More than a coach

Dick Tomey

I am writing this with a lead pencil, wooden, yellow and non-mechanical, on the ruled paper of a composition book.

I tell you this because of Dick Tomey, the winningest football coach in University of Arizona history, who died Friday night, May 10, at age 80, of lung cancer.

“Keep your pencil sharpened and stay in the lines,” Tomey said to me once, alluding to my seniority — geezer-wise — among the local sportswriting brotherhood, as well as an admonition to get it right.

Dick Tomey was one of a very special kind.

Unassuming, unpretentious despite his standing as a major college football coach, and totally honest (with a childlike guilelessness) he was and will always be the most good-natured and genial coach who ever wore a whistle.

If Charlie Brown had grown up to be a football coach he would have been Dick Tomey.

And maybe he was.

Sometimes Dick’s kite got tangled up in tree limbs but he never blamed the kite and after a couple of piffling oaths he always forgave the tree.

Everybody loved Dick. How could they not?

Twenty-three years ago at the dignified and magnificent Waldorf Astoria in New York City, a stranger appeared one night in the lobby wearing a navy blue tuxedo, T-shirt and old cowboy boots.

It was Dick Tomey.

“Is this the place?” he asked a fellow Arizonan. “Is this where Wayne will be honored?”

Wayne was Wayne Wyatt, an offensive center on the Wildcat football team. A graduate of Tucson’s Mountain View High School, he was to be honored that evening as a National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame Scholar-Athlete award winner.

Wyatt had a 3.94 grade point average at UA and went on to the University of Oklahoma’s College of Dentistry, where he was the top graduate in his class.

Tomey didn’t ride into town on a horse that night, he just looked as if he had. Although he did add a dress shirt and tie to his ensemble by the time the awards ceremony rolled around.

He didn’t change cowboy boots, though.

Or his Charlie Brown charm.

Tomey coached 14 years at Arizona and left in 2000 as the winningest coach in school history.

His greatest victory was a 29-0 thrashing of powerful Miami at the 1994 Fiesta Bowl.

“I’m glad this team brought me along to enjoy all this,” Tomey said after that amazing upset.

“These guys are better people than they are football players.”

And Richard Hastings Tomey, graduate of DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, no matter how many the wins or how great the accomplishments ….

Was a better man than he was a football coach.

At heart Dick was that little round-headed kid whose kite occasionally got caught up in the limbs of that stupid tree.

But he always untangled things with a grace and poise that belied the tension and stress of a crazy, volatile career.

Corky Simpson writes a monthly column for the Green Valley News.

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