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Tuesday, December 30, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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O.E. `Babe' Hollingbery -- Legendary Coach Led By Following Rules

Seattle Times Assistant Sports Editor

Players knew what to expect from O.E. "Babe" Hollingbery. No smoking, no drinking, no cussing. Break a rule and lose your scholarship.

So when end Nick Susoeff puffed on a cigarette on the steps of the campus post office in 1942 and saw the Washington State football coach driving toward him, he acted fast. Susoeff turned, chewed up his lit cigarette and swallowed.

Orin Ercel Hollingbery could make you do that.

The man who guided Cougar football from the Roaring '20s through the Great Depression and into World War II was as tough and steady as the times were turbulent. His formula never varied - follow the rules, run the single-wing and win.

Hollingbery coached longer (17 seasons), won more games (93) and had a better winning percentage (.637) than any other football coach in WSU history. He was chosen by a 10-person panel as the school's greatest football coach.

"He was a winner," said his son, O.E. "Buster" Hollingbery II, now 75, who played in the 1940s and lives in Yakima.

Sixty-seven years after Babe Hollingbery coached Washington State to the Rose Bowl his former players still speak of him with reverence.

"He was the best," said Howard Moses, a reserve on the team that played in the 1931 Rose Bowl.

Hollingbery never attended college and spoke with a stammer, but was a brilliant man who rarely forgot a name and delivered stirring pregame speeches.

He grew up in San Francisco, where he lettered in five sports, was an outstanding bowler and later won state championships in golf and trapshooting.

His energy was legendary. He coached three football teams one fall, riding his motorbike from practice to practice, and had to coach a half on each sideline when his high-school teams from Lick and Commerce played. His success with the Olympic Club caught the eye of Washington State administrators.

His shining moment came in 1930, when the Cougars finished the regular season 9-0 before losing to Alabama in the Rose Bowl.

Players recall he wore a tie, even at practice, had a photographic memory that allowed him to recognize instantly where a play went wrong and urged his players by saying, "hup-ti-ditty!" (rough translation: Get your rear in gear).

He left WSU after the '42 season when football took a two-year hiatus for World War II. He started a hop-brokerage in Yakima still run by his family. Hollingbery suffered a stroke and died in 1974 at 80.

His son recalls his father fondly and sees similarities between Babe and the coach who guided the '97 Cougars to their Rose Bowl appearance, Mike Price.

"He sticks by his boys, and he's a good moral man," Buster Hollingbery said. "If I had a kid going to school, I'd want him to be coached by Mike Price."

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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