A Repeat From the Past

Feb. 21, 2003

Corvallis, Ore. - By George P. Edmonston Jr.

Mike Riley's return to OSU is not the first time the school has rehired a former head football coach.

In 1897, Bill Bloss came back after a three-year hiatus to guide Oregon State to a 2-0 season.

In 1893, Bloss had been instrumental in starting the sport of football at Oregon State, named State Agricultural College at the time. Players and fans alike referred to the team as the 'Agrics.' He both coached and quarterbacked the '93 Agrics to a 4-1 record.

Bloss left what was probably a volunteer position after that inaugural season and was replaced in 1894 by Guy Kennedy, whose 2-1 record included a win over the University of Oregon, the first game ever between the neighboring schools in a storied rivalry that remains the oldest in the west.

Kennedy stayed one year, establishing a pattern that would extend over the next two years. Paul Downing had the job in 1895, Tommy Cade in 1896. With Bloss again in the picture, his unblemished slate in '97 resulted from victories over Oregon and Washington. Without shame, his players quickly crowned themselves 'champions of the Pacific Northwest.'

The next year, 1898, the only football campaign in OSU history played without a head coach, Bloss was no longer around and would be no more. But he had left behind an indelible mark. Although football was a different game, played under rules that seem primitive by today's standards, his winning percentage of .857 is still the best ever among OSU head football coaches, including such greats as F.S. Norcross, Paul Schissler, Lon Stiner, Tommy Prothro, Dee Andros and Dennis Erickson.

Rehiring Riley, as many OSU fans are aware, follows a Riley family tradition.

The record shows that his father, Bud, also put in two different stints with the Beavers, but as an assistant coach. The first was from 1965 to 1972 under 'The Great Pumpkin,' Dee Andros; the second was in 1979 under Craig Fertig.

It was during Bud's years with Andros that son Mike was a young man growing up in Corvallis, eventually guiding (as a quarterback) the Corvallis High Spartans to a state football championship in 1970.

Later, the younger Riley would star as a defensive back for Paul 'Bear' Bryant at Alabama and help his team to a 1973 national championship.

Bill Bloss also had a strong family connection to Oregon State. His father, John McKnight Bloss, was president of SAC from 1892 to 1896, the third on the list of 13 top administrators who have guided the fortunes of Oregon's land-grant university.

Not far from Reser Stadium today sits a student residence hall that helps keep the Bloss name alive.

A sergeant in the Union army during the Civil War, President Bloss emerged from America's bloodiest conflict as one of the country's most celebrated veterans.

Three days before the Battle of Antietam (Sept. 17, 1862), it was John Bloss, along with Corporal Barton Mitchell, who found 'Lee's Lost Order 191,' still considered by historians to be one of the greatest security leaks in military history.

Handwritten on a sheet of paper wrapped around three cigars, the document spelled out the disposition of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia just prior to the battle...information an opposing commander could use to develop a strategy of divide and conquer. That Lee's counterpart, Major General George B. McClellan, did not fully cash in on his unexpected prize, thus possibly shorting the war by several years, is still a source of endless debate among Civil War buffs.

Nevertheless, the fame of finding the 'Lost Order' served John Bloss well the remainder of his life, especially as he climbed the ladder from school principal in Kansas and Indiana to college president in Corvallis.

Both father and son would later team up in 1893 to start football at Oregon State, a small but important link in the story of the return of Mike Riley 110 years later.

George Edmonston Jr. is editor of the Oregon Stater, alumni magazine of the OSU Alumni Association.

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