Sports Columns

August 31, 2012

Loran Smith: Former University of Buffalo coach has had interesting football life

You can find Bill Dando, the most successful football coach in the University of Buffalo's history, hanging out at the Georgia Club, 15 miles west of Athens, where he is spending his retirement years.

Dando coached the Bulls, who were originally known as the Bisons, from 1977 to 1989, winning 59 games.

Buffalo had given up football following the 1970 season, when the student body voted not to support the football program financially. It was Dando, a Bulls assistant coach, who restored football in 1977, and the highlight years came in 1983 and 1986 with teams that won eight and nine games, respectively; there were no bowl invitations, however — a big disappointment.

Georgia and Buffalo will be linked Saturday as they play each other to open the season at Sanford Stadium.

Dando enjoyed a versatile and interesting life as a player and coach. He was a running back whose impressive credentials in his hometown of Gordon, Pa., made him a prospect with multiple college recruiters in 1951. There was an offer from Gen. Robert Neyland at Tennessee, but a friend with roots in the community, Joe Mocha, was coaching at the University of San Francisco and talked Dando into heading west for his college career.

That decision brought about an interesting experience and landed him in the middle of one of football’s most memorable and historical controversies.

Dando was a backup halfback on the 1951 San Francisco Dons team, which featured such names as Ollie Matson, Gino Marchetti, Bob St. Clair, Ed Brown, and Burl Toler on the roster. Ten members of the team went on to play in the NFL, and three — Marchetti, Matson and St. Clair — would be selected for the NFL Hall of Fame. Marchetti gained universal recognition as one of the strongest, toughest, and most unyielding defensive ends in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts, who dominated the NFL in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.

St. Clair stayed home to play for the 49ers and became one of the best offensive tackles in NFL history. Matson played with the old Chicago Cardinals and once made sensational headlines when he was traded from the Cardinals to the Rams for nine players.

The Dons were so good they had trouble making up a schedule. An independent school isolated in a big city on the West Coast, they played only nine games and scheduled San Jose State twice. (Even with future NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle as publicity director, the Dons had trouble finding opponents.)

There was the greatest of anticipation, which brought about a euphoric atmosphere, when the team was invited to play Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day in 1952.

There was, however, a catch.

The Dons would have to leave their two black players, Matson and Toler, home. The players, including Bill Dando, took offense with the Orange Bowl’s insult and voted unanimously to turn down the invitation. The Orange Bowl invited Baylor, which lost 17-14 to Tech on a Pepper Rodgers field goal.

“When we learned they did not want Matson and Toler to make the trip to Miami, we said, ‘Hell no, we won’t play without them.’ We were disappointed but we stuck together, “ Dando said.

Dando had to scrimmage against Matson in practice and considers him one of the best backs he ever saw.

“His speed was so deceptive,” Dando said, “and he had great power.”

A year later, San Francisco dropped football. Dando then spent two years in the Marines, playing service ball with Georgia’s Vince Dooley at Quantico.

With three years’ eligibility remaining, he played at Detroit and then began a coaching career of 31 years. At Buffalo, he hired Jim Haslett, later to become head coach of the Saints. He was at SMU with Hayden Fry the year before the Mustangs played Georgia in the Cotton Bowl in 1966. When Dando went to Buffalo as an assistant, he replaced Buddy Ryan.

When his son, Bill Jr., became the head pro at the Georgia Club, the allure of spending time with grandchildren was too great. He and his wife, Willie, moved to Athens.

“This is a nice place,” he said. “We love it here, and I no longer have to worry about anybody missing a block or blowing an assignment.”

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.

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