Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Lambright, Part XII: the final career stop

        (Part XII, last in the series)
      With his football team's great success and his reputation established, certainly there had to be coaching opportunities for Maxie Lambright to move from Louisiana Tech.
      But it never happened.
      The most likely opening that might have attracted him were at -- naturally -- Southern Mississippi. But when Coach Vann retired after the 1968 season, Maxie had been at Tech only two seasons -- with a seven-game winning streak going and great promise ahead for Bradshaw's senior season.
      The Southern Miss job went to P.W. "Bear" Underwood, part of the USM staff with Maxie until he moved to the University of Tennessee as defensive coordinator.
      After the 1974 season, Underwood left Southern Miss with a subpar record, so the job was open again. So was another one.
      E.J. Lewis recalls that while the Tech coaching staff was meeting just after the '74 season concluded, a Tech secretary knocked on the door and told Coach Lambright, "Dr. Taylor needs to see you on campus right now." Meeting adjourned.
      South Carolina officials, looking for a head football coach after Paul Dietzel -- you might've heard of him -- had resigned under fire, ending his nine-year stay there, had called Dr. Taylor asking for permission to speak to Lambright and gauge his interest in the job.
     When Maxie returned, Lewis said he asked the staff, "How many of you want to move to South Carolina?"
     "Not a hand went up," Lewis recalled. No one wanted to leave Tech at that point. And neither did Lambright.
     Nor did the Southern Miss job attract him. It went to Jim Carmody.
     "At that point in his life, we were happy and loving Ruston," recalled Linda Lambright Causey. "My Dad didn't care about making a lot of money. I think he was happy and wanted to finish his career at Tech."
     And he did.
---
There were plenty of trophy presentations and victory celebrations
for Coach Maxie Lambright and his Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.
     The final four Tech seasons in the Lambright era weren't quite as successful as the previous four years; hard to match a 44-4 record. Significantly, Tech jumped from Division II to Division I status in 1975, and the final four records were 8-2, 6-5, 9-1-2, 6-5.
     Only a season-closing loss to Arkansas State kept the Bulldogs from the Southland Conference title in '75, and Lambright's last two teams did win conference titles -- and thus earned the "host" role, which went to the Southland champ, in Shreveport's new Independence Bowl.
     Tech beat Louisville, coached by Lee Corso (a few years before his TV stardom), 24-14 in the '77 I-Bowl. Tech's final game under Lambright, in the '78 bowl, was a 35-13 loss to East Carolina, coached by Pat Dye.
---
     Then on March 1, 1979, came the announcement: Coach Lambright was retiring from Louisiana Tech. He acknowledged his health was suffering.
     "After walking the sidelines for 30 years," he is quoted as saying in the chapter on him in the late Jerry Byrd's book Football Country (published 1981), "it is time to give someone else the opportunity to have some of this joy, agony, acclaim, heartbreak and that other good stuff."
     So Maxie-like, so wry -- "that other good stuff."
     He added that "never once have I felt that a Louisiana Tech football team wasn't playing with a purpose and a will to win."
     Few could argue that.
     Although he hadn't qualified for a Louisiana school pension -- not enough years -- the powers-in-charge at Louisiana Tech made sure he had a nice sendoff package.
     (That, reportedly, included a home, prompting this quip by a then-young Ruston Daily Leader sports editor O.K. "Buddy" Davis: "It is a stay-free Maxie pad.")
     Sadly, Coach Lambright would live only 11 more months. Perhaps his demons (alcohol and too many cigarettes) contributed to the premature end of his coaching career and his life.
      Stricken by a stroke, he lingered for three days in Lincoln General hospital in Ruston and died on Jan. 28, 1980. He was 55.
---
    "The thing that hurt us the most," Linda Causey said, "is that when he died, I was pregnant [with the Lambrights' first grandchild.] John's dad had died a year earlier, so our kids missed out on their grandfathers."
    The Causeys' first child, a boy born that summer, is named Maxie.
    That young man, now 36, was a high school quarterback at West Monroe -- where his dad once coached -- and then at Louisiana Tech (2000-03). He spent a year as the sideline commentator on Tech's football broadcasts and now is a budding football official, working games in Conference USA (but not Tech games, naturally) with hopes of becoming an NFL official.
    Certainly Coach Lambright would have been proud.
    There are three Lambright grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
    Gerry Lambright is 90, residing in a Ruston assisted living facility. She has some good days, some not so good.
    "She was good for Maxie," one person told me, and that was a common sentiment.
---
     During the Lambright era at Tech, 11 players received some form of All-America recognition, and 15  players were drafted by NFL teams.
     The most prominent two are the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees: QB Terry Bradshaw and DT Fred Dean.
     The other drafted players' names are recognizable by longtime Tech fans: LB Joe Raymond Peace, RB Robert Brunet, WR Ken Liberto, WR Tommy Spinks, TE Larry Brewer, WR Roger Carr, FB Roland Harper, RB Charles "Quick Six" McDaniel, WR Pat Tilley, TE Mike Barber, WR Billy Ryckman, RB John Henry White, DB Larry Anderson.
     Tech had 10 Southland Conference "Players of the Year" from 1971 to '78, five on offense -- QB Ken Lantrip (1971), Carr (1972), QB Denny Duron (1973), McDaniel (1974) and White (1977) -- and five on defense -- Dean (1972, 1974), LB Joe McNeely (1973), Anderson (1977) and NG Ardis McCann (1978).
     Those were some of the stars, but it was a cast of a thousand players in those 12 "golden era" years.
     They will tell you, as so many associated with the program will, that the biggest star was the publicity-shy man who -- no one doubted this -- ran the program.
     Maxie Lambright did not make the final cut of coaches on the 2016 College Football Hall of Fame ballot, nor did he make the cut for 2017 (among the six, one name stands out: Steve Spurrier).
     I have been told that the College Football Hall of Fame selection for coaches requires a set minimum of 100 victories. But as I pointed out, there's 95 at Tech -- and 53 as USM's top assistant. Plus, there is the intrinsic value that this man brought to both programs. 
     Some year soon, hopefully, Lambright will be voted in. It won't be soon enough.
                
          

 

 

 

 

8 comments:

  1. From Tom Burnett (Southland Conference commissioner, Louisiana Tech graduate and student sports information assistant in his time there): Greatly enjoying your series on Maxie Lambright. I’ve gotten more involved in the National Football Foundation/College Football Hall of Fame in recent years, and I currently serve on the NFF Awards Committee. This group selects all award winners except for the Hall of Famers, picked by a national panel of NFF members. I also get a vote for that.
    A few years ago while working on the Southland’s 50th anniversary commemoration, I noticed a glaring omission in the listing of national nominees from the league for the College Hall -– Maxie Lambright. When I asked Tech officials about this at the time, they did not know why Maxie hadn’t been nominated. However, he’s now on the annual ballot and it’s my understanding that he will remain on the ballot in the years to come, hopefully for just a few short years if that long.
    As it relates to the criteria, a coach needs 100 games, not 100 wins, for the College Hall. As you can see below, Maxie comfortably meets the requirements:
    “A coach becomes eligible three years after retirement or immediately following retirement provided he is at least 70 years old. Active coaches become eligible at 75 years of age. He must have been a head coach for a minimum of 10 years and coached at least 100 games with a .600 winning percentage.”
    Thus, his 95-36-2 overall coaching record (including four Gulf States seasons and eight Southland seasons) is more than worthy for College Hall of Fame selection.
    In the Southland record books, Maxie’s 73-17-2 (.804) overall mark from 1971-78 still ranks fifth all-time for number of wins, fifth all-time in wins per year (9.13), and second in winning percentage.
    Again, now that he’s finally on the ballot, let’s hope it’s just a matter of time before he’s rightfully inducted.
    P.S. -- Linda Lambright Causey was my sophomore English teacher at West Monroe High in 1979-80.

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  2. From Larry White: Masterful job on the Maxie Lambright series. Insightfully well done. Thanks for reviving some very old recollections.

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  3. From Mike Muse: Really enjoyed this series. I came in on the tail end of this period as a Tech fan, but I've read quite a bit about the earlier years and find it very interesting.

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  4. From Ken Bonnette: Great article. Played for Coach Lambright '74-'78. Pat "Gravy" Patterson signed me up as a "Bulldog" out of West Monroe High School. Best thing ever happened to me. Thank you, Coach Lambright. And Coach Patterson.

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  5. From Linda Lambright Causey: You did such a great job on all of these. So much time and effort went into it. Thank you for writing it. We have all enjoyed reading them.

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  6. From Ron Bell: Great series on Maxie Lambright. Very interesting to know what was going on behind the scenes and learning about the character of Maxie and the assistant coaches. Even though I was a varsity athlete at the time, I had no idea of what was going on behind the scenes in other sports.

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  7. From Jim Oakes: Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your series on Coach Lambright. You did a great job of capturing a tremendous era of Tech football led by Coach Lambright and his outstanding assistant coaches. What a cast of awesome coaches and characters, too. I am sure your series brought back many fond memories to all readers. Thanks for reminding everyone of this golden era of football.

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  8. From Mary Richardson: I wanted to be the "first" female to comment because I was his FIRST secretary and say how much I enjoyed your entire series on him and what memories it brought back to me. He definitely left us way too soon and I still miss him, but get to visit Gerry in the nursing home and their great-grands and John and Linda's Maxie (Causey) are neighbors. Thanks for the memories!

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