Pappy Waldorf: The Coach for the Golden Bear's Golden Era
Not much is remembered of Pappy Waldorf, Cal’s head football coach from 1947-1956, yet he is still regarded as the one of the greatest coaches in Cal’s history. He never won the national championship but still managed to win three Pacific Coast Conference championships. Throughout his career, he coached in a wide variety of conferences and won the respect and admiration coveted by those within his profession. For his efforts, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1966. This is his story.
Lynn Osbert “Pappy” Waldorf was born on October 3, 1902 in Clifton Springs, New York. He had an outstanding career as a tackle at Syracuse University and was named an All American three times. Following graduation in 1925, Waldorf was hired as the athletic director for Oklahoma City University. In addition to his administrative duties he also served as the head coach for football, basketball and track. In his three years at Oklahoma City, Waldorf turned around a one win program into a co-conference champion by 1927.
He left Oklahoma City after the 1927 season and spent a year at the University of Kansas where he served as an assistant coach. Though they only won two games, under the tutelage of head coach Bill Hargiss, Pappy Waldorf learned the intricacies of leading a program in a large conference. He left after the 1928 season to take the vacant head coaching position at Oklahoma A&M University (now Oklahoma State University). It was an incredible five years where he would win the Missouri Valley Conference championship three times. It was starting to seem like he had the Midas Touch; wherever he worked would turn into gold.
He left Stillwater for Kansas State University where he would lead the team to their first Big Six Conference championship in football. It was his lone season at the school and he would leave for Northwestern University in 1935 where his legend would rise further.
Northwestern had struggled to compete in the Big Ten Conference when Pappy Waldorf arrived. Dominated with the likes of Ohio State, Michigan and Minnesota, he was in for one of the greatest tests of his coaching career. His first season produced a 4-3-1 record and though they lost to Ohio State and eventual national champion Minnesota, Northwestern found a way to defeat Notre Dame. For his quick turnaround of the struggling program, Waldorf was awarded the first AFCA Coach of the Year Award, given annually to college football’s best coach.
They improved their record to 7-1 the following year and beat both Ohio State and Minnesota. Their only loss was a season finale clash against Notre Dame. While they were ranked first in the nation for the last few weeks of the year, the Wildcats tumbled to seventh after their season ending loss. Incredibly, they won the Big Ten Conference championship.
The next few years, the Wildcats were an average team but managed to be ranked 17th in the national ranking in 1938. They were revitalized in 1940 with a 6-2 record and ranked eighth in the nation. They finished with a 5-3 record and were ranked 11th in the nation the following year but fell into the abyss in 1942 with a 1-9 record. Following that war ravaged season, Northwestern came roaring back in 1943. Led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham, the team finished with a 6-2 record and were ranked ninth in the nation. The final three years of Pappy Waldorf’s tenure at Northwestern were forgettable and he left the program for Cal following the 1946 season.
The University of California, Berkley had struggled in the years leading up to Pappy Waldorf’s arrival. They produced a dismal 2-7 record in 1946 and were in desperate need of quality leadership in a tough Pacific Coast Conference. He immediately changed the fortunes of the program with a 9-1 record, ranked 15th in the nation and was second only to mighty USC in the conference.
The 1948 season was a season the Golden Bears would not soon forget. They had a perfect regular season and won the PCC championship but lost to Northwestern in the Rose Bowl 20-14. Due to their Rose Bowl loss, they missed out on a top national ranking and settled for fourth. The 1949 season was nearly identical to the 1948 campaign. Once again they ran away with the PCC crown in an undefeated regular season showing and once again they lost in the Rose Bowl. This time, however, they lost to Ohio State 17-14 and finished third in the nation.
They slipped slightly in 1950, tying arch rival Stanford 7-7 to end the regular season 9-0-1, but managed to claim the PCC crown for a third straight season. They lost to Michigan in the Rose Bowl 14-6 and ended the year ranked fourth in the nation.
The decline of the program which Pappy Waldorf had built began in 1951. Though they went 8-2 and were ranked 12th in the nation, they finished second to Stanford in the PCC standings. They did exact some vengeance on Stanford by beating them 20-7 in the season finale, knocking them out of the national championship race.
They played well in 1952 but a three game skid against USC, UCLA and Washington doomed them in the PCC race and knocked them out of the national rankings. They won as many as they lost in the next two years and the 1955 and 1956 campaigns were losing seasons.
Pappy Waldorf retired after the 1956 season but not before beating Stanford one last time. With a team led by sophomore quarterback Joe Kapp they defeated a heavily favored Stanford squad led by future 49ers quarterback John Brodie 20-18. Stanford gave Cal all it could muster with running back Lou Valli rushing for 206 yards, a record which wouldn’t be broken until Cal’s Joe Igber ran for 226 yards in the 2002 Big Game. Joe Kapp was magnificent, running for 106 yards on 16 carries. After the game concluded, Waldorf stood on the north balcony of Memorial Stadium and thanked the crowd of 18,000 for their support during some of the best years of his life. Though his final season was filled with failure, he rode off into the sunset victorious.
Shortly after his retirement from coaching, Waldorf was hired as the head of college scouting for the San Francisco 49ers. He remained in that position for 12 years, retiring in 1972. He passed away on August 15, 1981 at the age of 78.