In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports writer Dave Hackenberg talked with former University of Toledo athletic director and head football coach Frank X. Lauterbur.
He is no longer the winningest coach in UT history, but that small detail has not diminished the legend of the man known back in the day simply as FXL. He still attends every Rockets home game and is as recognizable walking the streets of Toledo at age 80 as he was while presiding over the heyday of UT football.
Lauterbur became the school's head coach in 1963, inheriting a program that had enjoyed just one modest winning season in the previous eight years under four different coaches. He struggled at first, too, with three losing records and one .500 season in his first four years. But once he got the Rockets' program cranked up, well, it was cranked to the max.
Toledo won its first Mid-American Conference championship during a 9-1 season in 1967. Two years later, a 45-18 win over Villanova in the '69 season opener was the first of 35 straight wins by the Rockets, 23 of which were accomplished under Lauterbur before he accepted the head coaching job at the University of Iowa. Jack Murphy succeeded him at UT and capped off the streak with a 12-0 season in 1971.
Lauterbur's UT record of 48-32-2 has been surpassed in win total by only Gary Pinkel (73) and by FXL's first quarterback at UT, Dan Simrell (50).
Born in Cincinnati, Lauterbur moved north after his widowed mother remarried and he played prep ball at University of Detroit High School. After serving in the Marine Corps, he played for three years at Mount Union College.
Lauterbur first coached on the prep level at Wickliffe and Collinwood high schools in the Cleveland area. He spent two years as an assistant at Kent State and two with the NFL's Baltimore Colts under Weeb Ewbank before jumping at the chance to coach the offensive line at Army under the legendary coach, Earl "Red" Blaik. He spent five years at West Point, including the undefeated 1958 season that featured Heisman Trophy winner Pete Dawkins.
He then coached one season at the University of Pittsburgh before answering the call to rebuild UT's program.
After his head coaching days at Toledo and Iowa [1971-73], Lauterbur spent the rest of his career as an NFL assistant - he coached in Super Bowl XIV in 1980 while with the Los Angeles Rams - and in the short-lived USFL before working for a decade for the National Scouting Service until his retirement in 1993.
Lauterbur met his wife, Mary, while at Mount Union. She was a bank cashier in Alliance, Ohio, and he would always stand in her line to cash his GI Bill check. One day, he worked up the courage to offer her a ride home and they've been married for 56 years. They have three daughters, one son and two grandchildren.
"WHEN I COACHED at Kent under Trevor Rees, one of Trev's close friends was MAC commissioner David Reese. Dave asked me once what my plans were and I said I wanted to be a head coach. He told me that when the time came, he'd be happy to recommend me.
"Now, fast-forward a number of years to when I was coaching at Pitt. I picked up the Pittsburgh paper one day and saw where Clive Rush had resigned at Toledo. I called the athletic director, a guy named Jim Long, and he said they were about done with interviews, but asked who he could call about me.
I said Trev Rees and Dave Reese. It wasn't two hours later he called me back and said they'd hold off making a decision until meeting with me that weekend.
"I felt there was nowhere for the program to go but up. UT is in a large metropolitan area that produced a lot of fine players, there was a large newspaper that gave the team good coverage, and there were three TV stations. Those were things I felt I could sell to a young man I was recruiting from out of town.
"But the key was recruiting the city. Sure, we'd lose some to Ohio State, Michigan, and Notre Dame, but I never wanted a kid from this area to end up at another MAC school and come back to kick our butts. So we built locally."
"WHEN I WAS hired as football coach I was paid $11,500. A month or so later they offered me the AD job and I got a $2,000 raise. After three or four years, I'm sure people were thinking it should have been the other way around, that maybe I was worth $2,000 as a coach.
"But we went 5-5 in '65 and I sensed that was the start. Each year we got a little better brand of player and our defense was real strong. Dan Simrell was my first quarterback; we moved him from defense in spring practice, and he made things happen. He led the Mid-Am in total offense his junior and senior years, and then John Schneider, who led us to the MAC title in '67 as a senior, and Steve Jones did the same thing. And then we got Chuck Ealey."
"HAROLD ROLF was a MAC referee who was superintendent of the hospital in Portsmouth, Ohio. He asked me a favor, to come down and speak at a banquet at St. Joe's High School in Ironton. After the dinner the priest at St. Joe's asked me over to the residence for a soft drink [laughs]. I met another priest there and he was the principal at Portsmouth Notre Dame.
"He told me Notre Dame had a real good football team and asked if I was recruiting any of his players. I told him that we got so much talent out of northwest Ohio that we didn't really go that far south and didn't have many contacts there. He said they had a real fine quarterback who had been undefeated for three years. His name was Chuck Ealey and the priest told me that Bo [Schembechler, the Miami of Ohio coach] and Bill Hess [Ohio U] were looking at him.
"The priest told me that Chuck was playing basketball, too, and that they had a game in Marion the next night. So I sent [assistant coach] Dick Walker down. The next day, Dick said, 'I don't know what kind of a football player he is, but he's about as good an athlete as I've ever seen.' So we arranged a visit. This big tackle, Jim Goodman, came up with Chuck, they're sitting in my office, and I said, 'I've got scholarships for both of you.' I'd never seen film of either kid, I'd never seen either of them play. I offered them scholarships sight unseen and told Chuck that he'd be a quarterback at Toledo. He hadn't gotten that assurance from other schools. Made me look pretty smart, eh?
"Chuck could have won for any team at any level. He never lost a high school game, went 35-0 at UT, then went to the Canadian Football League the next year and led his team [Hamilton] to the Grey Cup. How he could do the things he did and not be in the College Football Hall of Fame just boggles the mind."
"WHAT WAS THE most memorable game of the streak? Well, one has to be game No. 4 at Bowling Green. We were up 17-0 at halftime, but BG scored to go ahead with 49 seconds left. Obligingly, they missed the extra point and it was 26-24 and we had a chance. Ealey said, 'Let's go.' He scrambled for a gain, he found [Don] Seymour for 15 yards or so, then hit a square out to [Don] Fair with 12 seconds left. And Kenny Crots kicked the [37-yard] field goal into a tough wind.
"There was certainly a feeling of invincibility. I went in the locker room and I told the team, 'I don't think there's anything we can't do. We might never lose a game.' It turned out I was right."
"I DON'T KNOW exactly what my players thought of me. I demanded a lot because I felt you had to give a lot. Believing you're tough is part of being tough. The Marines put you through boot camp. Maybe I did a little of that as a coach. You might have come in as a tiny tiger, but I wanted you to emerge as a great tiger. Instead of shying away from a challenge, I wanted my players to look at people and say, 'Come on, let's do it.' I think the boys who played for me became men and if I had even a little to do with that then I'm very proud. I hope they consider me a good friend now. They might not know it, but coaching them was my greatest pleasure."
Contact Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.