The Clothier’s Son
By Richard Gaw
(From the Fall 2010 issue)
By Richard L. Gaw
In his own particular fashion, in the clipped and direct dialect taken from his Midwestern roots, Harold R. “Tubby” Raymond proclaimed that the 2001 University of Delaware football season – the 36th team he coached and his last – was awful.
Heading into the season, Raymond, months shy of his 75th birthday, needed just four wins to reach the 300 victory mark, a milestone that had been previously achieved by only eight coaches in college football history. To mark the occasion, the University had placed a banner hung above Delaware Stadium listing the numbers 297, 298, 299 and 300. As each win was accomplished, the respective number was crossed off, but the ceremony was taking too long because the team had been playing poorly, and fans of the Blue Hens – whom he’d led to three national championships, four bowl wins and a national reputation as a Division I-AA powerhouse – were letting him know it: The game has passed you by, they shouted at him during games. You’ve been here long enough. Let someone else have a chance.
He hated the banners. Each number seemed like it would remain there forever and never click over to 300. There was no sense of order to the season; the tragedy of September 11 had taken away games from the schedule and killed motivation. Three of his quarterbacks had gone down from injuries. He felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. And so it was when the last home game of the season began against the University of Richmond, on the afternoon of Saturday, November 10, 2001…
* * * *
Throughout the Landenberg home that Raymond shares with his wife Diane, there is a stunning array of antiques that make an appreciative nod to the finest in Americana. Outside, just off the back deck, Diane has cultivated gardens that are resplendent with annual and perennial colors, and beyond, the property’s three-plus acres spill off into thickish woodland. Though of magazine-quality beauty, the look is not over-the-top and, similarly, the football memorabilia meticulously placed throughout Raymond’s second-floor study is plentiful but not overabundant. Photos taken at banquets and golf tournaments have him pictured between a Who’s Who of well-known friends and football royalty are matted and framed, and beside them, there are footballs etched with magic marker black ink that denote special victories.
We are, generally, a forgiving society of people when it comes to listening to our senior citizenry reflect on their lives. Too often, we wait patiently for the hardscrabble moments that never come, and instead, we are treated to a spiffed-up and often meandering journey through Life The Way It Used To Be. The elderly are either far too reticent or kind to history, theirs or their country’s, but to hear Raymond speak openly about the 84 years he has lived, however, is like watching the dam break open and the flood begin. There, in the course of two three-hour conversations, was a man terribly cognizant of what he has meant to so many people, spinning through a life filled with victory and loss and heartache and regrets and redemption.
Years before he took over the head coaching reigns at the University of Delaware in 1966, Raymond’s coaching persona had already been chiseled years before. Everything in his coaching life, in fact, seems to trace its DNA back to Michigan. When he was a youngster growing up in Flint, he would race down to the practice fields at Flint Northern High School two blocks away from where he lived and watch Guy Houston run practices. “I studied everything Coach did, how he would look a player right in the face and tell him, ‘Do your job,’” he said. “I thought, someday, I’m going to play for that man, and someday, if I ever get to be a coach, I’m going to run my team exactly the way he does.”
After starring as an offensive guard and middle linebacker at Flint Northern, Raymond was a demonstration player under Fritz Crisler and Bennie Oosterbaan at the University of Michigan during the 1946-48 seasons. While Crisler coached with MacArthur-like authority, Oosterbaan was like a friendly uncle to Raymond, and quickly became his mentor. Raymond saw merit in both coaching styles; he watched them take command of a large group of men and create order from chaos. He saw them inspire and lead. He had entered Michigan to study medicine in the hopes of someday becoming a doctor, but by the time he had turned 20, Raymond knew the course his life would take. He wanted to become a football coach.
“At Michigan, I was so bad as a football player that Oosterbaan wanted to shield me,” Raymond said. “He takes me into his office and says, ‘I’ll play you when I can, but if you’re interested in coaching, I can get you a job as the head coach of the University High School football team.” In 1949, at the age of 22, Raymond stopped playing football, and split time between attending classes and coaching his teams to consecutive 6-3 records. Nelson, a former Michigan player under Crisler, was leaving the University of Maine to become the head coach at Delaware. “Dave told me to go to Maine, and when the opportunity became available, he said, ‘I’ll bring you to Delaware,” Raymond said. After graduation from Michigan in 1951, Raymond headed to Maine and a $4,200 yearly salary and remained there as an assistant for three seasons and, true to his word, Nelson welcomed Raymond to Delaware in 1954.
The Wing T offense is a formation characterized by a wingback placed outside the tight end, a split end of the weak side, all three running backs in prime locations for counters, fakes and misdirection plays and the opportunity for the quarterback to run, hand off, lateral or execute a crack sweep to the split end. It is an offensive scheme designed to confuse defenses, based on the simple premise of You Cannot Stop What You Cannot See. According to football lore, its birth is traced back to Michigan in the 1940s, where it was a byproduct of the Single Wing -- where the ball is snapped directly to the running back, who decides to run, pass or hand off – a formation developed by Crisler and run effectively by his legendary running back, Tom Harmon. When Nelson got to Maine, he tweaked the Single Wing out of necessity and used it as compensation for the fact that his teams were deficient in size and ability.
If Nelson is the rightful Father of the Wing T, then Raymond became its Anointed Son, its Architect, and its Resident Genius. Running the formation at Delaware, he led the Blue Hens to the Mid-Atlantic Conference championship in his first season. In 1968, the team won the Lambert Cup as the best Division II team in the East and the first of four consecutive Boardwalk Bowl (Division II East championship) victories, that were followed by Division II national championship crowns in 1971 and 1972. By the 1970s, when the albatross had been lifted, Raymond looked around and realized that the enterprise of Delaware football was all his. Division I teams began to run variations of the Wing T in an effort to modernize their offenses. “One year, coaches from Iowa came to Newark and learned it,” he said. “The next year, the school won the Rose Bowl. The next year, coaches from LSU came. The next year, they won the national title.”
When Notre Dame began using the formation in the late 60s, head coach Ara Parseghian flew into Philadelphia one day armed with Notre Dame game films and, for the next several hours, picked apart Raymond’s brain. Job offers flooded in from all over the country. You can run the Wing T here, they told him. You can bring your star here and place it on our field. His friend Marv Levy ran the Wing T in his first year as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1978 and wanted Raymond to become the team’s offensive coordinator. The prestige. The bigger stadiums. The more lucrative life. He turned them all down.
“Not one of them had what I was looking for, and that was that I wanted to coach football the way I wanted to, with a chance at winning,” Raymond said. “Everything was certain for me here, and Newark was a great place to raise a family. I felt indebted to so many people.”
To both the recipient and the giver, zealousness reveals itself in the guise of many faces. To those that display their fervency and passion openly, it is a vocal affirmation of their commitment, but to those who are on the receiving end, its meaning is often a hazy one, caught somewhere between motivational and flat out crazy. For the better part of his professional career, and in particular the 1970s, Tubby Raymond, flush with the sugary taste of success, developed an incorrigible sweet tooth for more and operated under the assumption that everyone associated with Delaware football felt the same way. Thus, the proverbial bar was raised to enormous heights. Practices became as regimented as military formations. Game films took on biblical importance. Twelve-hour days were not uncommon. Xs and Os, splayed out on chalkboards, were erased and drawn over again until they were surefire perfect.
In between, the stories that came out of that period are now legend. “One year, we were up at Lehigh, which is located near my hometown,” said Delaware head football coach K.C. Keeler, an Emmaus, PA native and a linebacker on the 1979 national championship team. “On the first play of the game, Lehigh does a sweep to my side of the field and as I went to make the tackle, my feet gave out beneath me and I tripped. I still held the carrier to a one-yard gain. When we saw the film a few days later, the coach running the projector kept rewinding the play and running it over and over again. Then I see a soda can whizz over my head and smash open against the screen. From behind me, I hear, ‘KEELER, WHAT IS IT YOU DO OUT THERE? THAT IS YOUR HOMETOWN. THAT IS YOUR HOMETOWN. THAT IS YOUR HOMETOWN.’ It’s Tubby. I look back at the screen, and there it is, the soda dripping down on the screen while my mistake is played over and over. Two minutes later, the film shows me sticking a Lehigh back for a ten-yard loss, and I hear behind me, ‘Yeah, but you didn’t wrap him up, Keeler.’”
A few seasons after Scott Brunner quarterbacked the 1979 national championship team, he was the starting quarterback for the New York Giants, first under Ray Perkins and later for Bill Parcells, two coaches who ruled through intimidation and whose collective wrath, according to Brunner, paled next to his college coach. “He (Raymond) was as an intense an individual as anyone I played for,” Brunner said from his offices at Buckingham Research, a New York City-based equity research firm, where he is a vice president. Brunner recalled a spring practice executed in severe heat when, over a hundred yards and apparently well beyond the Coach’s eyesight, the young quarterback decided to take a brief rest. “I began leaning against a tackling dummy or a goalpost, I can’t recall which,” he said. “From a hundred yards away, I heard my last name screamed as loudly as I’d ever heard it before. He yelled my last name so loudly the rest of the team could hear it. It reverberated. From that moment on at Delaware, I never relaxed.”
“I later realized what he was doing by calling me out in front of everybody,” Brunner added. “He was telling me that people are watching at all times and whatever you’re doing will make an impression on people.”
“My father wanted to be feared,” said David, Raymond’s son and a punter on the 1979 Division II national championship team. “He did a great job of developing the personality he wanted people to believe, that of a tough coach who was aloof. If a player needed a pat on the back, he knew enough to go to a coach for it, not my father.”
Many saw beyond the temporary insanity to the larger purpose of Raymond’s fire. For the past several years, Brunner has been a quarterback tutor at the TEST Sports Football Academy in Martinsville, NJ, where he works with QBs preparing for the NFL. In past seasons, he’s sharpened the skills of former Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco who was drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens in 2008, has been the team’s starter since his rookie season, and whose name is included in the first tier of rising stars in the NFL. He takes his lessons directly from the Raymond playbook: ball control and footwork; balance and timing; and vision and decision. “It’s not about throwing the football,” Brunner said. “If you can’t do all of those things well, it doesn’t matter if you can throw the ball a hundred yards. It’s about what Coach taught me, which is about doing it the right way over and over again.”
From nearly every seat at Delaware Stadium, one is so close to the field that the normally comfortable space between Spectator and Action is nearly obliterated. Built in 1952, it is an aging, 23,000-seat bandbox where, on any given Saturday in the Fall, conversation between coach and quarterback registers the same timbre as a chat between two leather-lungs stuffed with Capriotti’s and Dogfish, withering in the Autumn sun. From the coaches’ area on the home side, it is less than 20 feet to the first rows, and for 36 years, it served as Raymond’s office, thus giving him the distinction of having one of the most public jobs in Delaware and one that yearly surrendered itself to the close scrutiny of others. Consequently, second guesses cascaded down from the stands like rivers of skepticism. Bluebloods from Greenville. Hardened line workers from the Newark Assembly plant. Alumni, three-sheets-to-the-wind on nostalgia bender weekends. Members of the Newark Touchdown Club. They were all on him and he was able to hear nearly every word, and sometimes he turned and saw their faces. Red. Burning. Vitriolic. Get some new plays, Tubby. Turn the page, Tubby. You call that an offensive drive, Tubby? This is a pathetic excuse for a football team.
“I remember after the game against Northern Michigan in 1980 (a 22-7 loss at home before 22,555 at Delaware Stadium),” Keeler said. “We were jogging toward the locker room and the fans were coming down from the stands and screaming at Tubby because they thought he personally had lost the game. Now, this is one year after we won the national championship.”
The bitter irony was that the atmosphere of winning that Raymond had cultivated at Delaware had turned against him. Victory had become his own invention and demand had strangled supply; this was the biggest team in the state and now that he had given Blue Hen fans that glorious taste of success, the fans become ravenous for more. Nine and two seasons were unacceptable. An 8-3 finish was an embarrassment. Over time, he isolated himself in his work, and after games, rather than mix and mingle in Main Street restaurants, he retreated to his home.
“…If I was to ever be self-critical of my career, it would be that, that I was too involved with every aspect of the team…that I was an impatient coach,” he said. When asked if he was afraid of failure, he delivered a cold, hard stare, followed by a small, slightly embarrassed grin. “You see, that’s exactly…I have always been terrified of failure, because if you fail, there is no place for you to go,” Raymond said. “So I committed myself to success. I kept feeling that if we lost, I wouldn’t make as many friends as I’d like if we won all the time. It all goes back to the little kid in Flint City, Michigan who didn’t have anything.”
When he was a young man coming of age in the 1920s, Russell Raymond of Bay City, Michigan wanted to be an architect. His dream of someday pursuing perfect squares and exacting angles seemed to compliment the fine lines of who he had become: soft-spoken, well-groomed, and when conflict arose, given not to overblown hyperbole but measured reasoning. He was a kind man, almost Puritan in his approach to life, but when matched up against the onslaught of what he later endured – two world wars and a depression -- his ideals and his dreams stood no chance. At the time of the First World War, he worked on assembly plants in Detroit and by the time the war had ended, he was married and the father of Jane, born in 1923 and two years later, son Harold.
Russell had found work at the Knitting Mill in Flint, a job that the Depression would eventually wipe away. Desperate for work, he found himself selling industrial insurance door to door – policies that cost the insured fifty cents a month. The home he had purchased years before was now in foreclosure, and he moved his family into his parents’ home on an unpaved street in Bay City. He eventually found a job in his brother’s clothing store, where he fitted men for suits and spent his days around gabardine, wool and nylon. His children didn’t have a bedroom. “We didn’t have much,” Raymond said. “I am assuming my grandmother fed us.” (After the Depression ended, Russell served a 30-year career as an officer of security for the Buick Corporation.)
Tilting his desk chair back to a slight angle and resting his feet on his desk, Raymond told the story about the time he approached his parents when he was a boy. He told them he desperately needed a new baseball glove. At the time, baseball gloves cost ninety-nine cents. His parents told him that they needed to buy him a new pair of corduroy pants, also ninety-nine cents, and that he could not have both. His parents bought him the baseball glove.
* * * *
The diagnosis of Susan Raymond’s meniere’s disease, characterized by vertigo and tinnitus, caused her to lose her hearing in 1960 at the age of 29. Normally, a diagnosis of this kind rings like a walking death knell for many, but for Tubby Raymond’s wife, it inspired her to learn sign language and work with the deaf. She was gutsy, opinionated, and knew when to bring her coaching legend husband down a few rungs when needed. A few dizzy spells she’d experienced in 1989 were thought to be related to the meniere’s, until an MRI revealed a malignant growth in her brain that had been elevated to a stage four brain tumor. The family was told that she had eight months to live. There were two surgeries in eight months. Raymond hid his wife’s illness from nearly everyone except close friends. He had surrendered the 1989 team over to his long-time assistant Ted Kempski, and when he was not driving Sue back and forth to doctor’s appointments and the hospital, he flew separately to away games as a figurehead, a cardboard cut-out facsimile of himself on the sidelines. He was not really there. Meanwhile, then in his 11th year as the Phillie Phanatic mascot, son David hid his pain beneath the outlandish costume he wore.
Halfway through the season, Bill Vergantino, then a sophomore quarterback at Delaware, was waiting at a campus bus stop for a ride to practice one day, when Raymond spotted him and offered him a ride. “He talked about what his wife was going through, and it was the very first time I had seen another side of him,” Vergantino said from his office at expensewatch.com, a firm specializing in teaching companies how to control spending, for which he is president and chief executive officer. “Until then, I looked at Coach as always just about football, but in that short ride to the practice facility, he spoke to me as a man. Not a lot was said, but there was a lot of emotion shared. Being alone in the car with him gave me a rare opportunity to see someone else.
“Tubby probably doesn’t remember that car ride,” Vergantino said. “I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.” Nine months after the diagnosis, on April 17, 1990, Sue Raymond died. She was 50.
Though his victory total at Delaware now stood near 200 and his legend firm in cement, Raymond said that after his wife’s death, he was “ready to fold up” his career and retreat into the silence of his mourning. For the next year of his life, nearly everything in Raymond’s life was in tatters. There was no order, no sense of belonging anywhere. He misplaced things. “I must have lost my Wilmington Trust card two or three times,” he said, “and each time it was always sent back to the branch, and each time, I would pick it up from a woman named Diane at the bank. I knew immediately that she was a beautiful woman, inside and out.”
Raymond describes his wife Diane, whom he met in 1991 and married in 1993, as “a mutual love that is like being born again.” “Once I met her, I became more aware of the many things that were available in my life, the things that were right there, like my children, my friends and even my job. Through Diane, I became more aware of living.”
She also served as the guidepost for the last third of Raymond’s coaching career. In the summer of 2001, long-time defensive coordinator Bob Sabol approached Raymond. “Bob told me he wanted to get out of football and do something else, so I came home that night telling Diane that I needed to begin making calls to find a replacement,” Raymond said. “I had to get someone down here who could fill Bob’s shoes.”
“Do you mean you would disrupt someone’s life to come here for what, one or two years until you retire?” she told him. “This may be time for you. You’re in good health. Why defy the odds?” For the next ten days, prior to the start of summer workouts, they retreated in Florida. When they returned, Raymond contacted UD President David Roselle to inform him that the 2001 season would be his last.
On the second floor of his home, in a small, sun-splashed studio just off of his office, there is a large painting easel positioned in the middle of the space, and oil and acrylic paintings -- Raymond’s portraits of former Phillies owner Ruly Carpenter, former Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner, and several other dignitaries and friends -- wrap themselves around the room. Self-taught, he first began painting when he was 12, where for thirty cents a class, he would attend workshops at the Flint Institute of the Arts. Throughout his coaching career, he painted the portrait of every Delaware senior, and continues to do so with Keeler’s teams.
What used to be a temporary escape from coaching has now become a full-time passion. He paints nearly every day, when he is not on the golf course or visiting with his family or any of his 24 grandchildren. For 50 years, he spoke about offensive schemes; now he communicates weekly with other local artists – Shaun Faust and Charles Rowe, among them -- in conversations about flesh tones and new techniques. When he speaks about his current aspirations, football never enters the dreamscape. “I would love to make one great painting someday, one that my wife would look at and say, ‘That’s wonderful.’”
Keeler is in his ninth season as head coach at Delaware – only the fourth in 71 years – and in 2003, in only his second season after replacing Raymond, he guided the Blue Hens to a Division I-AA national championship, and a championship game appearance the following year. He has become the face of the program and yet, there still remains a gatekeeper philosophy of humility about his place within what Keeler calls, “the Delaware family.” “I told Coach that when I took over for him, ‘Look, you built this place. You’re just giving me the keys and I’ll lock it up at night,’” he said from his office at the Bob Carpenter Center.
Keeler looked at a framed, oversized photograph of him and Raymond on his office wall, taken in 2002, moments before his debut as head coach. In the shot, Raymond is tucking a football into the outstretched hands of Keeler, a ceremonial “hand-off” from one coach to another. “Tubby Raymond is more than a football coach,” he said. “He has lived this amazing life. The old saying goes, ‘Never follow a legend,’ but I took that as a challenge. The truth is, he made that all possible for me. He made a lot of things possible for a lot of young men. He gave us all a chance to shine.”
* * * *
The Delaware defense had held Richmond to just two field goals all day, and with one minute to play, Spiders’ quarterback Cordell Roane sprinted for a 27-yard gain on a fourth-and-one from its own 15. Four plays later, Roane’s pass was incomplete, and as the clock wound down to zero, the crowd began chanting “Tubby, Tubby.” Final score: Delaware 10, Richmond 6.
Someone handed Raymond a microphone and
he briefly spoke to the 18,923 in Delaware Stadium, on the playing
surface that would eventually bear his name (Raymond Field was
dedicated in 2002). He told them he felt a little like Lou Gehrig did
the day he gave his memorable speech, that he was the luckiest man on
the face of the earth. He looked deep into the throng of humanity who
were now standing and applauding him. “I know there are things that
happen that you don’t like,” he said. “There are things that
happen that I don’t like. But the thing that’s there all the time
is you. You’re at every football game. You’re excited about being
here, and you truly made Delaware football something we can all be
proud of. Thank you very much.”
A construction worker climbed aboard a cherry picker truck and tore down the “299” marker, and there it was: 300. Some of his players then hoisted their coach onto their shoulders, and together, with burly arms, they carried the clothier’s son off the field.
In the early 1960s, Delaware had in its backfield a scrappy kid from Claymont who possessed in grit and determination what he lacked in overall talent. Many years later, speaking at a testimonial dinner for Tubby Raymond, his former backfield coach, then Delaware Senator Joe Biden remembered Raymond as a tough competitor. “I don’t think he really knew my name,” Biden told the audience. “He just kept calling me ‘Hey, You.’ I swear he had no idea who I was.” Thus it was ironic that when he ran for New Castle County Council in the early 1970s, Biden said, Raymond referred to Biden as a “pretty good player at Delaware.” When he ran for the Senate years later, Raymond recalled Biden as being “one of the finest athletes to ever play at Delaware.”
“I suspect if I ever run for higher office,” Biden told the audience, “Tubby will get Delaware to retire my number.”
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Biden, now a vice presidential running mate of Barack Obama’s, made a campaign stop during a game at Delaware Stadium. Seeing Biden shaking hands with spectators in the distance, Raymond nudged his way through the crowd and past a phalanx of secret service, and finally, he tapped Biden on the arm. The Vice President turned to see his college coach before him. “Congratulations, we just retired your number!” Raymond told him. Biden laughed hysterically.