Dale Widolff was in his first season as head coach of the Occidental football team when NFL players went on strike, creating the unlikely opportunity for the Division III Tigers to play on national television.
With 60 percent of CBS affiliates across the country broadcasting the contest from Patterson Field on Oct. 3, 1982, freshman tailback Vance Mueller '86 scored three touchdowns in Oxy's 34-20 win over the University of San Diego—and Widolff notched his second win en route to a 5-5 rookie campaign.
Nearly 30 years later, when the Tigers hit the gridiron September 8 for their season opener against Pacific University, there will be no TV audience, and no Dale Widolff. On May 9, the Pasadena native was dismissed as Oxy's head football coach. After an athletics director in the Northwest informed the College that Widolff had emailed student-athletes at other institutions, asking if they would be interested in transferring to Oxy, "we determined that the volume of recipients exceeded 450—many of them student-athletes competing at other SCIAC institutions. That placed Occidental's football program in major violation of NCAA rules," explains Jaime Hoffman, director of athletics.
A NCAA investigation has been completed, but at press time there was no word on whether sanctions will be applied to Oxy. The email recruiting incident follows an internal investigation into Occidental's football program in August 2010, which also was self-reported to the NCAA. Widolff was suspended without pay for six weeks for violating NCAA rules and internal College policies.
Widolff's 178 wins placed him fifth among all active Division III coaches, and his 11 SCIAC titles and seven post-season appearances are the most for any school since he took the reins in 1982.
Following news of his dismissal, alumni, former players, and their families quickly came to Widolff's defense, arguing that he did not deserve such a fate. "It saddens everyone that Dale's time at Oxy came to an end in this fashion," says President Jonathan Veitch. "However, Jaime acted in the best interests of current players, the athletics department, and the College, and with my full support."
Where does this leave the Tigers, who went 5-4 last year? With National College Football Hall of Famer Bill Redell '64 coming out of retirement to coach Oxy, a competitive team is assured—but winning back Widolff's supporters may take longer.