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Minnesota Football: Recruiting Bill Daley #TBT

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Recruiting was much different in the golden age of Minnesota Football. The story of Bill Daley is a great example of the process back in the 1930s.

Bill Daley runs up the middle for a touchdown vs Pitt in 1942.

Bill Daley was born in Melrose, Minnesota in 1919, and attended high school in St. Cloud. A track star at 18 he ran the 100 yard dash in 10.2 seconds, only slightly slower than the 10.0 mark of Heisman trophy winner Bruce Smith. In 1937 Bill’s senior year of high school he was a standout in track and football. That same year the Minnesota Gophers had a down year only winning a Big Ten Championship.

Bill Daley with a fresh letter sweater 1941.

Bernie Bierman’s Gophers of the 1930s were so dominant that anything other than going undefeated was a let down. Because of that success you might think that Bierman would recruit the best talent in the state? Well it didn’t quite work like that. The Big Ten outlawed coaches recruiting, they could only talk to high school players if the student contacted the coach first. And teams couldn't promise jobs (common practice at the time) until the players enrolled in school. Jobs might sound sketchy but Big Ten schools didn’t award athletic scholarships at the time. By contrast SEC gave tuition and books scholarships and $15 per month for spending money.

Daley #45 runs with the ball against Wisconsin in 1942.

So how did it work? Various groups would contact high school players and encourage them to enroll at the U of M and try out for the Football team. For example the best player on the 1934 National Championship Gopher team, Stan Kostka was recruited by a group called the "Hook Em Cow Club" of South St. Paul. They contacted Stan about going to the U of M and paid for all of his moving expenses.

Obviously this is an odd system and any number of things can go wrong. Bernie Bierman does not seem to have taken much of an interest in coordinating these groups to go after specific players. In 1937 Bierman publicly complained about the job these local groups were doing. He claimed that only 4 out of the 20 best state high school football players registered for the U of M in 1937. I have no idea if this is true or not, but one of the players that did not make it to Dinkytown right away was Bill Daley.

Bill went to DePaul in 1938 after no one connected to the U expressed any interest in him playing there. After the 1938 season DePaul dropped football. DePaul’s track and field coach was leaving the school to take the same job at Minnesota and he recruited Daley to follow him back.

Once on campus Bierman had various student jobs he could dole out to compensate players. The jobs ran the gamut from your typical student jobs working in the equipment room to unique jobs such as handing out cigarettes. Apparently in the 1930s and 1940s Phillip Morris ran promotions on campus. And much like non cigarette companies do today, students would hand out free samples. Bierman stuck a deal with Phillip Morris that the football players would be the ones to hand out free cigs. I have no idea if Bill Daley was one of these players, but jeez what a job.

Daley, in the middle, scoring again on Pitt in 1942.

From 1940 until 1942 Bill Daley played on some of the best teams in Minnesota’s history. His first two seasons 1940 and 1941 Daley won National Titles. The year Bruce Smith won the Heisman, 1941, Bill had a better statistical year. In fact Daley’s 736 rushing yards in 1941 is good for the 2nd best single season in the Bernie Bierman era.

Bill could have continued his career at Minnesota but with WWII starting he enlisted in the Navy in 1943. Because of where he was stationed he was able to play for Michigan. Because Michigan beat Minnesota that year Bill is the only player to ever win the Little Brown Jug playing for both teams.