Schwartzwalder, Floyd Burdette (“Ben”)

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Schwartzwalder, Floyd Burdette (“Ben”)

(b. 2 June 1909 in Point Pleasant, West Virginia; d. 28 April 1993 in St. Petersburg, Florida), college football coach who revived the Syracuse University program after World War II.

Schwartzwalder was one of three sons of Michael Schwartzwalder, a nurseryman, and Hattie Stewart, a homemaker. During his childhood his brother gave him the nickname Ben. He was an outstanding high school wrestler and football player in Huntington, West Virginia, and he attended the University of West Virginia on a football scholarship. A snub-nosed, firm-jawed, powerfully built young man standing five feet, nine inches tall and weighing 152 pounds, Schwartzwalder competed in football and wrestling at West Virginia and graduated with honors and a B.S. degree in 1933. With the hope of becoming a high school football coach, Schwartzwalder earned

an M.A. degree in physical education from West Virginia in 1935. He married Ruth Simpson, who was known as Reggie, in 1934. They had two daughters.

With aid from Dean Carl Schott, his mentor at the University of West Virginia, Schwartzwalder held a series of coaching positions at high schools in Sisterville, Weston, and Parkerville, West Virginia. From 1941 to 1942 he taught and coached at McKinley High School in Canton, Ohio. After the United States entered World War II, Schwartzwalder joined the U.S. Army and served with the 507th Parachute Infantry of the famed Eighty-second Airborne Division. He became a company commander and earned the rank of major. During the D-Day invasion in 1944, Schwartzwalder parachuted into Normandy and was wounded. After recovering he fought in the Battle of the Bulge and parachuted across the Rhine River. Among other citations, Schwartzwalder was awarded the Bronze Star and the Silver Star.

In 1946 Schwartzwalder began his collegiate coaching career at the tiny Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He posted a record of twenty-five wins and five losses there in three seasons, and his 1946 team defeated Saint Bonaventure in the Tobacco Bowl. Syracuse University, a perennial eastern power that had fallen on hard times in football after World War II, hired Schwartzwalder in 1949. Years later Schwartzwalder remarked: “The alumni wanted a big-name coach. They got a long-name coach.” He struggled through his first season (1949) with a four and five record but managed to convince the Syracuse chancellor William P. Tolley to increase the number of football scholarships from twelve a year to eventually reach twenty-five a year. Beginning with the 1950 season Schwartzwalder led Syracuse to twenty-two consecutive winning seasons, coached in seven bowl games, and had an overall college coaching record of 178–96–3.

Schwartzwalder’s teams were known for their intensive conditioning and toughness as well as for a pounding ground attack run from an unorthodox, unbalanced line. The former Syracuse halfback Jim Brown, one of the finest runners in the history of football, recalled that he found practices with the National Football League Cleveland Browns a welcome relief from Schwartzwalder’s training regimen, which included rope climbing and endless running. Schwartzwalder, who recalled running six miles a day before breakfast as a World War II paratrooper, believed thorough conditioning was a key to success in football. Using a finely tuned running game, he produced some of the most talented and feared offensive backs in college football. Beginning with Brown in the mid-1950s, Syracuse became known for its running backs. After Brown, Schwartzwalder coached the 1961 Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis, Floyd Little, Jim Nance, and Larry Csonka. Brown, Davis, and Little made jersey number forty-four a legend at Syracuse.

During Schwartzwalder’s twenty-five years as coach at Syracuse, his teams were awarded the Lambert Trophy, signifying the best eastern team, in 1952, 1956, 1959, and 1966. The 1959 squad was Schwartzwalder’s finest, posting an eleven and zero record, winning the national championship, and capping off the season with a 23–14 victory over Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Syracuse dominated the opposition as few other teams had, averaging 451.5 total yards and 39 points a game while holding opponents to just 96.2 yards a game and only 19.3 yards rushing. Schwartzwalder was named national collegiate coach of the year.

Schwartzwalder became a legend at Syracuse not only because of his football victories but also for his absent-mindedness. He once attended a morning football practice wearing his blue chambray pajama bottoms, thinking he had changed into slacks. The longtime Syracuse coach Roy Simmons, Sr., recalled that Schwartzwalder could “get lost in a phone booth.” Schwartzwalder’s wife, Reggie, pointed out, however, that Ben’s forgetfulness was a fault he used to his advantage. “He simply refuses to clutter up his mind with anything but football,” she said. Players remembered Schwartzwalder as a hard but fair coach both on and off the field. In 1957, when Syracuse played Texas Christian in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, for example, Schwartzwalder threatened to pull out of the event if the bowl committee followed through with its plan to segregate Syracuse’s black halfback Brown from the team hotel.

Schwartzwalder’s coaching career came to an end at Syracuse in the wake of racial tension and a boycott of spring football practice by black players in 1970. The Syracuse Ail-American Brown charged in a 1970 news conference that black players had been the victims of racial epithets and unequal treatment and that money was given illegally to white players. The boycott ended with Schwartzwalder suspending seven players and one leaving the team. He refused to take them back. In the ensuing controversy surrounding the boycott, Syracuse’s performance on the field suffered. Schwartzwalder’s teams managed only a 18-24-1 record from 1970 to 1973. Schwartzwalder was forced to retire after the 1973 season, but he remained close to the Syracuse football program until he died of a heart attack in St. Petersburg. He is buried at the Onondaga County Veterans Memorial Cemetery in New York.

Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1982, Schwartzwalder was known as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense coach who emphasized rigorous conditioning and toughness. He developed some of the best running backs in college football.

A file on Schwartzwalder is in the Syracuse University Archives. Joseph English and Eleanor English, “Floyd Burdette (Ben) Schwartzwalder,” in Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Football, edited by David L. Porter (1987), is informative. The best summary of his early career is Mai Mallette, “Football’s Absent-Minded Professor,” Saturday Evening Post (29 Oct. 1960). Also see “Coach Ben,” Time (31 Oct. 1960). Obituaries are in the New York Times (29 Apr. 1993) and the Syracuse Record (3 May 1993).

John M. Carroll

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Schwartzwalder, Floyd Burdette (“Ben”)

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