By Christopher Boan
Tucson Local Media
Dec. 1, 2019
Bill Dwyre arrived in Los Angeles in 1981 with no idea that he’d soon become one of the longest tenured sports editors at the west coast’s premier newspaper.
Dwyre came to the City of Angels from the Cream City, Milwaukee, where he worked at the Journal after a short stint as a copy editor at the Des Moines Register in Iowa.
He remembers the reaction his parents, who were lifelong Wisconsinites, had when he told them he’d be leaving to head west.
“I called [my mom] to tell her that I’d been named sports editor because I thought that would maybe help her feelings, that maybe this was worth the trip for our family,” Dwyre recalls. “…So, anyway, I called, and she’d been a big fan of sports journalism, a good reader, and the Milwaukee Sentinel had Jim Murray every morning.
“So, I called her, I told her, and she was very happy and very proud, saying, ‘very good, do your best dear.’ I got up and two minutes later, the phone rang, and it was her and she goes, ‘Wait a minute. Does this mean you’re Jim Murray’s boss?’’”
The kicker to that story epitomizes Dwyre’s dry sense of humor, and where he got it from, as his mother didn’t miss an opportunity to deliver a classic one-liner.
“She said, ‘Oh god help us,’ and hung up again,” Dwyre said.
Needless to say, Dwyre was more than up to the task to edit Murray, who was the recipient of the Red Smith Award in 1982.
Dwyre himself would receive the same award, given out by the Associated Press Sport Editors each year since 1981 in commemoration of outstanding contributions to the field of sports journalism, in 1996.
The weight of that award isn’t lost on Dwyre, who sat next to Smith at his final Super Bowl in 1989.
“I revered him always because Red was like Jim Murray. He was syndicated in the Milwaukee Sentinel and I grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, which is 60 miles North of Milwaukee,” Dwyre said. “And we took the Sentinel every morning. And I’m Red was from, I think Green Bay.
And he went to Notre Dame. I was from Sheboygan, in the same conferences as all the Green Bay schools. And I went to Notre Dame. And so, this was a guy that I just revered.”
Dwyre remembers watching an elderly Smith struggle to move around during the game, to the point that he worried about the former New York Times columnist’s ability to finish his piece on the game.
“I remember that I went down the elevator with Red, and I was feeling kind of like I needed to stay near him because he was kind of shaky,” Dwyre said. “And then he kind of went his own way, and I got back upstairs and started to write, and he wasn’t there.”
Dwyre remembers feeling worried about Smith, who he called a hero of his, because of his unexpected absence.
His fears would prove unfounded, however, as the next day’s Times would prove, as Smith’s cutting commentary was just as omnipresent as always.
“I picked up the paper the next day, and it was goddamned incredible,” Dwyre joked. “It made your toes curl; it was so good. It just was amazing to me.”
Dwyre and Smith share several traits, with both graduating from Notre Dame, as well as starting their careers in the Cream City.
Dwyre would carve his own memorable path, however, running the Times during the 1984 Olympics, when he was tasked with overseeing a daily, 40-page special section on the games, on top of the paper’s normal sports section.
His staff of 106 sportswriters, based in various regions of Southern California, got to work on their Olympics coverage in 1983, sending a reporter to every world championship event possible.
Dwyre said the paper’s ability to thrive in its coverage of the summer games was thanks to the due diligence of then-owner, Otis Chandler, who dedicated a swath of resources to his department.
“Otis’ involvement is really an example of how I fell into a pile of gold and was really fortunate,” Dwyre said. “He had been a shot putter at Stanford and had just missed the Olympics. And so, I learned this thing and I was pretty much given an open checkbook.
“I was pretty much given an unlimited budget and exceeded it. I went slowly, but I spent a lot of money.”
That money went to a good cause, however, as Dwyre and his deputy sports editor, George Caseda, churned out award-winning sections day-after-day during the games.
“He and I were joined at the hip as we planned this,” Dwyre said of Caseda, who came to the California from the New York Times. “And I kind of went through the, through the political infighting at the LA Times that you’ll always have in an event like this.
“There were three or four assistant city editors who wanted to take over and run the Olympic coverage of the LA Times, and I blocked that off. I knew that it had to be run by sports, or it wouldn’t work.”
It’s that level-headed leadership that allowed Dwyre to guide the Times forward during his 25-year run as sports editor.
It’s that dedication to quality that stands out to former Times college sports reporter and columnist Chris Dufresne, who came to the Times in 1981 as well.
Dufresne and Dwyre’s tenures overlapped, beginning and ending at the same time. The two shared a unique bond, according to Dufresne, with the young writer going from being terrified of his new boss to revering him in short order.
“He was older, in the position of power, the master and commander. I was a young writer trying to find my way and it’s fair to say I owe my career to him,” Dufresne said. “Dwyre was the finest sports editor ta writer could work for, under and sometimes even around.”
Dufresne remembers how much he feared getting calls from Dwyre when he first started, given his stature in the industry.
“Simply put, in the early years, a phone call from him was like hearing ‘The voice of God,’ and made you sit up in your chair,” Dufresne said. “He dealt with our varies temperaments and egos but was by-and-large tough, fair and demanding to the point where your worst fear became letting him, and the newspaper, down. At least that was my fear.”
It’s fair to say that Dwyre did not let many at the Times down during his quarter-century at the paper, establishing the paper at the forefront of journalistic excellence during his tenure.
Dwyre carried that excellence as an editor to his later career as a columnist at the paper from 2006-15, when he took a buyout from the paper.
Dwyre summarized his time as a columnist as the perfect way to wrap up his career at the Times, as it allowed him to get back to doing what he loved most, telling people’s stories.
The key to success as a writer, from Dwyre’s experience, is to always go one step further in your process, making additional calls or completing additional interviews, to make a piece stand out.
“If you’re not curious, you were dead with me,” Dwyre said. “…There’s always another thing, and I always preach that. Make another phone call. When you think you’ve got it, make another phone call, because there’s always something else hanging out there.”
That commitment and dedication to detail is what stands out to Dufresne, who saw Dwyre’s commitment firsthand during the Olympics and several other noteworthy occasions.
“Dwyre’s operational control during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games produced a daily Olympic special section, plus the regular sports section, the likes which have never been equaled in journalism,” Dufresne said.
“The Pulitzer Prize was diminished for not recognizing the almost unfathomable body of work produced by Dwyre and his staff.
His golf game has always been shaky and his hatred for the USC Trojan horse, Traveler, remains deep-rooted and requires further clinical study.”