NEEDHAM, Mass. — For 17 years, Williams football coach Dick Farley welcomed players to the Purple Valley with a simple slap at their egos.
"There is no Division IV," he would tell the academic overachievers and athletic also-rans who came to play for him. "If you can't play here, you can't play anywhere."
For 17 years, his players dominated archrival Amherst and the rest of Division III to prove their churlish mentor wrong.
That was exactly his point.
"When you're on top of the world, I don't think you need a pat on the back. Anybody's going to be in your corner," former Williams quarterback Peter Supino said. "Coach Farley quietly encouraged people once in a while, but in a way that had a lot of power. He didn't have to make you feel warm and cozy with praise for you to know that he respected you."
A Boston University graduate who played two end-of-the-bench seasons for the NFL's San Diego Chargers, Farley will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 12 in the Divisional Class -- a group of I-AA, II, III and NAIA players and coaches that also includes Mississippi Valley State standout Jerry Rice and John Gagliardi, the St. John's (Minn.) coach whose 432 victories are the most of any division.
Farley's 114-19-3 record before he stepped down in 2003 gave him an .849 winning percentage that is sixth all-time -- for any college of any size. He never had a losing season, beating Amherst his first eight tries and going 14-2-1 against the Ephs' traditional rival.
"I think he could have coached anywhere. But it's not a bad place for a coach to be, at Williams," said Ethan Brooks, whose eight years as an NFL offensive lineman make him one of Williams' most successful pros. "I'm thankful that he stayed."
Though it might not be the typical Hall of Fame breeding ground, Williams has garnered more than its share of athletic honors.
This year, the school earned its eighth consecutive Director's Cup as the top overall performer at the NCAA Division III championships; for the third year in a row, Williams combined that with a No. 1 academic ranking by U.S. News and World Report, a triple-double no other school has accomplished even once.
But when Farley took over as head coach in 1987 -- having already spent 15 years as a football assistant -- the school in bucolic Berkshire County had lost six straight to Amherst. Williams lost the first three games that season, too, before Farley called his players in one-by-one to ask them what they thought was going wrong.
They told him they weren't good enough to play just one day a week -- so he allowed more hitting in practice. The Ephs finished the season 4-4 and went another 128 games before suffering back-to-back losses again.
"Nobody from the school ever talked to me about winning," he said, and he didn't focus on it, either. Although fiercely competitive, he would tell his players after a rare loss: "You will learn more about yourself by losing this game than if you had won."
Supino led the Ephs to upsets over unbeaten Amherst teams in 1996 and '97, but the nicest thing Farley ever said to him came after he played poorly and got pulled from a game. Painful as it was, he cheered from the sideline as backup quarterback Sean Keenan led Williams to a last-second victory.
After the game, Farley was waiting for Supino on the steps of the locker room.
"I just want to tell you," Supino remembers the coach saying, "I saw the way you were encouraging Sean and the team, and you carried yourself like a man today. It's moments like that are very gratifying to me as a coach."
"It was really moving," said Supino, who is now a money manager in Omaha, Neb.
Sitting in a conference room at the suburban Boston corporate offices of former receiver Todd Ducharme, the 60-year-old coach holds forth about his Williams tenure for more than an hour, even rolling his chair over to the whiteboard to diagram plays. ("That right there -- that's more than I heard him talk in four years," Ducharme said.) The stories come quickly, peppered with names like Bill Belichick and Mike Ditka and Joe Paterno and George Steinbrenner, whose son Farley coached in track.
"He's a great example for young people to follow," said Steinbrenner, the New York Yankees owner and Williams graduate. "He's a wonderful guy who has done a great job as a coach and has been absolutely terrific and significant for the school."
With a roster of academic all-stars, Farley sometimes would give out the plays without the assignments, challenging them to figure things out for themselves, make their own decisions, and learn from their own mistakes. "I would make it a little bit of an academic exercise for them," he said.
"Part of the enjoyment I got at Williams was the kids were doing it because they wanted to. They're not playing to keep their scholarship or make the pros.