Billy Cannon and Paul Dietzel. (Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 2:14 PM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Paul Dietzel, who led the LSU Tigers to their first football national championship, died early Tuesday. He was 89.
Funeral arraignments were incomplete, said LSU sports spokesman Kent Lowe. He said Dietzel died after a brief illness, but did not provide any other details.
The family posted a noticed online saying Dietzel died 19 days after his 89th birthday and one day before the 69th anniversary of his wedding to Anne Dietzel.
"Coach died peacefully and is at his heavenly home," the notice said.
Dietzel coached LSU from 1955 until 1961, leaving for Army and South Carolina. He also broadcast Southern Conference football games and helped create Samford University's athletics department before returning to LSU as athletics director from 1978 until 1982.
Dietzel was the last living member of the staff that guided LSU to an undefeated season and national championship in 1958. The Tigers beat Clemson in the 1959 Sugar Bowl.
Dietzel's memoir "Call Me Coach: A Life in College Football" was published in 2008 by Louisiana State University Press.
"Coach Dietzel was a man of great honor and integrity. He was the perfect role model for young people, and I will always cherish the moments that I was able to spend with him," LSU vice chancellor and athletics director Joe Alleva said in a statement from LSU. "Looking back at what he accomplished here at LSU, he was way ahead of his time as a football coach. His 1958 national championship set LSU on a path of being what it is today."
Coach Les Miles tweeted, "Very sad to hear of passing of Paul Dietzel...was a key part of this LSU program...From one coach to another you will be missed..LM."
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier met Dietzel when Dietzel returned to South Carolina last year for a football function.
"First order of business is to say coach Dietzel was a heck of guy. One of the best to coach college football I guess," Spurrier said Tuesday.
The notice the family posted Tuesday said, "Coach asked that in place of flowers that gifts be made to the local Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter in Baton Rouge."
Dietzel was born Sept. 5, 1924, in Fremont, Ohio. The family moved to Mansfield, in northwest Louisiana, where he played football, basketball and track in high school.
He was a freshman engineering student at Duke when he got a draft notice and left school to enlist in the Army Air Corps, beginning pilot training in January 1944 on a Stearman biplane and that fall on a B-24 bomber. His bomber was among 300 that firebombed Tokyo in May 1945, according to his memoir.
After the war, he enrolled as a pre-med major in Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he played under Sid Gillman, winning first-team All-American honors in 1947 from Williamson National Rating System Inc.
He worked as an assistant for Gillman at Miami, West Point and the University of Cincinnati, becoming plebe coach at West Point instead of enrolling in medical school at Columbia University. At Cincinnati, he named his defense the "Chinese Bandits" — a name that later became famous at LSU — after bad guys in the comic strip "Terry and the Pirates."
He left Cincinnati in 1951 for Kentucky, as Bear Bryant's offensive line coach.
After LSU fired Gus Tinsley, Dietzel got a three-year contract for $13,000 a year. He was 29 and the youngest member of the LSU staff, according to the university's obituary.
His first three seasons the Tigers were 3-5-2, 3-7 and 5-5. But the players he signed as freshmen in 1956 included Billy Cannon.
The undefeated season in 1958 ended 62-0 at Tulane before 83,221 people, then an SEC record. LSU then beat Clemson 7-0 at Tulane Stadium in the Sugar Bowl.
Dietzel is survived by his wife, daughter Kathie DuTremble, son Steve, daughter-in-law Judy Dietzel, grandsons David DuTremble and Paul Dietzel II, who is running for Congress out of Baton Rouge.