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Malcolm Moos: Minnesota Athletics villain or nah? #TBT

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Something that has always irked me is that there isn’t a villain, scapegoat, or Steve Bartman to explain the downturn of Gopher football after WWII.

From L to R: AD Marsh Ryman Prexy Moos and Coach Warmath

If you search Minnesota Gophers message boards many informed posters will alert you that Malcolm Moos was the beginning of the end for Gopher football. Malcolm Moos is the first native Minnesotan to become President of the University, and the year he came to office, 1967 coincidently is the last year the football team won the Big Ten. Moos is often cited as the first in a long line of presidents whom hated the football team or athletics. There is even a, likely apocryphal, story about Moos suggesting the U of M should quit football entirely and field a soccer team instead.

Looks like a villian in this pic tho

I can’t find evidence for any of this. From everything that I’ve read on President Moos I can’t tell if he liked or disliked athletics. He did take over the presidency from O. Meredith Wilson a proclaimed “rabid sports fan” (Mpls Tribune November 8, 1960). The only notable thing that happened in athletics during his tenure was the forced removal of both AD Marsh Ryman, and football coach Murray Warmath.

For folks old enough to remember Murray Warmath’s departure, Moos handled that episode relatively poorly. Here is a synopsis from Sports Illustrated in 1972.

A favorite spectator sport this winter in the upper Middle West is watching the University of Minnesota fumble its way toward the selection of a new football coach to replace the departed Murray Warmath. First, Paul Giel, the Minnesota football hero of the 1950s who later pitched for the New York baseball Giants, was appointed athletic director. Then, almost before he was named to the post, Giel withdrew, objecting to University President Malcolm Moos' decision to name a committee to help the athletic director pick the new coach. Dick Siebert, Minnesota's longtime baseball coach, referred to this fiasco as another Bay of Pigs. Giel finally agreed to reconsider when Moos assured him that as athletic director he would have the most say whenever the committee got together and pondered the problem.

There is nothing in this story that suggests malice towards the football program, if anything it foreshadows coaching search committees - which I guess everyone hates, but was ahead of it’s time.

There are other indications that Malcolm wasn’t the main problem. Attendance steadily declined during his presidency, but multiple factors, poor play, and the rise of Bud Grant’s Vikings contribute to that. But the biggest problem and the likely reason that Murray and Marsh were forced out, is that the Athletic Department finances were in shambles.

Bigger financial problems are my best guess to why football struggled so much. And those money troubles started long before Moos ever set foot on campus. The Athletic Department at the U of M routinely ran $100,000 budget deficits in the 1960s. This could be similar to today’s clever accounting to make athletic departments seem less cash rich than they really are that seems unlikely since the U of M has historically always been behind on facilities.

After WWII the U of M’s enrollment doubled in 1 year. From 12,000 students in 1945 to 27,000 in 1946. My working hypothesis is that all of the growing the college did in the post war years neglected athletics. It’s not a fire take like, ‘Malcolm Moos destroyed Gopher Football’ but if that’s what you’re looking for I know of a message board...