Members of the Wilkes University football team were practicing at Artillery Park on an October day in 1967 when the weather turned nasty. As practice ended, the players clambered down the steps, grumbling about having to play in a chilling mix of rain and sleet. Suddenly a man walking among them, unnoticed until then, looked around, pointed at the sky and uttered a single word.
The rain ceased and the players realized that their coach, Rollie Schmidt, was the guy who seemed to cause the weather change. Or was it? Several of them said that maybe it was really Zeus, Greek god of lightning and thunder, disguised in the personage of their coach. Schmidt, already on his way to becoming a legendary coach, acquired the nickname Zeus among his players. Years later, the story is among many chronicled by Wilkes alumnus George Pawlush ’69 MS 76 n his book “Zeus and the Boys.” Pawlush shared stories from the book in a Wilkes Wednesday Webinar, sponsored by the Alumni Relations Department on June 24. He was interviewed on the webinar by Dave Jolley ’78.
“I was motivated to honor Rollie Schmidt, who had a major impact on my life,” Pawlush said.
The book has been a labor of love for Pawlush, who covered Schmidt’s teams first as a student reporter for The Beaconand later as Wilkes’ first full-time sports information director and its public relations director. He enjoyed a 43-year career as a senior public relations executive in higher education and healthcare.
In addition to positions at Wilkes, Pawlush worked at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center, Yale-New Haven Hospital, Danbury Hospital and Greenwich Hospital A member of the Football Writers of America, he also serves as chairman of the Society for American Baseball Research and of the minor league research committee. In 2018, Pawlush published his first book, “Dawn and Dusk of the Colonial League” about a minor league baseball circuit in Connecticut.
A book about Schmidt was a natural choice. Although a low-key personality, his career coaching teams that came to be known as the “Golden Horde” stands as the most illustrious in Wilkes history. Schmidt, who coached the team from 1962 to 1981, amassed a record of 92-73, including a stretch in which the “Golden Horde” won 32 games in a row over five seasons. For three seasons, the team was 8-0. His teams won five conference championships and two Lambert Bowls. Schmidt also coached baseball and golf. His former players raised more than $1 million to rename Wilkes football stadium in his honor. Schmidt Stadium at the Ralston Athletic Complex was dedicated in 2011.
Pawlush said he began working on the book project by combing the University archives and conducting more than 100 interviews with Schmidt’s former players and colleagues. Among the anecdotes in the book shared during the webinar:
- A key to Schmidt’s success as a coach was his exhaustive preparation for each game. “He was totally prepared for every opponent they played,” Pawlush said. He began studying films of opponents in 1965 at a level that was not common at the time.
- Winning wasn’t everything. “If you lost while giving it your all, you were a winner,” Pawlush recalled. Schmidt was committed to being part of the educational process at Wilkes.
- His relationship with his players was key and he continued to keep track of them and their accomplishments after they graduated from Wilkes.
“Zeus and the Boys” can be ordered from Amazon. To watch the video of the Wilkes Wednesday Webinar with Pawlush, please visit here.