This time of year I always get a tad melancholy. With each passing year of another LTP anniversary it becomes clear it is one of the metrics that, to borrow a line from the broadway musical Rent, answers my question to “how do you measure a year in your life?”. Unfortunately, this time of year is also the anniversary of two of the sadder and much more important anniversaries – the death of Randy Walker and next week, the anniversary of former NU basketball head coach, Ricky Byrdsong’s death.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Tammy Walker who is actively involved with Northwestern Athletics in a multitude of roles. It was one of those moments where I went through the litany of “should I or shouldn’t I?” questions in my head. Should I tell her I’m LTP, but wait, how do I do that without sounding conceited? Will she know what it is? What’s the right way to address the fact that even though I’ve never met her, I feel as if I kind of know her? Would she want to talk to me about Randy or is that not appropriate in a first meeting? By the way, this internal head game happens almost EVERY time I meet a new Northwestern fan or alum for the first time. The bottom line is I didn’t mention it to her, but with little basis other than what I’ve seen written about what she’s said about Fitz and the few times I’ve seen her on TV commenting on him, you can kind of write the script.
Randy would be beaming. Walk’s teams were explosive, for the most part, on offense. The former running back sure as heck had NU producing brilliantly from the backfield. Damien Anderson, Jason Wright, Noah Herron and Tyrell Sutton were the backs that spanned his career in Evanston. From what I could tell, Walker though, at his heart was an ‘ol ball coach. His aw shucks approach to interviews were some of the most boring TV you could watch, but in a good way. You genuinely believed he was a character first kind of guy and there were very few incidents that ever involve d character issues flaring up in the program.
The one that crushed him though was the death of Rashidi Wheeler who passed away in 2001 at a summer workout. You knew it just broke his heart. The fact that Randy passed away so young also broke the heart of Wildcat Nation. Despite some up and down seasons, we competed. It seemed to be two steps forward, one step back as a program, but Randy, along with OC Kevin Wilson really revolutionized the sport with the magic they produced with the spread in 2000. It’s been well documented that the Michigan win in 2000 was one of the pinpoints on the timeline in catapulting the spread offense. Walk had the vision to visit RichRod at Clemson in 2000 and learn from the master and implement it. Walk then became a mentor to the likes of Urban Meyer (whose Bowling Green team subsequently beat us soon thereafter) on how to use it. Walk’s legacy is not his W-L record (37-46)but the lives of the young men he mentored and inspired. He brought us a Big Ten co-championship and three bowl appearances. But for him, he really believed football was part of something bigger.
Walk also welcomed Fitz back to campus as a young assistant coach. Fitz will tell you he told Walk that he wanted his job. Walk reportedly was teeing up a succession plan to make that happen, which, as you obviously know happened way sooner than expected. I wonder if Walk were to reappear for an hour with the stipulation it would be just he and Fitz in a mentor/mentee role what that conversation would look like?
You can bet Walker would be proud. Fitz has muscled his way to a vision of what NU offers around character, academics and big time football. What everyone else outside of NU talks about as challenges Fitz has flipped in to opportunities. These are things that Randy Walker preached about as well. Fitz brings a more intense presence than Walk, but you’ve got to admire the way Fitz has really increased the talent base and Walk would be the first to be applauding him for the nation’s best APR score. Where would the conversation go from there?
Fitz would likely just now be entering the conversation as a successor. Instead, he’s entering his seventh season and will soon be the school’s all-time winningest coach (needs 10 wins to do so) having surpassed Walk’s win total (36) last season (Fitz has 40 wins). Fitz is better equipped to handle the explosion of social media technologies and continual increasing coverage of NU. But I’m pretty confident Fitz would dive in to X’s and O’s. The snarky fan would insert a conversation about running backs here and how Walker’s era produced far more bell cows than the Fitz era. Walk would get a straight answer about the facilities plan and likely have his jaw hit the floor. There is simply no question that Fitz has raised the bar for NU football. We’re more consistently competitive, we can now say we go to a bowl game every year, yet we all know the next step is to win bowl games consistently and get Big Ten titles. Certainly Fitz and Walk would commiserate about defense as they’ve both had that unit become the limiter for each of their eras. However, I’m sure the two would spend most of their time talking about the role of being a leader. Both Fitz and Walker are genuinely driven by the impact they’re making/made in their players’ lives. Yes, winning matters. Yes, they’re competitive. But, they both possess that intangible of perspective, or at least I believe they do, that is clearly missing from football at many schools. I’m proud to have both of them on the coaching list at NU.
If you’ve walked by Ryan Field recently then you’ve noticed some additional cosmetic changes. I know, I know, it isn’t info about structural facility changes, but the banners and dressing continue to pop up at each NU venue with a consistent look and feel thanks in part to Under Armour. Take a look here (thanks to Raj G. for the photo):
Good Luck John!
Mr. Shurna was not selected in the 2012 NBA Draft last night so now it is time for him to work his way on to an NBA roster and I’m hopeful he will. We talk about the ability of NU football players to seemingly fare very well as undrafted free agents, well, let’s hope that carries over to the hardcourt this year. Best of luck John, you deserve it. Make sure to make it over to NUSports.com for a video interview with Bill Carmody (I can’t link to it). An under-the-radar story is the new NCAA rules allowing basketball coaches to be with their teams for two hours a week in the summer. The entire hoops team is on campus which is a new and great wrinkle. We’ll dive in to this soon as it is a gamechanger.
LTP Ticket Challenge – Needle Movers!
We’ve crossed the 25% of goal mark for 2012 NEW season tickets. We aren’t going to stop until we sign up 200 NEW season ticket holders and thanks to Eli C., we just made a nice jump. Eli rounded up a bunch of friends along with Kevin L. and a special big shout out goes to this young man. Eli convinced Kevin, Andy B., Zach G., Dan W., Matt L., Eric H. and Avesh T. to make the plunge. What an LTP anniversary gift! Eli, thanks for being a brand ambassador and moving us eight season tickets closer to the goal. Let’s get to 33%, quickly. Email us your story of getting a new season ticket holder on board at firstname.lastname@example.org.