SAN DIEGO — The home coach got to speak first at the California Bowl banquet in 1982, which didn't seem very neighborly of the people in Fresno.
Jim Sweeney, Fresno State coach, used the opportunity to present what seemed like a filibuster. Finally, the microphone was turned over to Denny Stolz, then Bowling Green's coach.
"Jim," Stolz said to Sweeney, "you talked so long that I think my shoes have gone out of style."
Stolz's one-liner affirmed two things folks from Bowling Green have been saying about the new San Diego State football coach. They say that Stolz has (a) a dry sense of humor, and (b) a habit of being brutally honest.
Bowling Green players and coaches talk about Stolz as if he is the next best thing to George Washington. They view him as a man who will never lie about what he's thinking, even if it means putting somebody in his place.
Two assistant coaches were hard-pressed to recall anything Stolz had not been straightforward in discussing. Finally, defensive coordinator Tim McConnell had a response.
"He's not honest when it comes to his handicap in golf," McConnell said. "He'll tell you he's a 21 when he's a 15."
Several minutes later, Stolz was asked his golf handicap.
"High," he answered.
When pressed on the subject, Stolz said his handicap is "about 18."
"See," McConnell said. "I told you about that."
What do Bowling Green affiliates mean when they talk about Stolz's straightforwardness?
Take linebacker Troy Dawson. When Stolz recruited Dawson, he was told he was not among Bowling Green's first choices and would get a scholarship only if any were left. As it turned out, Dawson did get a scholarship. He was named to the All-Mid-American Conference second-team this season.
"You can go in at any point with Denny Stolz and ask whether you will play," Dawson said. "If he thinks you won't play, he'll tell you. He tells you the truth. You always know where you stand with Denny Stolz."
Before the 1985 season, Bowling Green knew where it stood in the Mid-American. The Falcons were picked to win the conference, and they did.
According to team personnel, Stolz never attempted to talk down his team's ability.
"In team meetings, he doesn't try to snowball the squad," McConnell said. "He calls a spade a spade. If we're an underdog and we're going to play in lousy weather, he tells us that. If we're a unanimous favorite to win the Mid-American Conference championship like we were this year, he doesn't try to hide the fact from people that we're good. He told us flat out that we should win the league. He's very up front and honest."
When Stolz became Bowling Green's coach in 1977, he gave an honest appraisal of the team's weight room. It was lousy, and he said so.
In the ensuing years, Bowling Green went to work on a new weight room. It now has one that the locals consider of Division 1-A caliber.
"Denny is probably the most direct and honest coach I have ever seen," said Jim Lessig, Mid-American Conference commissioner and former Bowling Green athletic director. "He tells it to you straight. It might not be what want to hear, but he'll tell it to you."
On the field, Stolz is known for being candid with officials.
Said Bowling Green defensive back Raymond Redd: "Some of those things he says to referees, I didn't know you could say those things to them."
However intense Stolz might be in his relationship with officials, Dawson said people tease him about "country club practices."
But, Stolz is a different man on game days. His game face appears early Saturday morning and does not disappear until well after the game.
"He wants a family-type of relaxed atmosphere during the week," quarterback Brian McClure said. "He doesn't want it to seem too much like a job except on Saturday. The only time he'll joke around on Saturday is if you're 30 points ahead with three seconds left."
Said cornerback Melvin Marshall: "He's not a real hard-core coach like Bear Bryant. He doesn't yell at you all the time, he just gets his point across. He'll be the first to tell you if you mess up."
Like others, Marshall described Stolz as straightforward and honest.
"Kids are smart," Stolz said. "It's like with your family. You can fool them for a day, but you're around them too long to fool them all of the time."
If there is one blot on Stolz's coaching career, it is from Michigan State. He resigned under pressure before the 1976 season when the Spartans were put on NCAA probation for 34 recruiting violations.
Stolz sat out the 1976 season and was hired at Bowling Green in 1977.
"Everyone I talked to at Michigan State said it was not his fault," Lessig said. "They said he took the blame for what an assistant coach did. I wasn't the AD when Bowling Green hired him, but I know they checked him out."
Stolz admitted it was a step down, but he said he accepted the Bowling Green job because he wanted to stay in the Midwest and thought the program had great potential.
However, before he could go to Bowling Green, he had the Michigan State scandal to deal with.