Dropping Back In NFL History: Lone Star And The Redskins
Lone Star and George Preston Marshall
In 1933, the Boston Braves had just played their first season as a National Football League franchise. They finished a respectable 4-4-1 in 1932 but showed a loss of $46,000 for the year (a lot in depression era money). Three members of the original ownership group pulled out leaving George Preston Marshall as sole owner of the franchise.
Marshall was a master at promotion. When his father died he took over the family laundry business, growing it into a 54 chain business by the time he sold his interest in 1945. Without partners to hinder him Marshall rapidly began to make changes to the team.
He began by moving their home stadium from Brave’s Field (at that time home of the National League Boston Braves) to Fenway Park. He released head coach Lud Wray from his contract to allow him to become head coach and take a part-ownership position of the Philadelphia Eagles.
On March 8, 1933 Lone Star was named the new head coach of the team. Dietz had spent the years since his draft evasion trial rebuilding his coaching reputation. He spent one season at Purdue, four at Wyoming and was coming off four successful seasons as head coach at the Haskell Indian Institute in Kansas.
The last major change that Marshall made was to the team’s name. On July 6, 1933 an article titled, “Braves Pro Gridmen to Be Called Redskins,” was published in the Boston Herald. In the article it said, “The explanation is that the change was made to avoid confusion with the Braves baseball team and that the team is to be coached by an Indian, Lone Star Dietz, with several Indian players.”
That statement itself doesn’t mean, as claimed by many, that the team’s name was changed to “honor” the coach and new Indian players that would be in place for the 1933 season. It does imply that their presence did influence Marshall’s thought process that ended with him deciding on Redskins as the new team nickname.
No matter the reason for the name Marshall was ready to take full advantage of the promotion possibilities. On the first day of practice Marshall had his new Native American coach and players pose for a photograph wearing headdresses and war paint. Dietz also wore feathers and war paint at home games during the season.
On the field, the Redskins were 5-5-2 in 1933, finishing a distant third in the Eastern Division. Lone Star was an expert in the single-wing offense, especially when it came to running the ball. Fullback Jim Musick and future Pro Football Hall of Fame tailback Cliff Battles finished first and second in the league in Rushing Yards and Average Yards per Carry.
The problem with the 1933 team was in the passing game, which was eighth out of 10 teams that year. At the league meetings following the 1932 season Marshall presented a series of rule proposals, one of which opened up new possibilities for NFL offenses when passing the football. Marshall may not have realized the full implications of that rule change when he hired Dietz, an expert at running the ball with the single-wing offense.
In 1934, the Redskins struggled to a 6-6-0 record, good enough for second place in the Eastern Division behind the New York Giants, but they were never able to generate any winning momentum after opening the season with a 7-0 win over Pittsburgh. They also found themselves in the bottom half of the league in passing offense for the second straight season.
Even though the team had been doing well in drawing fans during the two years with Dietz as head coach Marshall decided to dismiss him after the 1934 season.
After the Redskins
Lone Star returned to the college game for the remainder of his coaching career. He reunited with his coaching mentor, Pop Warner, to become his assistant and freshman team at Temple University in 1935. In 1937 he left to become Director of Athletics and head football coach at Albright College in Reading, PA.
In his first season at Albright he led the team to their first undefeated season in school history at 7-0-1. The school suspended its football program after the 1942 season because of World War II which ended Lone Star’s career. He was never able to land another coaching position.
Dietz moved to New York City for four years to work for an advertising agency. After that he returned to Pennsylvania and used all his money to open an art school, which eventually failed.
He lived the remainder of his life in poverty but kept his spirits up by continuing to paint and draw. In 1956, his former Washington State players kicked in money so he could travel to the school and take part in the 40th anniversary celebration of their 1916 Rose Bowl victory.
These days, when the arguments over the Washington Redskins team nickname flare up Dietz’s name gets a few mentions but for a man who was on a first name basis with celebrities of the time like Knute Rockne, George Halas, Walt Disney and Jim Thorpe among many, he’s practically disappeared from the history of football.
In 2012, he finally received mainstream recognition for his achievements as a head coach, lifetime record in college and pros was 170-71-11, and builder of successful football programs when he was elected as part of the Divisional Class to the College Football Hall of Fame.