WWWS – What Would Walk Say?

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. 

Signs, Signs…

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 laketheposts@gmail.com.

  • Doug

    Walker would tell Fitz to be more agressive.

    • VAWildcat

      Maybe, although he’d also note that Fitz has won more games in 6 seasons than Walk won in 7, so maybe the young guy is doing something right.

      • cebpd

        I was thinking the same thing. Walker wouldn’t play it safe into halftime and allow the team to score and kill the momentum. One thing you never questioned was the heart of a team in the Walker era. That wisconsin game in 2010? Yeesh we gave up.

        Walker also beat OSU and won a B1G Championship. Fitz hasn’t been close.

        • GTom

          Are you kidding me?! Walker was far more conservative than Fitz. He always played it safe going into halftime and never went for it on 4th down, even in the 4th quarter when we were down by 10 or 14.

          I came to appreciate Walker as a coach in the final years before his death, but he was always a “practice / organization / conditioning” coach. Walker believed in preparation and always had a Plan A ready to go, but never, ever had a Plan B. Either our strategy for the day worked, or we were going to get thumped – badly. He did a great job building a solid foundation for the program, but his one-track, conservative in-game management was painful to adjust to after witnessing the magic that Gary Barnett brought to the sidelines. Now, there’s more Walker than Barnett in Fitz’s game management, but he’s still a step up with regard to taking risk / changing things up in-game.

          • Doug



            “He always played it safe going into halftime and never went for it on 4th down,” — Well, I guess you watched a different team in 2000 and 2001 than I did, because what I saw was a team that regularly went for it on 4th down, to the point where opposing teams were caught off guard when we ran the punt team onto the field (which we always did at the last moment). I also saw a coach who was consistently willing to gamble on trick plays (Indiana 2004 in OT comes to mind, but there were several others in 01-04 that I can’t place the exact opposing team for).

            I also completely disagree with your “no plan B” assessment. That is definately a Fitz problem, but give me some examples of it being a Walker problem. Show me games where we had a great first half and then got destroyed in the 2nd half. The only one I can think of is maybe OSU 2002, but we were in that game early only because Maurice Clarette fumbled 3 times (possibly on three consecutive drives?).

            If you want to argue that Fitz is a better coach than Walker, we can agree to disagree. What you can’t say is that Walker was less agressive than Fitz (in fact its probably not even possible to be less agressive than Fitz).

          • GTom

            Sorry Doug that I can’t reply directly – something about the system won’t let me. I can’t believe we were watching some of the same games. When things clicked for Walker, they really clicked and you had some great games. When they didn’t – it was a long and painful day with 1,000 delayed draw handoffs. There were a lot of blowouts against the ‘Cats in the Walker era. Say what you want about Fitz, but with a few exceptions (Illinois and Wiscy in 2010, for example), the games are much, much closer. I admit that Barnett smokes them both with regard to pure game flow management, but there’s a lot of revisionist history going on if you think that Walker was a riverboat gambler – he was as conservative as they come.

        • julescat

          Walker’s teams never gave up? what about Air Force in 2002 (52-3) or Indiana in 2001 (56-21)? Those were just disgusting displays.

      • Gladeskat

        Walk never had to play Fitz’s OOC schedules against Eastern Illinois, EMU (x3), Illinois State, Towson State, Southern Illinois, Duke (x2), Army and other juggernaut programs.

        How would Fitz have done against TCU (x3), Arizona State (x2), USAFA (x2), and Miami of Ohio with Roethlisberger?

  • cece

    how’s Stacy and the kids? are you making time to get down to Florida? let’s go hit the links. let me tell you what music I’d play before gametime….

    Randy was all about lots of things besides football. And he is so missed.

  • PurpleBadger

    Re: Signs, Signs…. I like the way they seem to be embracing the Northwestern Stripes theme.

  • Glopknar

    I want to ask about our QB throwing motion. Every pic I’ve seen of Bacher / Kafka / Persa / Colter throwing (in the banner above) shows them holding up their left palm and sort of looking over their fingertips before throwing, at which point they keep that left palm pointed at the receiver, with their elbow tightly bent.

    I look at a lot more photos of NU QBs than others, so I don’t know if this is unique or not. Is this natural throwing form? Or is it something McCall teaches?

  • Peter Skillz

    Love the banners on Ryan Field. The south end facing Central St. is so ugly so they help cover that up. It’s a win-win.

  • Mark

    Rashidi Wheeler’s death came before I became a Cats football season ticket holder. But I was incensed – I wrote the President of the university and Walker about the total lack of protection for the athletes in the care of the university. A complete lack of preparation and planning to let an athlete die on a practice field doing sprints.

    • cece

      well, it was more complicated than that, right? while it is a very sad case, a kid who had no business taking a substance that would interfere with his asthma meds meets a bad end. he bought the substance, then there was a cause to make sure any kids could not buy it any longer. so while there were changes made in protection for a non sanctioned athletic practice, a bad decision made a big difference for that kid. his bad decision.

    • Doug

      Yeah…its hard to blame the coaching staff or University or athletic department for what happens at optional practices they aren’t allowed to attend (and aren’t supposed to get any information from).

      Thats like blaming the university because some kid got a concussion at a club lacrosse game, or broke his leg at a club rugby game. Assuming you wouldn’t hold the University responsible for that, to say that the University is responsible for Rashidi Wheeler (extremely tragic) death is a significant stretch.

      • Mark

        Wow! Emergency medical care wasn’t immediately available for him. Whatever his responsibility was the University was responsible for getting him immediate medical attention. Optional in this case meant that NU employees were directing it – just not the football coaching staff. There is no analogy to a club sport where someone is injured but doesn’t die or if the person died it was because no one immediately called 911.

      • Doug

        Check your facts. It was a captain’s practice. No one employed by the University was there. And to say that, after the fact, just because someone died this is a bigger deal, is also illogical.

        People get hurt far away from phones (which was why EMS was not able to be alerted sooner) every day. Some of them die, and they did so a lot more often in 2001 before everyone and their mother had a cell phone and reception was nearly universal.

        Don’t try to blame poeple who aren’t at fault.

        • Mark

          According to a statement issued by the university, the workout was monitored by head athletic trainer Tory Aggeler, strength and conditioning director Larry Lilja, one student trainer, and approximately four assistant trainers.

          So I don’t know why you and the rest of the folks just don’t admit the university really messed up. This wasn’t a club team practice where someone “broke a leg.” A guy died.

          • cece

            again, it’s very complicated. the family also sued the company that sold the supplement even though the victim should have known not to take it. NU sued the manufacturer of the supplement because the supplement exacerbated a physical condition of the victim. would the death have occurred minus the supplement? probably not. and whether or not there is xy or z available to assist when someone goes down, if someone takes something that interferes with their medical condition, bad things could happen again. personal responsibility is very important in life.

          • Doug

            I stand corrected on the presence of University employees — thats not what I remember from the Daily when it happened, but you seem to have done your research.

            I still don’t think you can blame the University because they didn’t have immediate access to a phone — they were on the Field Hockey field, and thus would have had to run to SPAC or Anderson (is that what its called? the Kellog Exec program building). Its tragic, but the University did not cause this death, through action or negligence.

            And CeCe I also like your assesment of the importance of personal responsibility.