Frank X. Lauterbur, 88, the revered University of Toledo head football coach and athletic director who was the architect of the team that had three undefeated seasons with 35 straight victories, died Wednesday in Parkcliffe Alzheimer’s Community.
Mr. Lauterbur of West Toledo had Parkinson’s disease and dementia, his daughter Mary said.
He was UT football coach and athletic director from 1963-70. His teams won Mid-American Conference championships in 1967 — his first winning UT season — 1969, and 1970. The latter two teams began UT’s undefeated run that continued through 1971 under Coach Jack Murphy.
Gallery: Frank Lauterbur Iconic Moments
As athletic director, Mr. Lauterbur hired coaches who produced winning seasons in other sports for UT, such as Bob Nichols in basketball, Stan Sanders in baseball, and Barney Francis in golf.
“Obviously, we lost a great Rocket in Coach Lauterbur,” UT athletic director Mike O'Brien said before Wednesday’s football game at the Glass Bowl where a moment of silence was observed.
“He has so many fans here in the city of Toledo and the university,” Mr. O’Brien said. “He mentored and coached so many young people.”
UT honored Mr. Lauterbur in April at a scrimmage.
But in 1963, UT football teams were usually losers.
“Frank had to dig out of the pits of hell when he got here,” said Max Gerber, retired UT sports information director. “He drove off a lot of football players who weren’t willing to pay the price, work-wise, practice-wise, until he got players who bought into his system of discipline.”
He could be as demanding of his staff as he was of the players, said former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, an assistant coach.
“He really was uncompromising in his commitment to a winning program,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “Yet all you had to do was ask Frank, if you had an issue that you needed his help on, and the gruff, demanding, former West Point assistant football coach and Marine would sit down immediately beside you and say, ‘What can I do to help?’ That’s why we all feel so warmly as we do.
“He taught us to be men,” Mr. Finkbeiner said.
Four losing seasons in the conference preceded his first championship.
“He knew success was like a marathon run. You might not have the fastest time at the end of one mile, but you have 25 more miles to go,” Mr. Finkbeiner said.
When Mr. Lauterbur secured Chuck Ealey as quarterback, “that was the linchpin to what he was building,” Mr. Gerber said. At the time, there were few black college quarterbacks.
“Frank recognized greatness in him and gave him a chance to do what he did,” Mr. Gerber said.
Mr. Ealey said: “He was the one person who believed and gave me a chance to play quarterback. He was a tough coach, but very fair.”
It was an extraordinary time in Toledo sports, when a local team exploded on the national scene, said Christine Brennan, a USA Today columnist who grew up in the Toledo area following Mr. Lauterbur’s teams.
“He brought the University of Toledo to prominence,” Ms. Brennan said. “When you think about something that happened in 1969 that people still talk about, that’s pretty amazing.”
He was inducted into the Varsity ‘T’ Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Mid-American Conference Hall of Fame in 1990.
Mr. Lauterbur left UT in 1971 to become head football coach at the University of Iowa, where he remained until 1973. He later was an assistant coach for professional teams. He and his family made Toledo home when he became an NFL scout covering Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. He retired in 1993.
He was born Aug. 8, 1925, in Cincinnati to Wilhelmina and Frank Lauterbur. His father died in 1932, and several years later his mother married her brother-in-law, Leo Lauterbur.
“I learned from my stepfather,” Mr Lauterbur told The Toledo Times in 1967. “He led me into sports and into hard work. He was a great believer in working hard at whatever you’re doing.”
He was a 1943 graduate of University of Detroit High School and attended Oberlin College as part of the Marine Corps V-12 program. He played football on Oberlin’s Ohio Conference championship team, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marines during World War II.
He played football and basketball for Marines teams at Camp Pendleton in 1945-46. He was an All-Ohio Conference guard at Mount Union College from 1946-48. He received a bachelor’s degree from Mount Union and later a master’s degree from Kent State University.
After coaching high school teams in Wickliffe, Ohio, and Cleveland, he was a defensive line coach for the Army team; a line coach at Kent State, and a defensive line and tackle coach for the Baltimore Colts.
He was a member of Little Flower Church.
He and his wife, Mary, married June 7, 1949. She died April 27, 2006.
Surviving are his daughters, Fran Denny, Mary Lauterbur, and Carol Philyaw; son, Frank Lauterbur, and two grandsons.
Arrangements are pending at Walker Funeral Home.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6182.
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