Friday, March 15, 2013

"Gentleman Jim" a Tech treasure, always

Coach Mize and Miss Minnie (from
        Louisiana Tech University track and field athletes from the 1950s, '60s and '70s will gather at a reunion this weekend in Ruston, and no question the two most special people attending will be their coach and his wife.
        The occasion is the Jim Mize Invitational at the Jim Mize Track and Field Complex.
        Jimmy Mize, a young 96, and Minnie Mize, his wife for 64 years, are expected to be there. They long have been among Louisiana Tech and Ruston's favorite couples, although they now reside in assisted living in Baton Rouge near their daughter Sallie. Son Alec isn't that far away in Houston.
        Coach and Miss Minnie have outlived most of their contemporaries, and many of his athletes. Until a few years ago, they were a dashing, dancing pair. They were engaging, always fun to be around. I'm sure they still are.
        Family members say Miss Minnie remains "a fireball" and that Coach, while slowed physically, is mentally sharp, which I found to be true when I spoke to him briefly Thursday evening. 
        Coach Mize is a Tech legend, but he was that already when we were students in the mid to late 1960s. When we think of Coach Joe Aillet -- who was at Tech from 1940 to 1970 -- we also think of Coach Mize. They were a team. (There were others in that same era I could mention, but that's for future blogs.)
           They were much alike: dignified, soft-spoken, thorough, dedicated. They stressed academics and emphasized values, taking care of business away from the playing field. Their teams won; sometimes won big.  From my experience, Coach Aillet was more  scholarly, more professor-like. Coach Mize was accessible ... and interesting.
           They were such ... gentlemen. That word just fits.
           Tech made the Mize legend official when he was inducted into the university's Hall of Distinguished Alumni two years ago.
           My question: What took them so long? The man's affiliation with Tech dated 77 years then; he had been retired, out of coaching for 34 years.
            There is an excellent article on Coach Mize and the induction, written by Teddy Allen, in the 2011 summer edition of the Louisiana Tech Magazine entitled "Gentleman Jim." (Page 4)
           And because Teddy has given me permission, I'm going to use some of the information in the article.
            The tall, thin, always-fit man who came out of Shreveport's Fair Park High School to study at Tech, and play football and basketball, first arrived on campus in 1934. 
           He began coaching at Ruston High -- just down the street from Tech -- under another legend, L.J. "Hoss" Garrett upon graduation in 1938. After two years, Garrett insisted Mize taking the vacant coaching job at Arcadia High, 20 miles west, and in that year, 1940, Arcadia won the Class B state championship.
          And then came five years in the military, more than two years as a pilot in the Southwest Pacific during World War II, 3,800-plus flying hours and 300 missions -- some of them, I would guess, harrowing in the midst of Japanese warfare. And post-war, 18 more years as an Air Force reserve unit commander in Ruston.
          Jimmy Mize served his country well before he came back to serve Louisiana Tech.
          (Remember the pilot role; I'm coming back to that in a bit.)
          And then, Coach Aillet in 1946 made him his offensive line coach -- his second-in-command, really -- and Tech's track and field and cross-country coach. He stayed with football through 1970, one of two holdovers on the staff (with E.J. Lewis) when Maxie Lambright took over the program in 1967, and then he remained as track/field coach through 1977, producing (with Lewis' recruiting help) some of his finest teams and athletes in the mid-1970s.
        Coach Mize was a meticulous planner and organizer. He kept his track practice plans, his track lineups for meets, results, football playbooks and game plans ... probably all dating to 1946. His office was, well, cluttered.
         As a student assistant in sports information (and sometimes acting SID), I spent many an hour in that office. I didn't remain as close to Coach Mize as some of the other men and coaches I've written about in this blog, but being around him many days for four years was worthwhile.
         It was fun to listen to him; he could reference most any game, event, athlete, opposing coach -- and his life experiences, including war tales -- into stories. And, yes, he could talk.
          Not only that, but he was one of those people -- this might sound funny -- who talked with his hands, too. (Watch Dick Vitale and baseball analyst Harold Reynolds on TV; their hands are constantly moving.) Coach Mize's hands were always demonstrating.
          He could break down blocking techniques, even for the uninformed (like me), and the progress of his linemen, and of his track and field athletes. He could project how track meets would score, and he wasn't often far off. He knew where Tech's team stood.
        He was so genuine, and so cooperative, and unfailingly polite -- to everyone. To be honest, there were those -- other coaches, people on campus -- who he didn't think represented the values he believed in. But he was never harsh in those discussions.
        I especially liked the many weekend afternoons when young Alec -- as polite as his dad -- would join him around the office. Alec is now a semi-retired successful businessman, and he's 60; I can't imagine that.
        Coach Mize was a fast driver, very fast. The old plane pilot had the need for speed -- from his linemen, on the track -- and behind the wheel. I'm talking 85 in a 60 mph zone.
          If you ever rode with him on the highway, in one of the old white Tech station wagons, you didn't forget it. He could make the Ruston-Shreveport trip -- more than an hour for most of us -- seem like a breeze.
         My great friend, the late Ken Liberto, used to do a good imitation of Coach Mize behind the wheel ... the straight posture, leaned back, right foot pressing the pedal ... whoosh!
          "Coach Mize," Liberto wryly observed, "still thinks he's flying that plane, on the highway."
          And he could tell stories while he drove, using his hands. Hands-free driving?          
          I don't know if he ever got pulled over for speeding, or how many times, but I can imagine Coach could have charmed his way out of a ticket. 
         In the spring of my senior year (1969), we hosted the conference track and field meet, and I was the acting SID, so I was in charge of producing a small program and getting the meet results to the media. It was enough work, and I was trying to finish my final classes, so it was a challenge.
          After the meet, about the time I graduated, I received a handwritten note from Coach Mize thanking me for my work and telling me to "keep telling it like it is" as I went into the newspaper field. It was a much-appreciated note then ... and now.
         When I wrote him a letter a few years ago again thanking him for all he had done for me and so many at Tech, I received a return letter -- again handwritten -- a week later, as usual with his gracious touch.
         Wouldn't expect anything else from this admirable gentleman. 
         "I enjoyed all my years at Louisiana Tech, with Coach Aillet and Coach Lambright, and everyone," Coach Mize said Thursday night. "Those were some great times."    
        For more on Coach Mize, here's a separate blog with quotes from other Tech people who share my gratitude:


  1. From Maxie Hays: Great post, Nico. Coach Mize and Minnie are two of my favorite people in Ruston. I will see him tomorrow at the Terry Cross memorial service before the track meet. Great person.

  2. From Glenn Murphy: I read your writeup on Coach Mize. I thought it was great. He is a man of an era we might never see again. Such a fine guy is hard to find.

  3. From Jerie Shirley Black: I enjoy all your posts but especially those about people I knew "then" and still know. When I was in Ruston 1969-1974 I met so many folks through my work at First National Bank ... the legendary Sam Thomas was my boss. I knew most of the coaches since they were part of my parents' social circle in Shreveport when I was growing up and before they moved on to coach college ball. I did not know Coach Mize before I lived in Ruston and Miss Minnie was a delight ... a firecracker for sure and very stylish. Mr. Dodd had to special order her shoes, long and narrow ... now why do I remember that?

  4. From Jimmy Russell: This was a great piece. I saw him many times in my different trips to Tech but never met the man or knew him. He seemed just to go about his business. You say it took Tech too long to recognize him and you are right but so many times men like him who can do the job extremely well but are not “out there” -- if you know what I mean -- get passed over. He sounds like he was a topnotch human being who gave his life to being the COACH.

  5. I have to agree with all of the gracious words spoken about Coach Mize, although I was never coached by him. I knew him all of my life, he is my late fathers brother and the man who started me toward my career when I was at the tender age of 8. He gave me my first airplane ride in a J-3 Cub in which he was part owner. He was truly a gentleman in an era of gentlemen because my father was the same way and what a pleasure to have him visit when he would come into our area on a school recruiting trip. I would learn of the local future sports greats that he was trying to get to Tech and their backgrounds, a real treat for a youngster. I also had the pleasure of visiting recently with Uncle Jim and Aunt Minnie and they are both still a delight. In my humble opinion it would be hard to find a more impressive couple.
    H. L. Mize

  6. From Liz Sachs Piker: Once again, I read with big, ol' tears in my eyes -- the Mizes were such a part of my growing up in Ruston you can't imagine. First, the whole athletic community at Tech in those days was just a part of my life and I ate it up with a spoon. ... Minnie came into my life when I learned to dance and became part of the March of Dimes competition and Ball. ... Miss Minnie was our choreographer when it came to the program and introductions of the ladies who were sponsored by the various women's and men's clubs in town. ... Minnie taught us to be "graceful" and "light on our feet" and she was the consummate Southern Lady/Belle and we loved her. Jimmy was the sweetest, most kind and polite person for being involved with sports and especially football that I ever knew. He was wonderful. I would love to see them both again.... Just let them know that I love them and I am SO glad that they are doing so well. I know that Ruston misses them and I hope that they are well and happy. They certainly made a whole bunch of people VERY HAPPY throughout their lives and are still (I am sure!) doing it.

  7. I LOVED my "modern dance" class and teacher!!! She looks fabulous, as always!