Thursday, December 22, 2016

Lambright, Part VIII: The player, the family man

      (Part VIII)
      He wasn't just a football player and a coach. Maxie Lambright was a husband and father ... and "a softie." 
      Can't imagine the players he coached at Southern Mississippi and Louisiana Tech going along with "softie." But away from the game, that's the impression he left with many people.
      Born June 28, 1924, he grew up in Magnolia, Miss., a few miles south of McComb. He was the third child in the family; he had an older brother and sister.
      He was a star athlete at McComb High School, a quarterback in football, graduating in 1942. He joined the U.S. Navy during World War II, and became a Navy pilot.
      Post-war, he first attended LSU to play football, but another talented quarterback -- Y.A. Tittle -- was on campus. Tittle would become a big name in football ... but so did the young man who soon transferred close to home, to what was then called Mississippi Southern.
QB-safety at USM
     Here is some of what Lambright's "bio" on the USM M-Club Hall of Fame says about his playing career:
      "Lambright was a very intelligent football player and was truly a 'coach' on the field for coach Reed Green during the 1946, 1947 and 1948 seasons. With Lambright at the controls, Green knew he had a player outstanding at reading the defenses and knowing what play to call.
     "As a defensive back Lambright displayed the same skills he showed at quarterback, and while playing in the secondary made numerous contributions to the Southern Miss defense.
      "In 1946, Southern Miss was trying to restart its football program after World War II, and Lambright would be one of the important cogs in the rebuilding program. While seeing time at quarterback and defensive back that season he  helped the team to a 7-3 record.
      "[In 1948] Lambright would see the most playing time of his career and turn in a dazzling performance that included three interceptions as a defensive back and 204 yards passing from his quarterback position."
      While he was a player, he met his wife Geraldine Yarborough ("Gerry"), who was working on a graduate degree at USM. They were married for 30-plus years, and had two daughters.
      Linda was 13, an eighth-grader, and Lisa was 9, in third

The Lambright family, soon after
the move to Ruston
grade, when the family moved to Ruston -- and Louisiana Tech -- in 1967.
      "My Dad was pretty quick to get mad when we didn't do right," Linda recalled, a trait with which Coach Lambright's players could identify. But then, "He would spank us, and 10 minutes later, he'd be in our room apologizing."
      And the coach imparted athletic lessons.
      "I was on a swim team," Linda said, "and he would tell me, 'Swim so hard until it hurts.' " When she won five gold medals in a meet, "I realized that's what he was talking about.
      "He was a great dad," Linda added. "He made time for us when we went up there [to the Tech football offices]. And we always had a great time on family vacations in the summer."

The "soft" side of Coach Lambright (with Linda)
     "If we begged him enough about something," Linda said, "you could see him soften up. He was a softie about giving us what we wanted."
     Coach Lambright, the softie. Try that one on his football players.
     By the time Tech football was in the midst of its "golden era" with the coach -- 44-4 in four seasons (1971-74) -- Linda Lambright was a Tech student living in a campus dorm.

      And one all-conference player, a safety, would become more than a star. He would become the Lambrights' son-in-law.
      John Causey came out of the perennial powerhouse football program at Neville High (Monroe) -- still a power -- and followed his older brothers to Tech. Tom had been an All-America, all-conference end in the late 1950s; Walter a team captain and starting defensive end on Lambright's first two teams (1967-68) and a graduate assistant coach when John came on in 1969.
      But John was a walk-on; tall and thin, he had not developed physically as quickly as his brothers. However, he said he grew 40 pounds in the next few years, and by the spring of his second year at Tech, he was beginning to make his presence felt in the secondary.
      When he intercepted three passes in the spring game, he was walking off the field afterward when coach Lambright came up and said, "John, you did a great job. You don't have to worry about a scholarship while I'm here."
      And so, with the financial aid assured, he became a starter. In 1972, he intercepted 10 passes -- four in one game at Texas-Arlington -- and that school record was more than one-third of Tech's 29-interception season, still a school record.
      Plus, there was Linda.
      Sitting around between two-a-day practices early one fall and during a card-playing session, John was looking at Tech's media guide when he noticed the Lambright family photo and remarked, "Coach's daughter is pretty cute."
      As Causey remembered it, star linebacker Joe McNeely -- a "wild man" known as much for his fighting ability as his all-over-the-field tackling and coverage -- said, "I know her. I think I can get you a date with her."
      And wide receiver Pat Tilley, who would go on to star for the NFL St. Louis Cardinals, chimed in with, "You are chicken [bleep]; you're not going to date her."
      "We were all deathly afraid of Coach Lambright," Causey remembered.
Linda and John Causey
       But date her he did. Went to her dorm to meet her, and as the relationship developed, he would go to the Lambright home often over the next 2-3 years to watch TV in their den, and have meals. 
       Mrs. Lambright treated him graciously. And -- unbelievably -- Maxie never appeared.
      "I was scared to death," John recalled of the prospect. "Thankfully I never had to see Coach Lambright." 
      It speaks to the coach's integrity that he did not let the player-coach relationship cross with the personal-life dating relationship.
      "Guys would tease me," John said, " 'It's the Blue Max (the players' nickname for the coach), you better not do anything to upset him.' " But it wasn't a problem.
      And then the day after Causey's eligibility ended -- the final game of the '74 season (11-1 record, with the loss in the national Division II semifinals) -- he was at a holiday dinner at the Lambright home ... and Coach Lambright walked into the room.
      "John, you know how to play cards?" he asked. The answer was yes, "and he took me back to his den." A different relationship began, and he became family.
      "We became good friends," John said. "He was just a regular guy, so to speak. We started talking about football; he talked a lot about philosophy, he knew I wanted to coach.
      "I think he wanted to keep the pressure off me ... and him [while John played for Tech]," he said. "It was just as awkward for the coach to have a player dating his daughter as it was for me."
      "They got to be good buddies," Linda said. "It wasn't as hard for John as he thought it might be."
      Causey joined the Tech coaching staff in 1981 as secondary coach, replacing E.J. Lewis, a holdover from the Lambright staff who stayed on for one year apiece with the next two head coaches. John was on the Tech staff for six seasons (two with Billy Brewer, four with A.L. Williams).
      One other aspect: Lambright was inducted into the USM M-Club Hall of Fame in '74. Causey knew his coach had been a fine player -- and safety -- in college, "but he never talked about that. That's the kind of guy he was. He wasn't one to talk about what he'd done.            
      "We had a great relationship," John said. "I grew to love him even more."
      (Next: Maxie and the media)



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