John Pont, Who Coached Indiana to Rose Bowl, Dies at 80
Published: July 3, 2008
John Pont, the personification of the football-coaching lifer who was best remembered for taking Indiana University to the 1968 Rose Bowl, the first bowl game in team history, died Tuesday at his home in Oxford, Ohio. He was 80.
Ron Alvey/The Journal News, via A.P.
John Pont in 2004.
Pont was a native of Canton, Ohio, a town renowned for its football tradition and the site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Playing halfback for Miami of Ohio, in Oxford, from 1949 to 1951, Pont became the leading ground gainer in the program’s history with 2,457 rushing yards.
After playing professional football in Canada, Pont turned to coaching. His first head-coaching post was at Miami (1956-62), known as the cradle of coaches. He later coached at Yale (1963-64), Indiana (1965-72) and Northwestern (1973-77), and he was the athletic director at Northwestern from 1975 to 1980.
In 1985, after working as a salesman and leasing autos, Pont returned to coaching, far from the spotlight, taking over at Hamilton High School near Cincinnati. After several seasons there, he inaugurated a football program at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, formerly an all-women’s school, which had begun admitting men a few years earlier.
The Indiana University football team has often been tailenders, and in Pont’s first two years at Bloomington, he won a total of three games. But his 1967 team, lead by three sophomores — quarterback Harry Gonso, tailback John Isenbarger and flanker Jade Butcher — went 9-1 during the regular season, losing only to Minnesota.
Indiana finished in a three-way tie for the Big Ten championship with Minnesota and Purdue; it became the conference’s representative in the Rose Bowl because it had never been to Pasadena.
As the victories mounted, thousands of stunned Indiana students had crowded into the university’s fieldhouse to watch road games on closed-circuit television.
On New Year’s Day 1968, around 15,000 Hoosiers fans waved pompoms amid a Rose Bowl crowd of almost 103,000 as Indiana faced a powerful Southern California team. Pont finally ran out of miracles as the Trojans’ O. J. Simpson ran for 2 touchdowns and gained 128 yards in Southern California’s 14-3 victory.
Indiana was ranked No. 4 by The Associated Press, and Pont was named the major college coach of the year by the American Football Coaches Association and the Football Writers Association of America.
“I think what most of our fans remember is not that we got beat, but that we got there,” Pont told The Evansville Courier & Press in 2002 of that Rose Bowl appearance. The Hoosiers, while making various bowl appearances over the years, have never returned to the Rose Bowl.
Pont had a record of 31-51-1 in his eight years in Bloomington. He retired in 2005 after coaching semipro football in Japan for 13 seasons.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by his sons John, of Newington, Conn., and Jeff, of Carmel, Ind; a daughter, Jennifer Shrack, of Indianapolis; his brother, Richard, of Wallingford, Conn.; and seven grandchildren.
When he became the coach at Hamilton High School, Pont said he did not regard it as a comedown, telling The Los Angeles Times, “To me, the greatest sound in the world is the whistle that starts a football game in which I’m involved.”