War Hero, All-American.
We have a late Profile in Badassery this week. I was hoping to come home and have an afternoon full of writing. Then some fool decided they absolutely needed to be in my line on Delaware Street in the same place as me at the same time. After bouncing off my Jeep's driver's side, he then decided he needed to turn without stopping. Therefore, my afternoon was full of police reports and insurance claims. What fun.
When it comes to hit and runs, however, no one does it better than the U.S. Marines. These guys know all about surgical strikes and making their presence felt before you even know they are there. Once such Marine was a former coach and player at Purdue, who is a definitely badass from his time in the military. He also holds the rare distinction of being an All-American on the football field at two different schools. Submitted by reader Tom Bryan, we have Alex Agase in this week's Profile in Badassery.
Agase's early years:
I admit that I used to only know about Alex Agase from what my dad called him from his time at Purdue. Dad graduated in 1975, and the students at the time referred to him as "The Agase of Defeat". There was a time though when Alex Agase personified Big Ten football. He grew up in Evanston, Illinois, and eventually attended college at the University of Illinois. He played his first two season of college football for the Fighting Illini, earning All-American honors and he even once scored two touchdowns in a game against Minnesota in 1942. That may not seem like much, but when you're an offensive guard one touchdown in your career is rare.
For the 1943 season Agase transferred to Purdue, where he was also named an All-American. He played at Purdue while undergoing his training for the Marines. This was his lone season as a Boilermaker, but his tenacity on both sides of the football (because true badasses played both ways in those days) earned him another All-America nod. Before he could play his final year, a little thing called World War II got in the way. He helped lead the Boilermakers to their last undefeated football season as Purdue finished 9-0 and surrendered just 55 points in 1943. This remains Purdue's last undisputed Big Ten Championship.
I was once told that marines don't die, they go to hell to regroup. These men and women are true badasses, doing what needs to be done in order to protect our freedom. In 1944, Agase was shipped off to the War in the Pacific. While there, he took part in both the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
The battle of Iwo Jima was known for its ferocity. The island itself was only 8 square miles, but the battle lasted for five weeks because more 18,000 Japanese soldiers defended each and every square inch of the island with their lives. Only 216 were taken captive by the time the battle was over. The rest inflicted over 26,000 casualties, including 6,822 deaths.
The fighting was even fiercer on Okinawa. That battle lasted 82 days and over 110,000 Japanese troops were killed. There were more than 51,000 Allied casualties with 12,513 deaths. Over the course of these two battles Agase was one such casualty, receiving a Purple Heart for wounds received in battle. A mere wound cannot slow down a true badass, however, and Agase was one for surviving two of the fiercest battles in the history of the world.
Return to Football
In 1946 Agase returned to the University of Illinois, where he earned All-America honors for a third time. Lord knows I wouldn't want to mess with an ex-Marine playing along the offensive line. After graduating from Illinois he played professionally for six years with the Chicago Rockets, Los Angeles Dons, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Colts of the NFL. During three seasons with the Browns he won three NFL championships. I know it is rare to think of any sports team from the city of Cleveland as a champion, but this actually happened back in the 40s.
Naturally, many people considered Agase a solid candidate for a coaching position once he retired from playing. Unfortunately, he wasn't nearly as successful on the sidelines. In 1964 he was hired as the head coach of his hometown Wildcats at Northwestern. Since this was pre-1995 Northwestern, they weren't exactly known for their success. His nine seasons at Northwestern were unspectacular, save for 1970, as he went 32-58-1 overall and 26-40-1 in the Big Ten. His lone Big Ten win in his final season came against Indiana, as the Wildcats finished 1-8 in league play.
That was apparently good enough for Purdue to hire him as a replacement for Bob Demoss. Agase then spend the next four seasons at Purdue, compiling a 18-25-1 record at Purdue, but a respectable 15-17 mark in Big Ten play. One of those victories was a shocking 16-14 win over #1 Michigan on November 6, 1976. Purdue became the first Big Ten team not named Ohio State to defeat the Wolverines in seven years on that day. It also marks the last of seven times that Purdue has beaten college football's top ranked team.
During his coaching career Agase was named to the college football Hall of Fame in 1963. He was also named National Coach of the Year in 1970 when Northwestern finished 6-1 in Big Ten play, finishing second. Only a loss to Ohio State prevented an undefeated conference season and trip to Pasadena.
For a short time after his coaching career was over Agase served as the athletic director at Eastern Michigan. He then spent a short time on Bo Schembechler's staff at Michigan as a volunteer assistant. For those counting at home, that means he has official ties with four members of the Big Ten.
In 1989 he was named to the All-Century Team by the Walter Camp Football Foundation. He was also named as a member of Illinois' All-Century Team in 1990.
Agase lived out his retirement in Florida, enjoying his post coaching years until his death in 2007 at the age of 85. Although I am sure death had to sneak up on him. As a marine and a football player there likely would have been a fight otherwise. Mr. Agase remains a respected badass in more ways than one. It is one thing to be named an All-American three times during your playing career. It is something else to go off, fight a war for two years, receive a combat wound in the process, come back, and win your third such honor. If that is not badass, I don't know what is.