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Life Without Football Leaves Empty Feeling on CSULB Campus : Athletics: The coach has been reassigned to teach golf, offices have been remodeled and given to others, and the baseball team has taken over the locker room.

October 01, 1992|PAUL McLEOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — Football Coach Willie Brown, a man without a team, often returns to the practice field at Cal State Long Beach. Only now he goes there to teach golf classes as part of his reassignment within the physical education department.

Coaches and tutors made special class arrangements for former tight end Dan Early when he was a football player. Now the senior stands in line to register for the reduced number of seats with the rest of the 30,000-plus students.

And for the past month veteran athletic administrator Bob Donlan has spent lost weekends at home "just sort of bumping into walls."

In the first season since financially strapped Cal State Long Beach dropped football, the impact is still being felt.

"It's so weird not to have football any longer," said reserve quarterback Bill Grudza, a senior whose playing career came to an end when the decision was made. "It's just an empty feeling inside."

Cal State Long Beach officials, citing budgetary problems, dropped football last December after the team finished 2-9, one of six losing seasons in its final eight years. Football was never a very big item on campus. Pep rallies--traditions at many major universities--were few and far between. Fan support, by Division 1-A standards, lagged way behind the

30,000-per-game average the NCAA wanted.

Dropping football made financial sense. The athletic department was forced to make $465,000 in budget cuts this academic year. Football will account for $300,000 of that, according to acting Athletic Director Dave O'Brien.

"Had we not dropped football back then, you can see that we would have had to decimate our remaining sports," O'Brien said. "I'm not even sure we could have put any teams on the field this year."

Rather than drop more sports--in 1991 the university dropped men's and women's swimming, and women's tennis--O'Brien said he is now prepared to reduce administrative personnel to make up the $165,000 balance. That is little consolation to the remaining football players and their fans, who must cope with a gap in their lives.

"Having football end like that without having any control over it was kind of a bummer," Early said. "It takes quite a bit of adjusting."

It pains Early to watch football games on television, or talk to former teammates who went elsewhere to play. Time, a luxury back then, is now a standard commodity. "Basically," he said, "I'm trying any kind of activity just to keep me busy."

Just two years ago, 49er football looked like it had a bright future. Former National Football League Coach George Allen was at the helm and the program enjoyed an upswing. In what he termed "the most difficult job in America," Allen guided the 49ers to a 6-5 record. Attendance figures at antiquated Veterans Stadium crept upward. Prospective players began to show interest again in a program that most had written off years before. Developers discussed building an on-campus stadium and donations to the university for athletics topped $400,000 for the first time.

In reality, it was the sheer power of Allen's personality that kept the program alive. When Allen died on News Year's Eve in 1990, 49er football, for all intents and purposes, was buried with him.

Today there are very few signs that football ever existed at Cal State Long Beach. The former football offices in a corridor next to the University Gymnasium have been remodeled and divided among staff members. The baseball team is housed in the locker room once reserved for football players. But down the way at the tree-lined field where the team practiced, goal posts still reach toward the sky.

More than two dozen players transferred to other colleges. But some, like Early and Grudza, decided to stay in Long Beach and call it a career. Players who did not transfer have been allowed to keep their scholarships. Fewer than a dozen remain.

Donations to athletics have declined substantially since the demise of football. O'Brien said the university expects to raise about $275,000 for athletics this year, down from the $400,000 it collected when Allen was there.

"I believe the economy has more to do with the reduction than with the loss of football," O'Brien said. "The important thing is, whoever has remained with us as a donor is a committed 49er fan."

Brown, Allen's replacement, has another year left on a three-year contract that pays him $76,000 annually to coach a team that no longer exists. He maintains that when he was chosen from Allen's staff to be the new head coach, university President Curtis L. McCray led him to believe that he would have five years to continue the rebuilding process begun under Allen. Now there are days when he spends time on the practice field with a golf club in his hand, wondering what went wrong.

"A field like that should be used for football," he said. "I'm sure George (Allen) is rolling over in his grave every time I hit a golf ball out there."

Donlan, the senior associate athletic director who was in charge of football, has had sleepless nights.

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