Hugo Bezdek, the man responsible for developing Penn State’s golf program during the early 1920s, put together an astounding coaching career that spanned the first half of the 1900s.
As Penn State’s athletic director from 1918 through 1936, Bezdek’s love of golf and strong ambitions led to a championship-caliber golf course being built on campus.
His efforts also resulted in the university becoming one of the earliest members of the Intercollegiate Golf Association.
This accomplishment is significant in itself, but it pales in comparison to the mighty career achievements of the amazing Bezdek.
Born in the Czech Republic in 1884, Bezdek’s family emigrated to the United States when he was just 6 years old. A fine athlete as a youth, Bezdek eventually attended the University of Chicago, where he was nationally touted fullback during the 1904 and 1905 football seasons.
Directly out of college, Bezdek began his legendary coaching career by leading the University of Oregon to an undefeated season in 1906.
That success led to a five-year stint as the head coach at Arkansas, where he posted another undefeated season in 1909. Bezdek also coached the Razorbacks’ baseball team.
By 1913, university officials at Oregon had convinced Bezdek to return to Eugene, and the coaching wizard didn’t disappoint. Bezdek directed winning campaigns at Oregon for four consecutive years and capped the 1916 season with a win in the biggest football game of the year, the Rose Bowl.
If his football accolades at Oregon weren’t enough, Bezdek also found time to be the school’s head coach for both basketball and baseball.
During his career at Oregon, Bezdek must have had little time for sleep as he was hired by the Pittsburgh Pirates to be a talent scout for the west coast. So impressed were the Pirates, they actually hired Bezdek to become the club’s manager midway through the 1917 season.
Bezdek would manage the Pirates from 1917 through 1919 but still coached college football in the offseason. By 1919, he was hired by Penn State to become both the school’s athletic director and head football coach.
Over 12 seasons in State College, Bezdek posted an impressive 65-30-11 record and led the Nittany Lions to an appearance in the 1923 Rose Bowl. For good measure, Bezdek also served as the school’s head basketball coach in 1919.
During his career as a coach, Bezdek had become enamored with the game of golf. While at Penn State, he would use his football success to convince school administrators to build a championship golf course (today’s White Course).
He also pushed for Penn State’s acceptance into the Ivy League-dominated Intercollegiate Golf Association in 1925 (Penn State would eventually become the first school outside the Ivy League to win the Eastern Conference championship of this association).
Bezdek’s career as a collegiate coach ended by 1930, but his influence as athletic director could be felt over all the competitive Penn State programs until he finally left the position in 1936.
Bezdek, however, wasn’t quite done with coaching.
In 1937, he was hired to be the head coach for the Cleveland Rams of the National Football League and served the team in that capacity for two seasons before retiring for good. He would live a fairly quiet life, enjoying friends and playing golf, before passing away peacefully in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1952.
Bezdek, the man who brought competitive golf to Penn State, remains the only man to coach both a Major League baseball team and a National Football League squad.
He was also posthumously elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954.