Kevin Carroll is living proof that you can take the coach out of football, but you can’t take football out of the coach.
Check out Carroll’s biography of a famous, but relatively unknown college and professional football coach in his just-published “Buck Shaw: The Life and Sportsmanship of the Legendary Football Coach.” (McFarland & Company).
It’s Carroll’s third book about football. He has also written about the Houston Oilers and Dr. Eddie Anderson, a teammate of Shaw’s at Notre Dame.
Several years and countless hours of research went into this 244-page effort. It’s likely Carroll may know more about Shaw than anyone not named Buck Shaw, who passed away in March 1977 after losing a game he couldn’t win – against cancer.
“When I was researching Eddie Anderson … I always came across Buck Shaw, Buck Shaw … when I was done with Eddie, I wanted to find out more about him,” Carroll said.
A retired history teacher at Albuquerque Academy, Carroll coached the Chargers football team for 30 years and makes a good case for Shaw to be inducted into the National Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Shaw was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1972.
So just who, you may ask, is this Buck Shaw?
To begin with, he earned All-American honors as a tackle playing for legendary Knute Rockne at Notre Dame from 1919-21.
In 1922, Shaw began what evolved into close to 40 years of coaching, which included being the first head football coach of the San Francisco 49ers (1946-54) and the Air Force Academy (1956-57).
Before retiring from the sidelines, he led the Philadelphia Eagles – who had New Mexico native Tommy McDonald as one of their stars — to the 1960 NFL championship. With the Eagles, Shaw’s ’60 squad handed the Vince Lombardi-coached Green Bay Packers team its only playoff loss.
Shaw’s head-coaching career, which ended with 164 victories, 105 losses and 17 ties, got its start at North Carolina State in 1924. From there, he went to the University of Nevada (1925-28).
Arguably, his best work was done at Santa Clara University from 1936-42, when he brought Santa Clara to national football prominence by defeating LSU in consecutive Sugar Bowls.
World War II disrupted football in the U.S., and Shaw coached the University of California in 1945.
The pro career was next, with the 49ers initially in the All-America Football Conference (1946-49) and then the National Football League (1950-54), where he had problems with the team’s ownership despite his teams winning 32 more games then they lost.
His next stop was in Colorado Springs, where he helped build a football program that debuted in 1956. While there, he had Roswell, N.M., native Tom Brookshier on the roster; among the wins of the 1955 season, when Air Force only fielded a freshman team, was a 7-6 victory over the University of New Mexico.
Because a new administration at the academy preferred a full-time football coach, and Shaw had been permitted during his stint to return home to California where his family lived and he had another job in the off-season, Shaw agreed to be released from his contract after the 1957 season.
He was back on the sideline in the NFL from 1958-60, coaching the Eagles.
After beating the Packers in the 1960 championship game, his last game was as head coach of the East squad in the 11th Pro Bowl, a 35-31 loss. Notably, Tommy McDonald caught two TD passes from teammate QB Norm Van Brocklin in that contest.
To Carroll, and readers of his book, Shaw was much more than a great football coach; he was a great person. He was a gentleman and a great husband and father away from the gridiron, and although winning on the field was important, he preferred sportsmanship, not playing dirty, and not running up the score on a lesser opponent.
“No one ever had anything negative to say about him; they adored him,” Carroll said he discovered during his research. “Thirty of 34 guys on the 49ers were World War II veterans, guys at Iwo Jima and Battle of the Bulge.”
The shutdown during most of 2020 and 2021 limited his visits to libraries and checking old newspapers, Carroll said, but he got lucky at times using newspaper accesses online “that weren’t available when I did Anderson (biography in 2007).
“I talked to a lot of the old players; delving into newspaper articles, I talked to a couple people who grew up in the town where he was raised,” Carroll added, noting it required “about a year solid of research.
“In 2013 or ’14, I interviewed some of those Air Force guys; I knew I was going to write about Buck Shaw,” Carroll said, pleased with the effort and a book that should do well in this year’s Arizona-New Mexico book competition, of which it is a nonfiction contender.
And why should Shaw also be a contender of sorts, namely for a bust in Canton?
“Of coaches that have been head coaches in the NFL for 10 years or more, he’s 15th … tied with Bud Grant and Dick Vermeil in terms of winning percentage, and they’re both in the HOF,” Carroll offers.
Carroll’s not working on another book, he said.
“I’m going to take it easy,” he said, planning to spend more time relaxing in Pagosa Springs. “I don’t think I can make any income off it.
“Writing’s tough, even when you’re writing about something you love.”
And being an author wasn’t originally in the works: “I really didn’t think much about it till I’d been teaching about 20 years,” discovering, “There were some great football stories out there.”