Bill DiFabio's Sports Column
Ream turned tough times around for W&J football
Imagine how difficult it would be to coach a college football team with no athletic scholarships and your coaching staff consists of only two assistants, one of whom is the school’s basketball coach.
That was the scenario Chuck Ream faced when he was hired as head coach at Washington & Jefferson College in 1960. It was Ream’s job to turn intelligent students, who averaged 1,200 on college entrance exams, and mold them into highly competitive football players.
Back in the early 1960s, coaches had only two weeks to recruit. So with the small coaching staff and little time to put together a team, Ream got everyone involved.
Ream’s wife, Marion, worked as an unpaid assistant.
“On Sundays, he would go to Pittsburgh to get the game films after they were developed, bring them home and show them on the refrigerator,” Marion Ream recalled. “I typed the playbook and the recruiting letters.”
“The team was competitive,” said Ream’s daughter, Cindy Phillips, who lives in Washington.
Despite the small coaching staff and being able to recruit only players with outstanding academic qualifications, Ream turned the tide of losing seasons as the Presidents enjoyed their first winning season – 4-3 in 1962 – in 10 years. W&J strung together four non-losing seasons from 1962-65 for the first time since 1938-41.
After inheriting a team that won only five games over the six seasons before he took over, Ream coached W&J to a winning season, 4-3, in 1962.
The Presidents had three consecutive winnings seasons before finishing at 4-4 in 1965. After taking a few seasons to rebuild, Ream’s 1970 team had a 7-1 record and won W&J’s first Presidents’ Athletic Conference championship in its 13th year in the league.
Though it’s hard to imagine today, that W&J championship team consisted of many players who never played football before they entered college.
Ream developed several college division All-Americans – the NCAA had not yet split into Divisions I, II and III. Bob Barone was an all-conference end and a former tennis player who did not play football in high school. Sam Carpenter went on to play in the Senior Bowl.
Rich Pocock was signed by the Steelers and went to training camp. He made it to the final round of cuts, when the Steelers released him so they could keep a running back named Rocky Bleier.
“Coach Ream stood out for his character and for his concern and love for his players,” said Pocock. “I remember Coach for giving me a chance to play when I was a freshman. He showed me he wasn’t afraid to take a chance on a rookie, which is something that spoke to the courage of his convictions.”
Ream, who would coach W&J through the 1972 season, was a strict taskmaster. Discipline on and off the field were important to him.
“When I think of my dad as a coach, I think of Marty Schottenheimer, who coached at Kansas City,” Phillips said. “Like Marty, dad cared for his players and their families. He was very strict and he wanted to see his players succeed in both football and life.
“Dad was so old-school. He admired Vince Lombardi, Knute Rockne and Bear Bryant. He became known as the ‘Bear’ because he expected his players to behave appropriately and become outstanding men. It was students first and football second.”
Ream had strict rules that had to be followed, especially when on the road.
“You had to wear jackets and ties. One time they were in Cleveland to play Western Reserve, and he caught three of his players coming out of a bar. He threw them off the team and told them to find their own way home the next day,” Phillips recalled.
The coach, however, was always looking out for his players.
“On our road trips, dad would stop at a restaurant and order 90 to 100 hamburgers for the players and staff. The owners of the restaurant didn’t believe him.” Phillips said.
Though the coach was strict, W&J’s players had a strong bond with Ream.
“Several of his players came to the rescue in 1968,” Phillips said. “Dad was in a serious automobile accident and the team physician, who was the family doctor, put out a call to the football players that Coach needed blood. He would have died, but 90 young men came to the hospital to give blood. Later, dad used to say that he had the old college blood in him.”
Ream compiled a 36-50-1 record that included a 1-13 mark through two seasons.
After a successful career as a coach, he was hired as chairman of the education department at W&J, where he remained until his retirement in 1992. While he was coaching, he researched interval training of equine athletes and, in order to do so, he obtained his trainer’s license with the U.S. Trotting Association while working with horses at the Beinhauer and Cameron stables at The Meadows. He subsequently was published in Hoofbeats magazine for his work.
He and his wife retired to Jensen Beach, where he became a Florida Supreme Court mediator.
He died April 20, 2013.
“The world is a better place for having Coach Ream in it, and I’m a better person for having known him,” Pocock said.
Bill DiFabio writes a bi-weekly Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter on local sports history.