Golden Scots: Reichow brought 'military influence' to Monmouth

By Barry McNamara
For The Register-Mail
When Bill Reichow joined Monmouth College in 1965, he actually wasn’t the head football coach. That came a year later in 1966. The head coach in Reichow’s first gridiron season was the late Norm Ellenberger, who later was an NCAA Division I basketball head coach and coached in the NBA and WNBA.

In the past 100 years, only one full season of Monmouth College football has ended without a single blemish. The Fighting Scots were a perfect 9-0 in 1972, winning four blowouts before a series of five straight contested victories, capped by a triumph over arch-rival St. Olaf. That victory over the Oles gave Monmouth its first-ever outright Midwest Conference football championship. There would not be another one for 33 years. By then, undefeated regular seasons were rewarded with a trip to the NCAA playoffs, so that 2005 campaign – and three others since – ended with postseason defeats. That makes 1972 the last undefeated season for Fighting Scots football.

In this series, players from that historic team, now in their early 70s, look back on that memorable fall, and so does their head coach, the legendary Bill Reichow.

MONMOUTH — Tracing the roots of the success of the 1972 team actually goes back much further than simply looking at the 1971 squad.

A good place to start is the development of legendary head coach Bill “Moose” Reichow. He came to Monmouth in 1965 after several formative experiences, including: playing quarterback and tackle at Iowa for coach Forrest Evashevski; serving as an Army paratrooper for three years during the Korean War; and coaching for eight years in Albia, Iowa.

“His Monmouth teams were tough, like him,” reads a St. Olaf account of the Scots-Oles rivalry.

“People said Coach had a military influence,” said Paul Waszak, a tight end on the 1972 team, who comes down from the Chicago area to visit Reichow regularly, along with ’72 teammates Mike Castillo and Greg Derbak. “He liked short hair and well-groomed athletes. Coach would sometimes bust the chops of the guys who let their hair go to the extreme. I happened to be one of those guys. I remember he came up to me on campus at an inopportune moment during the offseason when I was in the company of a young lady, and I told him I’d have it under control by the time we came back. He said, ‘I want that in writing,’ and he had me sign a contract. Months went by, and I showed up in the fall. I said, ‘Coach, I’m ready.’ He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the contract. I already had a crew cut, but at the team meeting that night, he shaved my head over a trash can in front of the whole team.”

Reichow liked to start the season with a movie featuring the late Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, who, like Reichow, inherited a losing team and quickly turned it around, winning five NFL championships during the 1960s.

Another real-life hero who Reichow brought to mind was Gen. George S. Patton, who’d been depicted in the epic 1970 film starring George C. Scott. Reichow certainly looked the part of the hard-driving general as he came charging out from the “henhouse” – the former chicken hatchery up the hill from the field that served as the Scots’ locker room. He wore a stars and stripes helmet he’d been presented by Mike Pospischil after the 1971 season.

“We were all out on the field, and Coach comes out in that red, white and blue helmet and his dark sunglasses,” said Derbak.

“And junk boots and a swagger stick,” said Castillo.

“He was fired up, and that fired us up,” said Derbak.

So there was a grand arrival to start the 1972 season, but that showy display had been preceded by due diligence on Reichow’s part as he worked to turn around a moribund program.

“You have to have the horses to run the race,” said Reichow. “We were fortunate in that respect. You’ve got to get the talent and they’ve got to work at it. Talent is part of the formula. I had a lot of help in the high schools in two states to pinpoint material and guide it in our direction.”

The help in Iowa came from future M Club Hall of Famer Fred “Doc” Blick. The three-sport Monmouth standout and 1921 graduate served as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force. As a civilian, he was a Presbyterian minister, and one of his posts was Washington, Iowa.

“He was a total champion for Monmouth College,” said Reichow. “He guided a lot of players to us.”

Among the gridiron standouts in the generations of students that Blick encouraged to attend Monmouth were Hall of Famers Charlie Corle, Bruce Stotlar, Ron Baker and Dennis Plummer.

“He showed up on a cold call to my high school one day,” said Plummer. “They called me out of class, and we talked for a while. After that, he kept calling. He was pretty persistent.”

That persistence ultimately led to a campus visit, which confirmed for Plummer that Monmouth provided enough of a competitive environment that he wouldn’t miss trying to play at a big school.

“I was a pretty good high school player,” he said. “Iowa and Iowa State were interested, but they wouldn’t give me a scholarship. They told me one was possible after I got there. I think they told that to a lot of guys. I’d known guys that went to one of those schools, and maybe they played a little bit on kickoffs or on the punt return teams, but they were second- and third-stringers. I figured I’d be one of those guys if I went that route.”

“Monmouth College had been a doormat for a decade,” said Rod Davies, an all-conference lineman for the Scots who grew up in Monmouth while the Scots were winning just 17 times in a 12-year span. “Coach had to change that culture, and he sure got it changed. You started to see that station wagon down at the fieldhouse day and night. You knew he was working at it. Monmouth was starting to improve, and we benefitted from those teams that came before us.”

Indeed, a different type of football recruit started showing up on campus.

“There was Tom Sassatelli,” said Davies, referring to the 1966 recruit who was a two-way all-conference player. “And George Lirakis, the ‘Crazy Greek,’ who they said was voted the dirtiest player in the Midwest Conference. And things were building through the Fighting Scots booster club, which was getting huge support.”

“The Italian Village helped with the community support, too,” said Reichow’s wife, Marcia.

One of the faces of the local pizza restaurant, Hank Stern – the right-hand man to owner Lou Pavlic – handled sports information duties for the college, and his game accounts appeared in the Review Atlas. Stern had plenty of good news to spread about Reichow’s teams.

“Well, you see the results,” said Castillo. “He coached football, wrestling and golf, and just look at the success those teams had.”

Reichow led the golf team to four Midwest Conference titles in a span of five years. His wrestling teams finished in the conference’s top three in six of his first eight seasons, including the 1972-73 team, which finished second. In all, his teams went 87-53-4 in dual meets, and he coached 10 national qualifiers.

And, in a seven-year span from 1968 through 1974, Reichow’s football teams lost just eight times, an .852 winning percentage.