Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Lambright, Part VII: An apology and a prayer

      (Part VII)
      Joe Raymond Peace was the best linebacker and a tri-captain on the first Louisiana Tech University football team (1967) with Maxie Lambright as head coach.
      Denny Duron -- my opinion -- was the biggest player success story in Tech's 12-year Lambright era, the "fill-in" quarterback who was the field and spiritual leader of the 1972 and '73 Bulldogs who had a combined 24-1 record.
      Both had unique connections to Lambright. Peace apologized to him. Duron prayed with him. Their stories follow.
Joe Raymond Peace,
then and now
      Peace has this distinction: He is the only one who played for Lambright at Tech and went on to become the Bulldogs' head coach (eight seasons, 1988-95).
      He is 71 now, and after 27 years of coaching football, working in real estate sales and living in Ruston.
      "I learned so much from Maxie and [then-assistant coach] Pat Collins," he says now. "Being in the coaching profession all those years, I came to realize how much I appreciated them."
      But it was not how he felt in 1967. He will tell you that he had an uneasy relationship in the one season he played for Maxie and his new staff.
      He had played three seasons for Coach Joe Aillet, a man he revered, as so many others did. Peace's father, Raymond, had played for Aillet right after the coach came to Tech in 1940 and again just after World War II. As Raymond built a long coaching career at Sicily Island, La., he maintained his ties with Coach Aillet.
      Plus, Joe Raymond's defensive coach at Tech in 1964-66 was George Doherty. So he was one of many who felt Doherty deserved the Tech head coaching job succeeding Aillet and he was one of the players who made that request to Tech president Dr. F. Jay Taylor.
      Didn't happen, of course, so Joe Raymond had to adjust to Lambright and staff.
      He had been an all-conference player as a junior, but did not play as well as a senior, and there was a rift when Lambright called in the captains to ask them about the quarterback competition between Phil Robertson and Terry Bradshaw.
      Lambright and Peace did not agree on the choice. The coach -- surprise -- prevailed. The season went on and Tech finished with a 3-7 record.
      Peace would embark on his coaching life just after graduation and eventually, from 1975 to '78 as an assistant (offensive line coach) to A.L. Williams at Northwestern State have to face Lambright's last four Tech teams.
      "No. 1, they were very, very talented," he said of opposing the Bulldogs. "They recruited players who could play in any league, as shown by the All-Americans and [future] pros they had. Gosh, it was difficult to play against them, compete against them.
      "They had people like [Mickey] Slaughter running the offense and Pat running the defense, talented people ahead of their time. But Maxie was the catalyst for all those talented coaches. He laid the groundwork and built the structure that made it work."
      And, after years of feeling a strain in his dealings with Lambright, he had the chance to make amends.
      "I went to Monroe to see a game at Wossman [High]," he said of a recruiting trip for Northwestern, "and Maxie was sitting in the stands all by himself. I said to myself, 'This is my chance."
      He went to greet Lambright and said, "Coach, I want to apologize. I wasn't a very good leader for you my senior year. I really appreciate what you did, and what you're doing [at Tech.]"
      Lambright, he said, replied, "Forget it. Let's just go on from here."
      "And from that time, we had a good relationship." 
      Lambright was quite a change from Aillet, who Peace said "was laid-back; he made his [coaching and teaching] points so quietly."
      Both coaches "had their way to get the most out of people."
      The most pertinent coaching factor he learned from Maxie was "his toughness. He was a tough guy. ... In that first year, he brought us toughness, and we needed that. Louisiana Tech football needed that.
      "There was accountability, and that paid off when they had [better] athletes. That's what made them so successful. It made a difference."
      Echoing what others mentioned, Peace said, "Maxie could be pretty darned stern. When he was pissed, we were frightened. And I knew when he was pissed."
      When Williams, a mid-1950s Tech star and one of Aillet's most successful coaching proteges and most enthusiastic admirers, moved from NSU to Tech in 1983, Peace came with him as an assistant and stayed on for Carl Torbush's one season as head coach. He then succeeded Torbush.
      In Peace's tenure, Tech made the jump from Division II to Division I independent and faced very competitive -- rugged -- schedules loaded with "money" road games at the "major" schools. That reflects in Peace's 40-44-4 record, but there were two very good seasons -- 8-3-1 in 1990, ending with a 34-34 tie against Maryland in the Independence bowl, and 8-1-2 in 1991 (only loss was the season opener).
      The '92 Bulldogs came as close as any team that season against national champion Alabama, losing 13-0.
      Years after leaving coaching, Peace reflects -- as he always has about Aillet -- on what Lambright had meant to him.
      "He touched my life," Peace said. "I didn't know it at the time. He helped me get better as a person."
The young Denny
      Denny Duron called Lambright "a great leader. There are two kids of leaders: (1) Those who lead and the way they lead, you say, 'wow' and (2) those who lead and inspire others to become great leaders. ... He had those [assistant coaches] on his staff that became great leaders, and so many of his players became great leaders."
      The Rev. Duron, who followed his father -- the founder of Shreveport's Evangel Christian Academy -- into the ministry, has been one of those leaders, as a pastor and as a football coach.
      Serving as chancellor of the Evangel schools (kindergarten through high school), and as a preacher (with wife DeAnza) for the Shreveport Community Church (affiliated with the Assemblies of God), he for most of three decades has helped coach the offense for a football program that has won 14 state championships and sent dozens of players to college football and the NFL. 
      At Louisiana Tech, he was the biggest winner at quarterback the school has ever had -- and Terry Bradshaw was far from the only QB star for the Bulldogs.
      And Duron, a good-but-not-great QB in high school at Captain Shreve in 1969, was not a QB his first two years at Tech, having moved to wide receiver.
      But there was no evident successor to Kenny Lantrip in the spring of 1972. The coaches watched Duron throw the ball in receiver warmups -- and decided he might be the answer.
      He was.
      It helped to have talent all around him -- running backs Roland Harper, Glen Berteau and Charles "Quick Six" McDaniel, receivers Roger Carr and Pat Tilley, tight end Mike Barber, a strong offensive line, and a defense led by lineman Fred Dean (Pro Football Hall of Fame) and linebacker Joe McNeely.
      Duron, though, was a clutch passer and a productive one -- 3,498 yards in two seasons.
      Tech went 12-0 in 1972 -- its only undefeated season in the "modern" era -- and shared a National Football Foundation NCAA Division II national title, and then went 12-1 in 1973 (lost at Eastern Michigan in the opener) and won the first official NCAA Division II playoff championship.
      Plus, with Denny as one of the leaders, spirituality/faith/religion was a hallmark of those Tech teams.  
      After Duron played briefly in the new World Football League with Birmingham, he went into coaching -- as the first head coach (1977-82) at Evangel University in Springfield, Mo.
      And the first person he called after he got the job: Maxie Lambright. "Coach, what advice do you have for me?" he asked.
      Lambright replied,  "Well, Denny, let your coaches coach." The explanation followed: "When I first was coaching, I tried to oversee everything." But when he went to Louisiana Tech, "I tried to give my young coaches the freedom to coach and tried to trust them."
      He was, said Duron, "never a leader who was intimidated by strong people. The fact is he was able to build a cohesive staff and keep them together."
      Duron adapted much of the Lambright philosophy and methods to his own coaching career. He particularly liked the way he ran his practices -- "way ahead of his time" -- and that individual and group drills were geared toward team-building.
      What he didn't try to copy was Lambright's wrath. He felt it a couple of times. Once involved football, the other involved prayer.
      Duron as a freshman had made the transition from QB to wide receiver and he was due to start his right game "wearing my hero's number 43 (1966-69 Tech receiving star Tommy Spinks)."
      In a walkthrough 24 hours before the game -- usually a quiet exercise for reviewing sets, personnel groupings and plays -- he heard "Coach Lambright screaming at somebody from the distance. He was absolutely ripping somebody."
      The closer Lambright came, Duron came to realize who the recipient: "It was me."
      The Bulldogs were working on a counter play in which the wide receiver would either block a linebacker or take the handoff from the QB. Lambright stopped the play, "grabbed me by the shirt and literally threw me off the field," said Duron, and insisted that Denny's roommate (for four years at Tech), Huey Kirby, move into the position.
      "Huey was 6-2, 225 pounds, built like a bodybuilder," Duron said, "and Maxie wanted more size at that spot in that formation. I couldn't have made those plays.
      "The next night Huey blocked masterfully and scored on a counter play."
      Lambright, he said, "would make those calls instinctively, and he would be right.
      "It was a great lesson in leadership. When I became a leader, I always kept that in mind. It was one of the many great lessons in life that I took from 'the Blue Max.' "
The Rev. Denny Duron
      The second piece of Lambright unhappiness with Duron came when Denny and Kirby -- among those who led the prayers at team meals -- were late arriving for a breakfast the day of a game. "Slaughter stopped me when we came in the room and said, 'Stay away from Coach Lambright. He is very unhappy with you.' From then on, we got to meals and meetings 10 minutes early."
      Lambright, said assistant coach Wallace Martin, who was the sponsor for Tech's Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the 1970s, "was very encouraging about FCA activities" and "wanted us (the coaches) to have a family life, wanted us to be with our families in church on Sunday mornings." So the coaches' work on Sundays in football season began after noon.
       Duron "loved coming back to Tech" in the late 1970s for summer football camps, and he said one year Martin told him he was concerned about Lambright. "I don't know if he's ever received Christ," Martin said. "I'm worried about him. You need to talk to him."
      "I told him I didn't want to do that," Denny said. "I was scared to death of Coach Lambright, although he'd always been so gracious and kind to me at Tech and afterward."
      "Believe me, he'll listen to you," Martin said. A reluctant Duron finally agreed, and soon went into Lambright's office and asked to meet him."
      "What can I do for you?" Lambright said.
      "Coach, we're worried about you," Denny said.
      Lambright asked, "Do I look that bad, Denny?"
      "No, coach, you look fine," he replied, "but I'd like to know if you've accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior? If you don't mind, I'd like to pray with you."
      With that, Coach Lambright "slipped out from behind the desk and fell on his knees beside me. And we prayed."
      It was, said the Rev. Duron, "the moment of moments for me. To pray with my hero, my coach. I had been so intimidated by him.
      "It was a special moment for me in my life."
      (Next: the player, the family man)      

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