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Driggs: Memories of BYU football coach Tommy Hudspeth

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BYU coach Tom Hudspeth is lifted by his team after the Cougars beat Utah State in 1964.

BYU coach Tom Hudspeth is lifted by his team after the Cougars beat Utah State in 1964.

Photo courtesy BYU

In late 1963 BYU football fortunes were in turmoil. The promising 1962 season, highlighted by the heroics of All-American running back Eldon Fortie, had been followed by a disastrous 1963 season. Head coach Hal Mitchell's single-wing offense folded like a tent without Fortie and the still sidelined phenom Kent Nance.

Following the 2-8 1963 disaster, Mitchell was let go. Even though there were some promising young coaches on Mitchell's staff, like LaVell Edwards, the administration brought to campus an outsider unknown to BYU fans: Midwesterner Tommy Hudspeth.

Hudspeth was bright, young and energetic, and had an affable nature with the fans, and at the same time was a tough taskmaster with the team. He had the good fortune to inherit a budding star quarterback in Virgil Carter and a number of solid returnees on the roster. Hudspeth's early optimistic quote was, "I'm here to stay."

The 1964 season started with the team showing some promise in a close loss at Oregon. There was also the excitement of the inauguration of a new football stadium in a hard-fought loss to New Mexico.

The big news that season was a decisive homecoming win over vaunted Utah State. As the team carried the coach across the field in celebration, it was obvious the Hudspeth era at BYU had truly arrived.

The 1965 season looked promising with many returning starters, supplemented by the arrival of several U.S. Marines who wanted to play as a group. Hudspeth's staff made sure that it happened and would keep them together in Provo.

After a shocking win over a highly respected Arizona State in Tempe, Arizona, to start the season, long-suffering BYU students and fans began to take notice. The team was immediately honored at a student body assembly, and students flocked to see films and highlights of the games at the theater on campus, narrated by Coach Hudspeth.

Even after the Cougars lost to Utah State in Logan to a star-studded team, including All-American running back Roy Shivers and future BYU assistant football coach Garth Hall, there was still a score to settle with the University of Utah.

In 1964, the bowl-bound Utes soundly defeated the Cougars in Salt Lake City. Newspaper articles about the game included statements like "Utah made BYU look like a high school team."

When the 1965 Utah-BYU clash rolled around, Hudspeth was loaded for bear. He wallpapered the Cougar dressing room with the newspaper articles about the 1964 game. The motivational strategy worked, as the Cougars defeated the Utes in Provo for the first time since annual play began in 1922 and only the third time in played by the two teams since 1922.

The Utah varsity game was close enough that it didn't allow the team to fulfill Hudspeth's wish to drive deep into Utah territory late in the game and then punt the ball the other way.

Amazingly enough, the BYU freshman team that year did something similar. It led the Utah freshman team by such a large margin that punter Tom Lahmann kicked the ball out of his own end zone the other way on the last play of the game to give Utah its only two points.

After road wins over Arizona and New Mexico, the Cougars claimed a conference title for the first time ever. Hudspeth coached the Cougars to a 20-10 record over a three-year period, and it appeared that a BYU football renaissance was on its way.

During an 8-2 season in 1966, Carter set an NCAA record that stood for years. He rolled up 599 yards of total offense in a game against Texas Western. Hudspeth's staff designed some special offensive schemes for the game, and Carter's passes to Phil Odle, Casey Boyette and Dennis Palmer destroyed the Miners defense in a 53-33 rout.

In 1967, the Cougars defeated highly touted Oregon State in Corvallis, Oregon; defeated Utah for the third time in a row; and ended the season with a 67-8 trouncing of San Jose State. Young QB and future BYU broadcaster Marc Lyons had kept the Cougar juggernaut going.

The 1968 season was a big disappointment, with only two wins and a season marked with racial demonstrations. The luster had quickly worn off of what was supposedly a golden era for BYU football.

Hudspeth's teams followed with three up-and-down seasons and no more wins against rival Utah. There were some highlights in those years, most notably kick return heroics by Chris Farasopoulos and Golden Richards, but the "time for change clock" was ticking.

Hudspeth was replaced by the soft-spoken and unassuming Edwards after the 1971 season. Edwards took the program to heights never imagined by BYU fans, but it was Hudspeth who had whetted the appetite for a solid and winning program in Cougarville.

It was fitting that upon his recent passing, Coach Hudspeth was honored by the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes for all that he had meant to that program. It was also ironic that Grant Wilson, Monte Squires and those who are helping put together a celebration honoring the 1965 Western Athletic Conference championship team, wanted Coach Hudspeth to be in Provo in person for that event. He will certainly be there in memory.

The 40 years of dominance recently headlined on BYU Football Media Day was preceded by a flicker and a flame of hope established during the Hudspeth era in the 1960s. It was a roller-coaster ride, and I won't forget it.

Ken Driggs of Mesa, Arizona, is a BYU graduate and served as Cosmo in the '60s. Contact him at kkdriggs@gmail.com.