A Coach That Was A Poor Fit And A Sports Editor With Power Of Persuasion
By: Kenny Thompson
During my 35 years with the Journal and Courier, Purdue football and basketball fans were fortunate to have a pair of Hall of Famers in Tom Kubat and Jeff Washburn reporting on the ups and downs of the Boilermakers.
By the time I joined the staff in 1984, Bob Scott’s days as a beat writer were over. But long before he showed me how to design a sports section and helped me improve my copy editing skills, he was the Purdue basketball beat writer during the Lee Rose era.
Not until Rose left for South Florida shortly after leading the Boilermakers to their most recent Final Four in 1980 did anyone realize what was going on behind the scenes.
A memorable column Scott wrote on April 4, 1981, laid out the reasons why Rose wasn’t a fit at Purdue despite his 50-18 record and a share of the 1979 Big Ten Conference championship.
“Putting it plainly, Rose couldn’t nail down top players in the state,” Scott wrote before revealing a big reason why that was the case, taking away the obvious presence of Indiana coach Bob Knight at the peak of his dominance.
Rose didn’t make many friends among the Indiana high school coaching fraternity during a speech on April 21, 1979.
“I don’t know why the high school coaches are so negative toward Purdue,” Rose complained during his talk. “It has really been a learning experience.”
He told the coaches that he came to that conclusion after being unable to convince top players like Indiana Mr. Basketball Steve Bouchie, Chuck Franz, Frank Smith and Leroy Sutton to make an official visit to Purdue.
“Rose sounded angry and almost evangelical as he addressed the coaches,” Scott wrote. “He insisted that the state coaches had a duty to send kids to the state universities.”
No one needs three guesses to surmise how that speech went over with the high school coaches. In his two seasons at Purdue, Rose successfully recruited ONE Indiana high school player: Jon Kitchel from Lewis Cass.
In another column on May 10, 1981, Scott asked athletic director George King about his relationship with Rose. I’m not sure the term “high maintenance” was commonplace then but this paragraph fits the description.
“Lee was upset at one point because we didn’t send the cheerleaders or team band to the Kentucky Invitational Tournament,” King said. “We were in the thick of a trip to the Bluebonnet Bowl. But if Lee had come to us, we would have worked something out. After that, Lee had the misguided opinion that basketball played second fiddle at Purdue.”
Rose would later reinforce that opinion in his autobiography but also shared that his relationship with King was poor from the moment Rose claims the athletic director declared that no coach would ever make more money than him.
During the interim period between Gordon Graham and the Kubat/Washburn era, sports editors George Bolinger and Bruce Ramey covered Purdue football and basketball. Bolinger’s era included the rise of Leroy Keyes and Rick Mount, two all-time greats on the West Lafayette campus at the same time. Bolinger also led the coverage of Purdue’s first Rose Bowl appearance.
Ramey was closer in spirit to Graham’s pro-Boilermaker style, leading the charge to honor his friend Guy “Red” Mackey in the months before the athletic director’s death on Feb. 22, 1971.
In a Jan. 23, 1970, column titled “Let’s call it Mackey Arena,” Ramey pressed the Purdue administration to rename Purdue Arena while Mackey was alive to enjoy the tribute.
“No man in the 100 years of the school’s history has done more for Purdue athletics than Guy J. (Red) Mackey, and no man is more deserving of such an honor,” Ramey wrote.
It would be more than a year before Ramey got his way, but not without using his bully pulpit to institute a policy change at the Journal and Courier.
On Dec. 3, 1970, Ramey decreed that henceforth in his stories the arena would be referred to as Mackey Arena.
“Presumptuous? I don’t think so. Everything that has a name was given it by someone, sometime,” Ramey wrote. “Who named Buck Creek? Or Steam Corners? Or Gnaw Bone? Or Manhattan Island? Or Purdue?”
A decade before Red Mackey donned a Purdue football jersey for the first time in 1925, a 14-year-old Lafayette Jeff student persuaded the owner of the Lafayette Morning Journal to give him a job covering high school sports.
That power of persuasion would serve Steve Hannagan well in his brief lifetime.
Hannagan became the Morning Journal’s sports editor while a freshman at Purdue. For the next two years he covered Boilermaker football and basketball. Hannagan left the Morning Journal and Purdue in 1919 when he was offered a sportswriting job at the Indianapolis Star.
By age 25, Hannagan had opened his own publicity office. One of his first clients was Miami Beach. Hannagan’s idea of promoting Miami Beach was to send beach bathing beauties photos to newspapers during the winter months. The strategy was so successful, Miami Beach paid Hannagan $25,000 a year for his services. To put that in perspective, $25,000 in 1927 dollars is nearly $400,000 in today’s money.
In the first sentence of his Journal and Courier front page obituary on Feb. 5, 1953, Hannagan was called “the man who put the bathing beauty on front pages.” That same obituary earned a 60-point “coast to coast” headline usually reserved for events like the end of World War II.
Hannagan also gave Sun Valley its name to promote tourism and skiing. So successful was Hannagan’s campaign that the Idaho venue soon drew a who’s who of celebrities from Ernest Hemingway to Gary Cooper.
Hannagan also had a long-term publicity relationship with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and was in Kenya representing Coca-Cola when he suffered a fatal heart attack.
Hannagan was buried not far from his roots on Wabash Avenue in Lafayette, at St. Mary’s Cemetery. Among the mourners was his longtime companion, actress Ann Sheridan.
When he died on April 4, 1964, Robert C. Woodworth was remembered as the “Voice” of Purdue athletics by his former employer, the Journal and Courier.
Before Woodworth became Purdue’s sports information director from 1928 to his death at age 61 from cancer, he served two years as sports editor upon his graduation from Purdue with a degree in mechanical engineering. His first “On The Level” column on March 23, 1926, expressed concern that Piggy Lambert only had 13 candidates for the Purdue baseball team. (As it turns out, the Boilermakers ended up with 23 players and went 11-4-2 that season.)
During his Purdue career, Woodworth was called upon to serve as acting athletic director in 1937 when Noble Kizer was gravely ill.
Woodworth was known for his sense of humor, especially directed at Indiana University. Responding to a jab about Purdue being a cow college, Woodworth reportedly replied that “at Purdue we milk cows. At Indiana they date them.”
Like his friend and successor as sports editor, Gordon Graham, Woodworth also owned a long streak of consecutive Purdue football games attended. His 37-year run was snapped in the fall of 1963 due to illness.
Fittingly, the old press box at Ross-Ade Stadium was renamed in his honor. Woodworth was elected to the Purdue Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame in 2015.
– Kenny Thompson is the former sports editor for the Lafayette Journal & Courier and an award-winning journalist. He has covered Purdue athletics for many years.