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A Gloomy Success

Published by Steve Campion. Category: Sports & Recreation

The football team at the University of Washington was composed of “the dumbest, clumsiest, rankest collection of so-called football excuses I’ve ever seen.”

Who uttered those harsh comments?  The coach.

That quote was typical of “Gloomy Gil” Dobie a century ago.  He ridiculed everyone, made no friends, and racked up one of the most impressive careers in the history of college football.  How impressive?  He coached football at UW for 9 years and never lost a game!

His teams won 58 games, tied three, and lost none.  Forty two of the 61 games were shutouts.  UW beat California 72-0 and Whitworth 100-0.  An opposing team scored more than one touchdown only once in nine years.  All opponents combined managed only 6 points against the Huskies in 1909.  Washington gave a stingy 17 more points over the next two years.  During one stretch, the Huskies won 39 games in a row.  It’s an achievement that ranks second only to Oklahoma’s 47 game winning streak in the 1950s.  UW’s 63 game unbeaten streak from Dobie’s era is still an NCAA record.  And at the end of it, the undefeated Husky coach was fired.

Despite his success on the field, his harsh criticism and gruff personality caused him to lose favor with the university, the press, the mayor, and even the postmaster.  It may have kept him from being invited to a postseason bowl game.  Dobie was infuriating.  He usually predicted doom for his “eleven tackling dummies.”    There were no handshakes or back slaps in this coach’s world.  He’d stand smoldering under a hat on the sidelines.  He was known to smile only once, to compliment a player only once, and to work under the motto “I am always right, you are always wrong.”  He locked the press out of practices, drilled his teams, and pushed his players.  Some argue he held a psychological spell over them.  The coach might criticize their performance so badly one week that they’d want to prove him wrong the next.  “This tall glob of gloom” (as one player described him) was motivation enough.  “If we can take him day after day,” another player explained, “we can take anybody on Saturday.”

Coach Dobie quit in 1915, but then rescinded his resignation and stayed on for another undefeated season.  University president Henry Suzzallo finally fired him in 1916. The following year without Gloomy Gil, the Husky football team had its first losing season in a decade.  Dobie moved on to coach at Navy that season and lost a game for the first time in his career.  But with only one loss per season for the next three years — bringing him to three losses in his first 90 games! — he continued his legacy.  He was a winner at Boston College and Cornell, too.  Over his 33 year career, Gil Dobie was an irksome, gloomy, phenomenal success.  But nowhere was he all of that — as paradoxically as it sounds — as good as he was at Washington.

In the two lists below we present Dobie’s statistics at the University of Washington and throughout his career.


Year Wins Losses Ties Points For Points Against
1908 6 0 1 128 15
1909 7 0 0 214  6
1910 6 0 0 150  8
1911 7 0 0 286  9
1912 6 0 0 190  17
1913 7 0 0 266  20
1914 6 0 1 242  13
1915 7 0 0 274  14
1916 6 0 1 189  16
9 years 58 0 3 1,939  118


Years College Wins Losses Ties
1906-07 North Dakota Agricultural 8 0 0
1908-16 University of Washington 58 0 3
1917-19 Navy 18 3 0
1920-35 Cornell 82 36 7
1936-38 Boston College 16 6 5
33 years 5 colleges 182 45 15

NOTE:  He had many nicknames, though “Gloomy Gil” was the most persistent.  Others include the “Sad Scot”, the “Apostle of Grief”, or the “Dour Dane”.

PHOTO: College football scrimmage, 1911. Public domain.

SOURCES: I first learned of Gloomy Gil from a wonderful article in Columbia Magazine (Welch, Robert S. “The Loser Who Won: The story of the legendary Gil Dobie.” Columbia Magazine. 1.3 (Fall 1987): 38-45.  It is from that source that I derived all but one of the quotations that appear above.  Other valuable sources include 100 Years of Husky Football edited by Karen Chase and Steve Rudman, 1990 (which provided the “11 tackling dummies” quote), and The Glory of Washington by Jim Daves and W. Thomas Porter, 2001.


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