Friday, July 2, 2010

Remembering Coach Coryell

Amidst the sadness of Don Coryell’s passing are some extraordinary reminiscences of this revered Aztec.

While iconic NFLers and esteemed scribes alike passionately speak to the abundance of Coach Coryell’s innovative expertise and beautiful human qualities, I can’t help but consider Don’s impact on the college-turned-university, San Diego State.

So let’s think back a bit. Don came to Montezuma Mesa in 1961 and left 11 years later with a record of 119, 24 and 2. It has always been difficult for me to fathom the enormity of that record. But what about State? How were we transformed in that era, and what did the football coach have to do with that transformation?

In 1961 enrollment had skyrocketed to 13,000! Freshmen women wore beanies. The homecoming game was played before 4,000 in Aztec Bowl. By 1969 the undefeated Aztecs had moved into San Diego Stadium (now Qualcomm) and drew 48,000 fans at the Pasadena Bowl. When Don left after the 1972 season for the NFL, we were on the verge of becoming a university and no one had played a higher-profile role in setting the stage for that designation than Coach Coryell.

Don Coryell provided us a platform of hope. In 25 years of talking with Aztec alums on a daily basis, I have seen no one come close to generating as many impassioned and reverent soliloquies as our beloved coach. I contend that Don gave us a confidence that transcended football. He gave us the foundation for excellence. He bolstered our self esteem to such enormous heights that State propelled itself into becoming a world-class academic institution.

Our alumni of the era and the subsequent generation, who never missed a Saturday night in San Diego Stadium as youths, had no chips on their shoulders. For example, Tom Helmantoler ('68) writes: “We could always look to Saturday night fun at the stadium and an Aztec win, after we all got off from our weekend jobs. We all knew, without thinking about it, that we had a good, decent, honest and friendly man in charge of the program, it made us proud to say that we were SDSU Aztecs. It still does.” And while many have been frustrated at the relative mediocrity of our football fortunes in the subsequent four decades, who can question that San Diego State University has become an elite institution whose desirability as measured by application rates is annually now in the top 10 in the country?

But what about the retired Coach Don Coryell? How did he continue to forge a legacy of excellence for SDSU? How did he convert a singularly driven compulsion for success on the football field to his life after football? As someone whose job it was to regularly invite Don to campus to attend big events, be the honorary homecoming chair, or simply to attend games and visit our coaches and teams, I was always struck by his humility. He was kind to everyone and completely unpretentious. He remembered your name. He was always genuinely interested in people. There was zero phoniness.

I came to really enjoy my phone calls with Coach Coryell. I would ask him about what his retired life was like while he was in Friday Harbor. He’d tell me this: “Well, today I am going to ride my bike downtown like I do most days and then my big decision is going to be whether to buy clams or fish for dinner.”

Then, on those delightfully special days when I would get to escort Don and Aliisa around the campus or the stadium, I began to realize that his driving passion for our university never faded. He loved San Diego State. He loved our alumni and he wanted nothing more than to optimistically and enthusiastically speak with any and all about how we were always getting better.

Speaking of Coach Don as the obsessively driven coach whose mental focus rarely strayed from strategies to get into the end zone, Vickie Idhe, 25-year Aztec ticket manager, shares this gem: “I was coming out of our offices at the stadium when Don was coaching the Chargers and I saw him exit onto the sidewalk. He stopped, put down his briefcase and fished for his car keys. Then he left without grabbing his briefcase. I ran to catch him but he got away so I took his briefcase back into my office. Not being able to resist the temptation to see what top secret game plan was in store that week, I peeked. It was empty!”

Thank Don’s family, including his daughter Mindy Lewis and her husband Mike and Don’s granddaughter Loni, for understanding and facilitating Don’s many interactions with us on campus. And thanks also to the scores of players including the household names like Sipe and Buchanon and Dryer, whose imitation of the Coach surely brought down the house at Bully’s a hundred times. All of these former Aztec football players universally loved their coach and their collective passion is a real part of our school’s excellence.

So thanks, Coach Coryell, for inspiring us and for inspiring San Diego State University to greatness. May your inspiration remain in the hearts of all Aztecs for all time.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Aztec Icons Remembered

Recently our family of Aztec titans lost two of its charter members: Bob Breitbard and Art Linkletter.

While sad days no doubt, given the fullness and longevity of these lives, their passing provides reasons to celebrate and remember.

These two gentlemen each possessed an extreme abundance of personal charisma. Whether it was genetic or learned is debatable, but what isn’t open to debate is that their futures were forged and nurtured at San Diego State College.

I consider it a phenomenal career perk to have been in a position to know these men, so here are some personal observations of each:

Like most 40-to-90 somethings, my 1960s suburban Massachusetts upbringing included Art Linkletter as a fixture. I fondly remember using the pliers to select the proper channel and fiddling with the hangar-supplemented rabbit ears to partake in Art’s charming interactions. As a lad, I marveled at how Art Linkletter could so live in the moment on live TV and react so entertainingly to the random utterances of children. He exuded warmth, empathy and humor. His show was fun and funny.

So, fast forward 30 years and I am in the car with now-Vice-President-but-then-development-officer, Mary Ruth Carleton, going to visit Art in his Los Angeles offices. Our intent was to get to know him better so that we could ask him for a million or so for athletics and our gerontology center. Art took us to lunch and regaled us with bawdy stories about John Wayne and the Rat Pack. He told us how his good friend, Walt Disney, asked him to emcee the grand opening of his modest amusement park in 1955. Art said that Walt asked him to do it for free because he was uncertain of the park’s financial survival. Art told Walt okay, but managed to extract the concession rights to camera film in perpetuity.

Art also shared with us his infatuation with theater and then radio while he attended SDSC. He was so determined and thrilled to get started here in San Diego. He left little doubt that the nurturing and encouragement he got at State propelled him into one of the longest-running careers in television history.

One smart Aztec.

So, now another:

As a rookie executive director of the Aztec Athletic Foundation in the late ’80s, I was well aware of the status and standing of Bob Breitbard. His resume of giving, support and involvement with San Diego State stretched all the way back to the ’40s when he had even coached the football team one year. The problem was that I didn’t know him. That problem was alleviated when he phoned me one day and most diplomatically suggested that we had under acknowledged his gift to the AAF. With false bravado I blurted out that our record keeping was consistently stellar but if that were not correct I would personally come downtown and mop the floors in his Hall of Champions. That began a long string of marvelous interactions with a most gracious, giving, elegant and engaging Aztec. I was honored to be in that large club of friends with whom Bob shared temporary custody of his Babe Ruth locker tag, his Ted Williams .406 bat and countless other treasures. Between various subsequent stints washing the Hall’s windows and detailing Bob’s car (it turns out our record-keeping was occasionally suspect), I visited with Bob countless times. I always marveled at his perpetually engaging manner as he “pinned,” and kissed all the ladies and regaled everyone with his heart-felt and driven quest to honor our community’s sports history.

Bob Breitbard loved this town, this community, and our university and he proved it every day.

One internationally-famed personality. One enormous community presence.

Two beloved Aztecs.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

BCS Rant

Saturday’s UT had a thorough treatise on the criteria the BCS uses to consider adding another conference to its cartel.

Previously I have noted the financial discrepancy between the haves and have not’s which would make any mathematically-oriented observer wonder if college football can survive with half of the teams being unable to compete financially.

So, here are the three criteria the Mountain West needs to conquer:

Average rank of highest ranked team
Average ranking of all teams in conference
Number and ranking of teams in top 25

For the first two, the MWC must be in the top 6, for the third in the top 50%. (There are 11 conferences, 6 are currently in)

Lets look at this a couple of ways:

First, and most blatantly, to have those standards be accompanied by qualifiers is like saying that in order to win the MVP, Adrian Gonzales has to be in the top 6 in batting average, RBIs and home runs. Obviously, his rank in those categories need only be measured against all the other sluggers in that particular year. Unless, of course, Major League Baseball only wanted to have an MVP on rare occasions. Hmmmmm.

When you compare the Mountain West to the other conferences in the cartel, over the first two years of this 4-year evaluation process, you get The SEC way ahead with the Big-12 solidly in second and then the MWC, Pac-10 and Big East tied for third, then the Big 10 and ACC.

The other thing is that all three of these criteria are based upon rankings. And while the science that goes into these is reasonably sophisticated, the BCS bias permeates by virtue of the fact that the richer teams begin the season with higher rankings and then they get more home games and thus a greater inherent advantage. When you factor in the actual head-to-head contests (see Utah’s bowl record the past 9 years) you get a truer result.

The cartel, however, knows how to keep its edge. That would explain why undefeated TCU played undefeated Boise State this past year in the Fiesta Bowl. The cartel cannot have the WAC or MWC conference knocking off any of its big boys!

But there really is one more kicker. And that relates to what might happen if they let us in. Is it really good enough for SDSU to cross over into the land of milk and honey because the Horned Frogs, Utes, Cougars and Falcons have great programs? Does the cartel become okay should we happen to be in it? Or is the inherent dysfunction associated with the fact that 40 to 50 of the 119 Division 1-A schools will still be attempting to compete with a twenty-million-dollar annual handicap mitigated if we aren’t one of them?


Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Generous Alumni Leave Lasting Legacies

In this month’s newsletter there is a story about some extraordinary million-dollar donors to San Diego State and the increasing importance of private support for the university. Having known all of the individuals mentioned in the article for quite some time, what their recent donations illustrate for me is how persons with red and black loyalty actually comprise a much broader spectrum of commitment that can make a tremendous impact on the quality of education in this region in myriad ways.

Bob Payne has made hundreds of gifts to SDSU over 40 years. Twice they were over a million dollars and once almost a million. He has chaired the Campanile Foundation, advocated for athletics, and provided sage council to our SDSU presidents going back to Malcolm Love. He has had a profound influence in our community as a businessman, chair of the Super Bowl, owner of the Padres and perpetual community advocate and cheerleader. He is well known to our city’s cognoscenti. Despite his honors and achievements, Bob possesses disarming humility and projects genuine warmth which makes him beloved.

Our University is so lucky to claim Bob Payne as one of our alums. He is the kind of titan who, when he donates yet another $2.4 million, it doesn’t even surprise anyone. His recent gift will positively impact not only SDSU’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, but the hospitality and tourism industry in San Diego and beyond as well.

Then there are Robin and Chuck Luby. Like Bob, they have been intimately involved with the university for more than four decades. Their public personas, however, have been more typical of the vast majority of our graduates. Education, science, business, volunteerism, leadership and pure love for the university have occupied their time since graduation. The Lubys are way low-key. They love books and theater and Shakespeare and the Aztecs. They participate in dozens of various university alumni committees and have attended thousands of events. Yes, thousands. Their financial donations over those four decades have garnered far less attention than their giving of time and talent.

Until now.

The Lubys gave our library $4 million last month by committing presumably their entire estate. This gift will profoundly affect the quality of offerings of our library and thus the quality of an SDSU education forever.

Bob Payne. Chuck Luby. Robin Luby: Truly Aztecs for Life.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How did we ever live without this place?

All right Aztecs, listen up! April 17th marks exactly six months since the grand opening of the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center, so I figure a report on our activities is in order.

People are asking, “Is the Parma Payne Goodall being utilized?”

You betcha!

131 events and 7,000 visitors in less than 6 months!

So what types of events have we been hosting here and how have they impacted our alumni and the campus? Let’s check out the highlight reel:

Our grand opening was fabulous as 600 people braved the 90-degree day and witnessed the dedication. A week later, we held our first business forum with the “Social Media Symposium” which drew 160 tweetering twitterers. November brought us some monster events including an alum’s retirement dinner for 200; a sold-out scholarship luncheon sponsored by Susan Weber’s BRIDGES group; a what-not-to-wear” seminar for students; the College Area Community Council; and our first sold-out event, the 5,000th Lifetime Member Celebration.

In December we just kept cranking up the heat with Alumni Chapter activities, Campanile Foundation events, a parade of Basketball pre-game receptions and dinners and luncheons with President Weber. January, February and March brought more of the same plus a high-tech, high-security community forum put on by our Homeland Security Department.

We’ve had highly-attended lectures by an Olympian and a mathematician. We’ve had retreats and seminars and corporate events and parties and celebrations of all kinds. Perhaps our biggest event was last month’s women’s basketball sweet 16 viewing party — our second such event in five days. These events showed how nimble and potent our alumni can be to quickly e-blast our constituents and produce satisfying, high-quality and fun events in the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center.

You know, during all those years we had to fine tune the articulation of the types of events we wanted to have in this building, we kept hearing similar refrains from the donors and the alumni community. The message was to keep this building dedicated and committed to serving the alumni public and the friends of SDSU. The theory is that when people who have a viable interest in the betterment of San Diego State come together from outside the campus and mix and mingle with those of us like-minded insiders, significant things accrue. So far, the mixing and mingling has occurred. In my next report I will tell you about the accruing of significant impacts!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Teaching the Math Teachers

At a recent conference of alumni directors, a point was made that promoting academic-based initiatives is a powerful way to connect alumni associations with both faculty and alums. Things have apparently changed in this business since one could forge a career around planning tailgates.

Actually, these alumni directors were issuing a wakeup call that those in our position have been rendered less relevant by Facebook. But the conference organizers are now demanding that in addition to continued attention to the traditional connecting tools like in-person meetings, telephone, snail-mail and email, we had now better become conversant in all forms of new media.

So, we are. Check here:

With regard to academia, last week the SDSU Alumni Association hosted an event entitled, A Showcase of Math education at SDSU. Two hundred thirty people showed up at our fabulous Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center to hear a lecture by a best-selling mathematician (is that an oxymoron?). Prior to the entertaining talk by John Allen Paulos, we got to see all of the incredible work we do at SDSU in the field of math education. Did you even know that we have more faculty committed to math education than any other school in the country?! Or that our joint doctoral program in math education is ranked second in the nation? Or that our Center for Research for Math and Science Education (CRMSE) is making an enormous difference in the quality of the teachers who inevitably enter the regional K-12’s?

Anyone can conclude how essential these programs are. And the 230 alumni and local educators came away understanding how vital a role San Diego State plays in preparing, encouraging and willing our next generation to fully comprehend the essential tools required for advancing our world.

Way to go, State!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Aztec Football: Future, Past and Present

The first Wednesday of February is National Letter of Intent signing day for prospective college football players and a day in which we revel optimistically in the efforts of Brady Hoke and his staff.

It appears that we are concentrating locally with players from wildly successful Oceanside High School, San Diego County the rest of the state. Today, I find myself dwelling on Hoke rule # 61: BELIEVE.

At the same time, we have the opportunity to assist in righting a wrong long overdue and that is to collectively will Coach Don Coryell into the hallowed National Football League Hall of Fame. It is a bit frustrating that the alleged voting media cognoscenti don’t yet understand what all Aztecs fans know: That Don Coryell was responsible for transforming football into the immensely watchable product it has become. While going on-line to cast your vote at does not actually count in the official balloting, the karma couldn’t hurt.

And finally, it is comforting to know that regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s Super Bowl, one Aztec for Life will be crowned current champion. Congratulations to Freddy Keiaho of the Colts and Lynell Hamilton of the Saints.