The double life of football's fiercest coach
When JIM TRIMBLE Isn’t bossing his Grey Cup champions by brute force, his best fans wouldn’t know him. Singing tenor in a church choir is only one of the sinister pastimes of the man who calls himself the best coach in football
The toughest team in Canadian football, the mauling steel-tempered Hamilton Tiger-Cats, will endeavor to turn fancy this fall. Their coach, a bear of a man named Jim Trimble who stands six feet two, weighs two hundred and fifty pounds and owns a scarlet vocabulary, feels it isn't necessary for them to resemble power mowers to repeat their Grey Cup victory of 1957.
Ostensibly talking about his tigers, Trimble is opening a window on himself. He’s so tough that, at forty, he still doesn’t tell a football player half his age to do anything he won’t try himself. When one of them challenges his authority, as one did last season, he invites him to settle it with fists. As with his football team, might is right.
There's another side to Trimble, however, that possibly explains why he thinks he can fit his assassins with dress suits. When he’s not popping off or popping people, he sings in his church choir (he's a tenor, at that), promotes community strawberry festivals, or gets up at five-thirty in the
of football’s fiercest coach
morning to romp with one or more ot his six children.
Unlike most strong men. Trimble is far from taciturn. He talks with an earnestness and flavor and constancy that keeps an audience attentive, it not downright hypnotized. He will go anywhere to talk football, spicing his speech with stag-party similes. In January and February of this year he made fifty-two after-dinner speeches, traveling widely in Ontario at his own expense to spread the word on the Tiger-Cats. During the football season he appears weekly with Hamilton sports announcer Norm Marshall on a local halt-hour television show called This Week in Football, and does a weekly radio program with Marshall called Jim Trimble Reports. He also appears at the weekly Quarterback Club luncheon in Hamilton at which he delivers what he calls "my state-ofthe-union address.” He gets paid for his radio and TV appearances but has told announcer Marshall: “Apart from retaining my dignity as a businessman. I’d do it for nothing." He won't say how much he earns from coaching and these sidelines, but he chuckles at the suggestion that it's as low as seventeen thousand dollars a year.
But Trimble is not just an itinerant football coach. He bought a five-bedroom home on property that has a winding stream and numerous fruit trees in the suburb of Aldershot, and he takes his tenor voice to the Holy Rosary choir every Sunday. He's interested in Aldershot's activities, too. Recently, when Hamilton quarterback Bernie Faloney visited the city in the off-season. Norm Marshall wanted to interview him on the air, so he contacted Trimble to line up the player. Later, Trimble called Marshall back.
"You want to talk to Faloney, right?”
“That's right, Jim.”
"Well, now, I know where he is, but first I've got an item for you. There's a Strawberry Festival here in Aldershot tomorrow night. There'll be prizes for the largest strawberries and for the best strawberry pies and strawberry jams and that sort of thing. We want a lot of people out here in Aldershot, Norm, and 1 know where Faloney is. Do you follow me?”
The suburb got its plug and Marshall got his interview.
"I think he's part journalist,” says Marshall. "You ask him anything and he starts telling you how you can use it.”
Trimble is an arresting figure—-on camera, at the banquet table, and in his football dressing room. His weight is well distributed on his bigboned frame, his stomach reasonably flat and his back erect. He has rugged good looks, with black curly hair that is beginning to be flecked with grey. His eyes are hazel and look blue against his swarthy features and heavy dark brows. He dresses in conservative fashion. When he puts his players through calisthenics he does the strenuous exercises himself, and he continued on page 29
The double life of football’s fiercest coach continued from page 21
“i don’t know if I’m the highest-paid coach in the country,” Trimble says, “but I should be”
sometimes leaps into the scrimmage line to show a player what he means. Once, when he was coaching the Philadelphia Eagles four years ago, a two-hundredand-sixty-five-pound rookie tackle named Walt Stickle jumped on his back.
"I hear you used to be a wrestler, coach." the hulk said ominously.
Trimble recalls that this was a ticklish moment. The rest of the squad stopped what they were doing and turned to watch.
'1 applied a top body scissors and stuck a half nelson in for good measure,” Trimble says. '*1 pinned him.”
Trimble was fired by the Eagles after the 1955 season. He’d been the head coach for four years. "The management announced that 1 was too tough on the players,” he says. “That’s eyewash. The guy before me was fired for not being tough enough. No, they got rid of me because we won only four games that season. Somebody has to take the rap and it’s usually the coach.”
Similarly, Trimble is content to accept the credit. Ordinarily, he is a tough conservative man who lets the results speak for themselves. Ordinarily, too, the team he coaches plays a tough conservative kind of game, one that tends to make the customers drowsy with boredom and the opposition fatigued with lumps.
But every once in a while it apparently occurs to both Trimble and his TigerCats that they aren’t being accorded the acclaim they deserve, and they take a llamboyant leap out of character. Like last fall, for example. Trimble, the soul of caution all season, predicted that his notoriously low-geared offense would rattle off at least thirty points in a Grey Cup game the football writers were predicting would be the lowest-scoring final in a decade. The laborious Tiger-Cats took the cue and ripped the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, thirty-two to seven. A week later, coaching the eastern all-star team in the annual Shrine game against the west’s best, Trimble grew ruffled at what he calls “the belly-aching of the western writers,” and proclaimed that his team would win by three touchdowns. The eastern team, which had been humiliated thirty-five to nothing in the 1956 allstar game in Vancouver, won this one by the margin of precisely three unconverted touchdowns, twenty points to two, in the icy mud and mist of Montreal’s Molson Stadium.
Sometimes, though, even a fearless forecast isn't enough for Jim, and he sees the need to underline his position.
"I don’t know if I'm the highest-paid coach in the country,” he noted recently, “hut I ought to be—I’m the best coach in the country.” He stared at this observation as it hung, quivering, in mid-air, and then he amended it. "Hell,” he said, matter-of-factly, “I’m the best coach in North America.”
Certainly no one is in a position to argue that Trimble wasn’t the best coach in this country last year. He ended the three-year eastern reign of the Montreal Alouettes in the Big Lour when his TigerCats defeated the defending champions thirty-nine to one in the east's final playoff game. Then in the Grey Cup game a week later he shattered the growing notion of western football superiority, based on three straight Grey Cup triumphs by the Edmonton Eskimos, when the TCs hammered Edmonton’s western
conqueror, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He did these things with sound football methods that clearly illustrated how quickly he had adapted his thinking to Canadian rules and possibilities.
“When I first came to Canada 1 took
one look at that huge field (it's ten yards longer and fifteen yards wider than the American gridiron) and decided we could pass all over it." Trimble says of his introductory year, 1956. "Midway through the Grey Cup game that year.
though, when Edmonton was demoralizing Montreal and burying them fifty to twenty-seven, I knew I’d been wrong. We'd had a pretty good pass attack and had almost clipped the Alouettes in the eastern final. But the Eskimos, with their
bang-bang-bang style on the ground, convinced me that passing wasn't the answer in Canadian ball.
“For one thing, there are really only two downs in this game, not three, because if you're short of a first down in two plays, which you often are, you’ve got to kick. Now think about this: suppose you pass for seven yards on first down. Now it’s second and three, right? You've got to take the sure road, the ground, on the next down to maintain possession because if you pass the chances are less than fifty percent that you’ll complete it. If you miss, you've got to kick. See, two downs. That's when I realized you needed a more basic kind of football up here, one that concentrated on a running attack, with just enough passing to keep the defense honest, and strong defensive play."
So Trimble put in Edmonton’s grinding split-T offense and “added a few wrinkles. ’’ These included numerous formations designed to confuse the opposition. “It wasn't nifty.” he says, “but it was varied. They never knew how we were going to line up next.”
Then he devoted close to half of each night's practice time to defense, although coaches normally spend seventy-five percent of the time on offense, a combination of individual skills and split-second timing that requires constant drill. The result was a team that gave up only 189 points in fourteen league games, and scored only 250 — both lowest in the country. Even their own fans wefeTnclin-* ed to grow restive in the long periods between touchdowns while the athletes were cultivating contusions.
“We’ll stay hungry”
Trimble is the first man to admit that his Tiger-Cats were less eye-filling than a line of chorines last season, but he insists the somewhat soporific style was a matter of expediency. Winning was the thing last year but, now that he’s the defending champion, he wants all that beef dressed. Success last season brought no peace to Jim’s restless gums.
“In pro ball.” he says, “you've got to win amt you’ve got to please the people, and the two don’t always go together.
I was stung by the barbs tossed at our offense last season — stung. This year we'll open up. but we'll stay hungry. Now think about this: the worst thing that can happen to you in football is overconfidence. You play the Little Sisters of the Poor and go into the game figuring you’ll kill them, and the Little Sisters of the Poor’ll beat your butt off. Football is like war — pound, pound, pound. The toll of attrition, that’s us. Only this year we’ll throw the ball. too. We’ll open up. But defensively? We ll be iron, pure iron.”
In emphasizing defensive play Trimble realizes he’s putting a premium on drudgery. but he notes that football is a violent game and hard work is a vital part of it.
"What the hell,” he says of his players, “they're not out there to play squat tag and drink mint juleps. Sure it's tough, but we play it clean.” He pauses for a moment, reflectively.
"Aw, what the hell am I saying?" he amends. “In the case of a great player like that Patterson (Hal Patterson of Montreal) we'll do anything—anything— to stop that son-of-a-buck.”
He strives to make defensive play interesting for his players. "We give names to all of our defenders,” he explains. "With identity you assume stature: you're not just a number on a sweater.”
Accordingly, in the defensive backfield, the man guarding the upper right
section of the field is called Russ, the first two letters identifying the "right” and “upper” areas. The deep defender on the right side, the safety man, has a much easier job so he's given the effeminate identity. Rose, meaning right side and comparatively easy. On the left side the up back is called Lou. and his effeminate sidekick in the deep spot is Liz. The fifth backfielder who can either play deep to defend against long passes or up close as a middle linebacker, is called Boss because, Trimble says, “he goes for the ball, helping out any one of the other four.” If the Tiger-Cats happen to be using four linebackers in their defensive formation, the two outside men are Russ and Lou, and the two middle linebackers are identified as Gee and Haw. The man in the centre of the line, called the middle guard, is identified ;ts Mike. "It's a helluva tough job.” explains Trimble, “and Mike’s a tough name."
Thus, the coach says, the players take pride in the positions they can fill. “You’ll hear a guy in the shower say, ‘I can play Russ and Rose.’ Or the players can cat out a boy who’s falling down on the job without actually naming him. The boys on the bench can say, ‘Russ isn’t doing a job,’ or, They’re killing us over Lou,’ The player in question will know who they're talking about and he’ll know he has to get off his can.”
This sort of thing biulds spirit and pride in a team, Trimble has found, and these are ingredients that a team must have to win. He’ll sometimes keep a player on his squad who has great desire ahead of a player who has more talent but less desire. Once, with Philadelphia, he had-decided to cut a boy named Jim Parmer but then decided to keep him when he saw him playing ping-pong against a superior player. "His eyes were bugging with determination,” Trimble recalls. "You could have knocked them off with a stick. I figured a guy with that much desire had to stick. And he de-
veloped into a real good ball player.”
He has the same feeling for several players on the Tiger-Cats. One of them, Billy Graham, finished off the play that clinched first place for the team last year, taking a pass off a fake kick by punter Cam Fraser to set up the touchdown that beat Ottawa fourteen to thirteen on the last play of the game.
"That little Billy, he’d have to stand on two bricks to kick a duck in the
tail.” glows Trimble in recollection. “He's no bigger than a bar of soap but he caught that ball like he was picking
The idea of defeat is anathema to
Trimble — at anything. The Hamilton sports announcer, Norm Marshall, relates that if you happen to beat Trimble in a round of golf, he’ll casually phone you every three or four days and suggest a round of golf until he finally beats you. When he was a kid in school he was third in his class through most of his grade-school years and it's typical of him that he should remember the names of the students who stood higher, although he hasn't seen either of them for roughly thirty years. “They were Genevieve Michalski and Rose Hickey," he says without a moment's cogitation.
He had a roughcast upbringing in the pipe-making milltown of McKeesport on the outer fringes of Pittsburgh where he was born May 29. 1918. His Irish grandfather, who'd been a fisherman in Galway Bay, became a teamster in Pittsburgh when he discovered that the streets in America weren’t paved with gold. Jim’s father, a stern non-smoking nondrinking father of eight children, was a blacksmith in McKeesport.
“I never saw a stronger man,” says Trimble. "I can still picture him, stripped to the waist, standing over a forge, with a chest and neck like a keg and eighteen-inch biceps. He never had to hit any of the kids; his word was law. Besides, my mother had the best right hand in town.”
Jim worked in the coal fields during summer holiday when he was twelve, slope-mining into the side of a hill three hundred to four hundred yards. He already had been smoking for four years and recalls that he was "very proficient" at cards. "The kids used to play pinochle and rummy under the street lamps for pennies, although I don't know where I got the pennies; the mine operator gave the dough I made to my dad.”
Like every kid in town, Trimble played football. When he was fifteen he weighed two hundred and ten and made first-string tackle on the McKeesport high-school team. "The town wasn’t unlike Hamilton." he reflects. "A meltingpot atmosphere, with tough, hard-working, straightforward people."
Kick them all
His brothers were as big and strong as he. Vince Trimble fought Pittsburgh's renowned Billy Conn as an amateur, and might have been a great athlete. But, at sixteen. Vince was hit by a car and died six days later. The family had no insurance; hospital, doctor and funeral bills were such a drain that Jim left school to work full time in a steel mill, swinging an eighteen-pound sledge from eleven at night until seven in the morning.
On impulse, a nineteen-year-old giant of two hundred and forty-five pounds, he went to the football camp of the Pittsburgh Steelers and asked for a tryout. The line coach. Walt Kiesling, told him to go in at left tackle during a scrimmage.
"Have you got a book of plays?” Trimble asked.
“Nope." said Kiesling.
"Well, what'll I do?” Trimble asked him.
“Just kick hell out of ’em.”
"All of 'em.”
He recalls that the first play of the scrimmage was a trap on him. But he reacted quickly enough to beat the guard who was supposed to trap him, and he got a clear shot at the ball-carrier, Bull Kareis, a hydrant-shaped fullback of five-foot-eight who weighed two hundred and forty pounds. In the split second while Jim was deciding whether to tackle him high or low. Kareis rode into him. breaking his nose with a piston-like knee. Trimble kept playing through two hours of scrimmage, and was offered a hundred and twenty-five dollars a game to sign with the Steelers.
But before he signed he was contacted by Bo McMillin, head coach at the University of Indiana, who said the institution would send him to prep school to bring up his entrance grades if he'd like to go to college.
Jim decided he wanted the schooling.
“When my brother Vince was lying unconscious in hospital after he’d been hit by the car,” he explains, "I acquired a burning desire to be a brain surgeon. I wouldn’t have let him die: I’d have done .something. They didn't do anything; they just let him die."
So Jim went to Elgin Academy, a prep school outside Chicago. “My French teacher, Mr. Finch, taught me how to use silverware and how to break bread," he relates. "My history teacher, Mr. Milstead, taught me to dress.” He got a job stoking the school’s furnaces to earn spending money.
When he’d qualified for Indiana he enrolled as a pre-med student and went out for football. Then he began to like football so much that he forgot about becoming a doctor and switched to the education course, majoring in English literature. Under coach Bo McMillin he
was “a good efficient tackle.” In 1942 he graduated, enlisted in the U. S. Navy and married Pat Olmstead, the sister of his freshman football coach. He was in the navy just under four years, became the commanding officer of an LST in the South Pacific, and took part in seven invasions, including Okinawa and Saipan.
After the war Trimble went back to Indiana to work on his master’s degree, and he and Pat lived in a trailer camp established as veterans’ housing. There were four hundred trailers and every twenty trailers elected a councilman to administer the camp’s affairs. The counci Imen elected a mayor—Trimble.
He didn’t work out his master’s degree. The line coach at Indiana during his undergraduate years, Ralph Graham, had become coach at Wichita University, and he hired Trimble as his assistant. Trimble became head coach when Graham moved up to the Kansas State University and he stayed three years as coach and athletic director. He got his team into post-season bowl games for small colleges for the first two years—the Raisin Bowl at Fresno, Calif., in 1948; the Camillia Bowl at la Fayette, La., in 1949—and was a contender for the Sun Bowl at Tucson, Ariz., in 1950.
After the 1950 season he and the university president agreed that the school's basketball coach should be rehired. As athletic director Trimble signed the basketball coach to a new contract. A few hours later the president came to Trimble’s office. “Politics had crept in,” he says now. “I was ordered to fire the coach.” He recalls a reluctance to follow the order. “I have to fire him?” Trimble asked the president. “Your hands are tied?” “That’s right, Jim,” the president said. “Okay, I’ll fire him. But, in the meantime, you get a new man for this job because I’ve just resigned.” This was the biggest decision of Trimble’s life, he feels. He and Pat had bought a home in Wichita and had had two of their six children. He had no job prospect. “But I won’t sit still for politics,” Trimble says in describing the episode. “I never have and I never will.” Soon afterward his old coach at Indiana, Bo McMillin, called him from Philadelphia where McMillin was now coach of the professional Eagles. He hired Jim as line coach. Less than a year later McMillin, who is now dead, developed cancer. Trimble and the back-
field coach, Wayne Milner, were appointed temporary co-coaches when McMillin first became ill. Then Milner was signed as head coach for the 1952 season, with Trimble as his top assistant. But four days before the team’s final exhibition game against the Los Angeles Rams Milner resigned. “There was too much pressure,” Trimble says. “He couldn’t handle it. The Eagles signed me because, at that late date, there was no one else.” Just turned thirty-four, Trimble was the youngest coach in NFL history. After his first season he was named coach-ofthe-year by the Washington Touchdown Club, but three years later, with the team skidding, he was out. Jacob Gill (Jake) Gaudaur, Hamilton’s president, went to see him immediately. “I’d watched the Eagles on television." Gaudaur explains. "They were rough and tough, the kind of team I felt we wanted. I liked Jim on sight. After fifteen minutes I liked his straightforward answers and his obvious love of the game. Since then, he’s given us football that Hamilton fans go for—hard and rugged, like the town itself."
And not unlike Trimble, without his style. Now he wants to add that, too. ★