Last week, two of the winningest coaches in state football history--Evanston's Murney Lazier and Geneseo's Bob Reade--were honored when their schools re-dedicated their playing fields in their names. You have to wonder why it took so long.
Evanston is doing it up big-time. The alumni, headed by former Evanston stars and NFL players Mike Kenn and Emery Moorehead, raised funds to pay for a new artificial turf, a new lighting system and a new scoreboard. The first night game in school history will be Friday night against Maine West.
Lazier retired after the 1974 season, after his last team lost 7-6 to eventual state champion Glenbrook North in the first round of the first state playoff. In 18 years, his teams lost only 17 games. He recorded an .864 (125-17-4) winning percentage, third highest in state history. He produced 13 Suburban League champions, six unbeaten teams and suffered only four losses in a nine-year period. In an era before the state playoff was introduced, six of his teams were named mythical state champion.
"My philosophy was you are never too small to play football," said Lazier, now 80. "If you have heart and good work habits, you can play. We had a lot of 5-8, 150-pound kids who made all-conference over the years. I recruited small players to make up the rest of the squad, to build them around the few very good players who might get a college scholarship."
One of Lazier's "very good players" was Kenn, who played at Michigan, played in the NFL for 17 years and was All-Pro eight times.
"I was lucky to be coached by two significant personalities who were similar, Murney Lazier and Bo Schembechler," Kenn said. "They were the biggest influences in my life, them and my father. They had high standards. They demanded that you perform at a high level. The standards and convictions that Murney taught and insisted upon would reap positive rewards in each kid's life in the future."
Reade was every bit as successful. In 17 years, his teams posted a 147-19 record, an .876 winning percentage, second highest in state history. He had an unbeaten streak of 52 games in the pre-playoff era, then won state championships in 1976, 1977 and 1978. In his last seven years, his teams were 73-5-2.
Not bad for a coach who started 4-5 in 1962. When he applied for the job, the principal informed him that he had two choices--to hire Reade or drop the football program altogether.
"My philosophy was basic and simple. We concentrated on little things, the fundamentals," Reade said. "I always worried about how well we could do what we wanted to do. I wanted to execute what we wanted to do as well as possible. Discipline was the basis of that philosophy.
"It wasn't a true democracy. Everyone had to do it one way. I never pushed a kid or cut him. I told him that his is the way we're going to do it. I had control for one reason: I was head coach and they wanted to play and they'd do what we asked them to do. In programs that are successful, you know who is in charge."
Wayne Strader, the star of the1976 state champion and perhaps the best player Reade ever produced, said his coach had only two rules--obey the law and be a gentleman.
"You always had to get your hair cut," Strader said. "He never swore, not once. And I never heard him yell once. He never talked about winning a game. He talked about execution and doing things the way we were taught."