Golden Scots: Monmouth had lots of new faces onboard heading into '72 season

By Barry McNamara
For The Register-Mail
For one season, Monmouth alumnus Ken Geiger (in center) left high school coaching and joined the Fighting Scots staff. He’s pictured with Monmouth players he also coached in high school. In front, from left, are Paul Waszak, Mike Castillo, Bill Dusek and George Kokenes. In back, from left, are Dave Brinker, Bob Trombetta, Bill Honeycutt, Tom Kratochvil, Greg Derbak and John Unterfranz.

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 — Drawing talented players from eastern Iowa was nice, but there was an even more fertile recruiting ground in Chicago, and another Monmouth alumnus helped Bill Reichow harvest it.

Ken Geiger played football for the Scots, and his senior season in 1952 saw some rare success for that era, as Monmouth finished 6-2. When Reichow came on board, Geiger was eager to help him get back to that type of record.

“Ken Geiger was extremely instrumental in guiding players our way,” said Reichow. “Success breeds success. That made the whole operation run smoothly – when you’ve got help from the outside from people who are proud of the program you have. That’s the biggest thing in my eyes – the loyalty we had and the guys working as a team.”

A decade following the ’72 season, Geiger entered professional football as a scout for the Chicago Bears and was with them when they won Super Bowl XX. He later worked for the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints. Also a moving force in bringing American football to Europe, Geiger was inducted into the M Club Hall of Fame in 1996.

As the 1972 season started, Geiger took his advocacy for Monmouth football to another level. He took a sabbatical from teaching and coaching at Morton East High School in suburban Cicero and joined the Scots’ coaching staff.

“Ken Geiger worked with the line that year, which was a lot of help,” said Rod Davies.

“Ken Geiger was a tremendous help to our coaching staff,” said Charlie Goehl. “He gave scouting reports like I’d never seen before.”

The ’72 coaching staff actually featured four M Club Hall of Famers. In addition to Reichow and Geiger, assistants included Bobby Woll, for whom the football field is named today, and Terry Glasgow, who was weeks away from the first of his 35 seasons as the Scots’ basketball coach. Also on staff were Fred Knoche, John Raicevich and Jack Steger. Linebacker Bill Breedlove credited Raicevich, in particular, for his work with the Scots’ defense.

Not all of Reichow’s talented recruits came through Geiger in Chicagoland or Doc Blick in Iowa. Some were right in his backyard. Reichow recalled how he learned about a future 6-foot-2, 235-pound all-conference lineman.

“He was just a snotnose kid when I first saw him,” said Reichow of Davies, whose father ran a junkyard in Monmouth on South 11th St. “I was down there for some reason to visit his dad, and here’s this eighth grade kid. He picked up the back of a foreign car – the back end is where the motor is in those cars, so that’s the heavy end. He picked it up, and I made a statement that day, ‘He’s going to play for me.’ That’s the kind of people I wanted.”

People good enough to consider playing football at major universities were also high on Reichow’s list.

“That (1972) season was the first year I went out,” said Mike Castillo, who’d been busy making a name for himself in another sport Reichow coached, wrestling. “That year, I thought I had a shot (to start), OK? But when I walked out on the field, we’d added players like Bill Breedlove, who transferred from Illinois State. Warren Bank, who transferred from Western. There’s Jim Smith, who transferred from Missouri. Tom Kratochvil, who transferred from Iowa State. It was a different looking team than I’d seen before. Coach had recruited them out of high school, and he didn’t lose contact. So when it didn’t work out at those other schools, they came to Monmouth.”

Kratochvil, who also played at Morton College and was on Monmouth’s 1971 team, played for Geiger his senior year of high school. Smith practiced with, but did not compete for, the ’71 team. Breedlove had attended Kewanee High School, where he wrestled for future M Club Hall of Famer Bill Taylor, a “tough guy” who’d competed for Reichow and had the same make-up as his former coach.

“That team had so many good athletes – players who could’ve played at a higher level,” said Breedlove, who spoke from experience. “Charlie Goehl was one. He could’ve played almost any position. He was hard-nosed and football wise. Guys like the Rueckert brothers and Dennis Plummer and Ron Baker could’ve, too.”

The four transfers Castillo mentioned all played high school ball in Illinois, the state from which the vast majority of Monmouth’s players hailed. Iowa was represented by 11 team members, the same number as all other out-of-state players combined. Smith and Kratochvil, an offensive tackle and outstanding heavyweight wrestler, would go on to be all-conference players in 1972, while Breedlove and Smith made the 1973 All-MWC squad.

“Jim Smith was something like 24 years old,” said Honeycutt. “He was a man in a boys’ game.”

“You didn’t want to see Jim Smith line up against you in practice,” said Kratochvil. “This guy was a stud, and he always went 120%. He made us work.”

“There weren’t many gimmes,” said Goehl of the Midwest Conference at the time. “We had a lot of new starters. Some sophomores really stepped up. And Jim Smith made a really big difference.”

In those four transfers alone, the needle moved noticeably on the Scots’ physical capacity, which was already full of players who embraced contact.

“One thing in common Coach looked for, you had to be a hitter,” said Castillo.

“Everybody was going to hit the sled,” said Waszak. “The quarterbacks were in line to hit the sled. There were no prima donnas.”

“A lot was asked of us physically,” said Greg Derbak. “Coach wouldn’t let up on us. That wasn’t how he set it up.”

Mental toughness was part of the proposition, too.

“Tuesdays and Wednesdays were probably the hardest practices,” said Castillo.

“But Sundays were the worst – those film sessions,” laughed Derbak. “The whole team would watch the film together, and those sessions lasted longer than the games. Coach would say, ’Now watch this first step.’ Click. Click. Click. Let’s run that back.”

“After an hour, you’d just be done with the first quarter,” said Castillo.

Even a 63-7 victory drew Reichow’s ire.

“He really let us have it after giving up a cripple – that’s what he called it – in the Grinnell game,” said Davies.