Pete Upperco - One Man, Four Great Coaches
By John Yonko
Originally published by State of the U dot com under the title "Underpinnings of the U" (Jul 31, 2016)
"Back in the day" stories abound – this one is UM Football Canes related – and it only cost me a couple of dozen hand picked two pound mangoes – personally delivered to a guy named Peter Upperco, one of my neighbors from two houses up the street.
Pete is a former UM football player from back in the day when the foundation was being formed for the great Miami teams and championships to come.
Peter Upperco today - a big dude, still blonde, young, happy and a Cane
Pete played with guys named Jim Kelly, Don Smith, Mark Richt , Gary Dunn, and of course, many others who were coached by guys named Soldinger, Shannon, Kehoe and again, many others.
But the underpinnings of the foundation I mentioned were laid by some of those other guys and other coaches.
First, there was another guy named Pete – Pete Elliot – who recruited Pete Upperco to play outside linebacker / defensive end. "He was a very collegiate type", said Upperco of Elliot. "He had been head coach of Nebraska, Cal Berkeley and Illinois. He was the All-American undefeated quarterback of a Michigan national championship team; he won 12 varsity letters at Michigan; and he was MVP of their basketball team. He impressed me a lot."
Elliot impressed a lot of other guys to come to Miami, as well. The 1975 University of Miami Freshman football team of which Upperco was a member had over 50 players, one of which was running back Ken Johnson who was drafted by the New York Giants and later played for the Dolphins.
Another running back who joined the team in ’75 was Ottis Anderson, first drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1978, then traded to the Giants. Ottis played in the League for 14 years, winning the MVP award in Super Bowl XXV in 1991.
But after only 3 days of the 1975 season, Elliot unexpectedly resigned in order to work full time as the Athletic Director and turned the reigns of the Miami program over to Offensive Coordinator Carl Selmer who defeated Florida State 47 – 0 in his first game as head coach of the Canes. Then, he almost knocked off eventual national champion Oklahoma, losing 20 – 17, and they also lost to Cotton Bowl bound Houston 21 – 16, throwing four interceptions near the Houston goal line. Selmer was fired just before the game.
"Coach Selmer was the one who started recruiting for speed", said Upperco, and speed changed everything for Miami football. Eventually, Miami speed changed college football as well.
Next came Lou Saban, Upperco’s 3rd coach at the U. "Coach Lou had two requirements: you either had to be very fast or you had to be a great football player. Coach Lou didn’t renew scholarships for between 20 and 40 players – if they weren’t fast or great, they were gone. It was kinda sad – a lot of them were my friends – but it was necessary", remembered Upperco.
"Then came Coach Schnellenberger, my 4th coach. He brought in the great assistants, and the rest is history."
No national championship rings?
"No, no rings, but we played Notre Dame in the Mirage Bowl in Tokyo in 1979. We lost to Notre Dame, but we beat Penn State in Happy Valley in Jim Kelly’s first start as a Hurricane, 26 – 10. Wow, that was something!"
How many guys got to claim all four coaches as theirs?
"Seven all together, including me. I still remember their names: Herbie Jackson; Gene Coleman; Ken Johnson; Rich Russell; Mike Crapp; and Barry Gonzalez. Ottis Anderson was the only guy who played varsity as a Freshman, so he graduated before Coach Schnellenberger came in; otherwise, he would have made it eight".
Any great stories?
"…well, I was Jim Kelly’s roommate for a year… and I played in a North South All Star game..."
"..and Gary Dunn was a senior when I was a freshman – he’s got two Super Bowl rings – maybe three - with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Did you know his grandfather (Dr. Bowman F. Ashe) was the founding president of the U?"
Pete is 84, top row; Ken Johnson is 15, middle row; Ottis Anderson is 20, middle row