Gus Dorais: Gridiron Innovator, All-American and Hall of Fame Coach
Gus was a freshman at Notre Dame in 1910 and the coach didn't like the way in which the 150-pound kid threw the football. At the time there were acceptable ways to throw a pass including gripping the ball with one hand over an end of the ball and tossing it underhanded so it traveled downfield end over end. Some quarterbacks laid the ball in one hand and again threw it underhanded which resulted in the ball spiraling toward the receiver. Gus told the Notre Dame coach he gripped the football like a baseball and threw it overhanded from behind his ear. The coach ridiculed Gus' style until he threw the football an astonishing distance and into the hands of Knute Rockne. The coach hesitated to throw the freshman with the unorthodox throwing arm into the game but when Gus finally started at quarterback, a few games into the 1910 season, he started every game for the rest of his college career. He lost one game in his freshman year and went undefeated for the rest of his college career.
Dorais believes he was the first quarterback to pass overhanded. His way of passing proved to be such a devastating offensive weapon it became the norm. After college, he played two dozen games of pro ball and went into coaching, first high school and then college. In 1925 he was hired as head football coach and athletic director of the University of Detroit. He spent years 18 years at U of D and turned it into a minor football power with a career record of 153 wins, 70 losses, and a dozen ties. He then coached the Detroit Lions for five unproductive years. It seems even in the 1940s the Lions mauled their coaches instead of other teams.
The book leaves no doubt that Dorais was an innovative coach in designing plays and offensive formations. Dorais himself called his offensive game plans "unorthodox" and said of his offensive system, "It's built on the surprise attack, the method of calling plays the opposition isn't expecting." His offensive sets and plays were widely copied by many high school coaches in Michigan and college coaches all over the country. He was a quiet-spoken coach who made no inspirational speeches. Instead, he believed in teaching the techniques and fundamentals of the game, mentally preparing players for the game, and out thinking the opposition coach.
The authors have done a splendid job of describing an era in football when it was undergoing significant change and following the life of a player and later a coach who was responsible for many of those changes.
Gus Dorais: Gridiron Innovator, All-American and Hall of Fame Coach by Joe Niece with Bob Dorais. McFarland & Company, 2018, $25.
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