Bernie tied for the championship of the south with his Tulane teams of 1929 and 1930, and his gridders have been undefeated for three successive years. His team of 1930 was hailed by gridiron critics from coast to coast as one of the outstanding aggregations of the season.

Bierman in 1915
As a senior, Bernie Bierman captained the 1915 Gophers football team. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

Bierman starred in football, basketball and track at Minnesota in 1913, 1914 and 1915. He was a brilliant halfback and captained the championship football team of 1915. Since his graduation, he was for several years football and track coach at Montana university. He left there to accept a position as track coach and assistant to Clark Shaughnessy, at that time athletic director and football coach at Tulane university. When Shaughness resigned to accept a similar post at Loyola university at New Orleans, Bierman was named as his successor.

CRISLER CARRYING HEAVY BURDEN.

Everyone closely in touch with the athletic situation at the University of Minnesota is aware of the fact that Fritz Crisler undertook too big an assignment in carrying the double burden of director of athletics and head football coach. He is ambitious beyond words, and a tireless worker, but no individual, regardless of his stamina and determination, could bear up under the cares, worries and long hours attendant upon the double duty that Crisler is carrying, and retain his health.

It is a wise move on Fritz’s part to separate the two positions and concentrate upon the position of director of athletics, a most important job in itself, and one in which there is still much work to be done at Minnesota. Crisler makes an ideal athletic director because he is strongly in sympathy with all branches of sport, competitive as well as intra-mural.

By relinquishing the coaching reins to another, and devoting his entire attention to the athletic directorship he will have more time to solidify a feeling of friendship between the high schools of the state and the university. We regret to say that in the past little has been done to create kindly sentiment among the high schools toward the state university with the result that many star athletes from the prep schools of Minnesota have found their way to universities and colleges outside the state.

We have reasons for believing this condition will be changed when Crisler, with his magnetic personality, finds more time to devote to making contacts with the high schools of this state.

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