Former Nebraska football coach James William “Bill” Glassford, 102, died Monday in Arizona where he completed a career in insurance sales and lived in retirement in Scottsdale.
Glassford coached Nebraska from 1949 through 1955 and led the Huskers to their first Orange Bowl, and second bowl in program history.
He retired from coaching at 41 years old after the 1955 season when he said, “I’ve had enough.”
George Sullivan, famous longtime trainer at Nebraska, played for Glassford and worked under him as the head physical therapist.
"Bill was an astute coach, really smart, really disciplined," Sullivan said. "He started the scholarship program here and he was the one who stood up to hoteliers in Miami, Florida, for the 1955 Orange Bowl, when he was told Nebraska three black players could not stay in the hotel.
"Bill said, 'OK, we'll move to another hotel,' and they gave in," Sullivan said.
Glassford had a NU career coaching record of 31-35-3 and coached three All-Americans: Bobby Reynolds, Tom Novak and Jerry Minnick. Glassford was inducted into the Nebraska football hall of fame in 2002.
Glassford was instrumental in Nebraska’s first grant-in-aid (scholarship) program after battling through the athletic administration and going to the Nebraska Board of Regents.
Glassford was also the oldest living former pro football player. He played a season with the Cincinnati Bengals of the (then) AFL after earning All-America status at Pittsburgh.
He started coaching as an assistant at Manhattan College, Carnegie Tech and Yale. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he restarted his coaching career as head coach at New Hampshire before Nebraska hired him in 1949 for $10,000 a year. He was the sixth NU coach in a nine-year span. Although Nebraska never won a conference title under Glassford, he managed to post NU’s only three winning seasons during a span from 1941 to 1961.
Glassford was known for incredibly tough preseason camps. In his first three seasons as head coach, he held a series of camps in Curtis at the Nebraska Ag School. Sullivan said the camps were “mean and ugly,”
“I don’t know how many quit that year. We started with 70 and came back with 40 or 45,” Sullivan said. He said many hitchhiked to North Platte or McCook. The dorm, actually the gym, could only be reached by climbing a ladder, hand-over-hand. Glassford even had a “fat man’s table,” for overweight players who got only lettuce, Sullivan said.
The camp was closed at the behest of the Ag School after the 1951 season.
Glassford was the subject of a petition presented to the Legislature for his removal and the praise of a student rally with the chants of “We love Bill.”
His team’s 6-0 loss to Hawaii in 1955 in Lincoln was seen as one of the low points in Husker history. His 6-2-1 team in 1950, highlighted by Reynolds, was one of the best NU teams since 1941.
After he retired, Glassford was quoted in 1958 as saying he had “never been happier in my life. When the phone rings, it is not irate fans but people wanting to buy insurance. And when I look at the window, I see orange, grapefruit and lemon trees — not angry alumni.”