The Outside Rail

Back in the 1980s at the University of Delaware’s student-run newspaper The Review, I didn’t cover the football team. I went to field hockey games, lacrosse games, the occasional baseball game, a basketball game or two (the team was usually woeful), some wrestling matches, a few swim meets.

I regularly wrote something called Sports Shorts, which involved calling coaches on the phone to get information about how the game/match/tournament went. They were nuggets, not articles. I talked to the cross-country coach Jim Fischer all the time. I called volleyball coach Barb Viera so frequently, she yelled at me. Tune your ear to the richest Massachusetts accent you’ve ever heard . . . It went something like, “Shawts? Shawts? I don’t want Spawts Shawts. I want Spawts Lawngs.”

I apologized, over and over, to Viera and the coaches of all the other teams I called.

The football team, with its Michigan helmets (we always said Michigan had Delaware helmets), decades of Division II and I-AA success and legendary coach Tubby Raymond never made Sports Shorts. One of the most successful NCAA coaches in history, Raymond won 300 games and led the Blue Hens to three national championships. A Delaware institution, Raymond died Dec. 8. He was 92. His memorial service on campus Friday attracted 1,000, including former Vice President Joe Biden, former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon and former players from seven decades.

And I never wrote about the football team, or interviewed Raymond. Except once.

In was 1987. Early spring. Probably. Sports editor Mike Freeman, at least I think it was Mike, signed me up to write a feature on the recruiting class for the next season. I, of course, had to interview Raymond and you don’t interview Raymond without an appointment. So Mike made an appointment with Raymond’s secretary. The story was pretty simple. Sit down with the coach, go over the commitments for next year’s team, get some information about the incoming freshmen and wrap it up. Get in, don’t annoy the man and get out. I was as ready as I was going to be, and headed to Raymond’s office at Delaware Fieldhouse (I hope I didn’t wear the desert camo pants I was so fond of). We were to meet at 11 a.m. I showed up at 10:45 to be sure I wasn’t late, introduced myself to Raymond’s secretary and told her we had made an appointment to interview the coach for The Review.

About the time I said –iew, I heard it. Part-groan, part-gasp, part-growl, it was Raymond blasting into the reception area from the back.

“What are you doing here? You’re early . . . We’re not doing this now . . . I can’t do this now . . . I don’t have time . . . It’s not going to work . . . I’m busy . . . Got a lot to do . . . I said 3 o’clock . . . Is it 3 o’clock? No, it’s not . . . What are you doing here now? Can’t you guys get anything straight?”

I sputtered something about an appointment and he kept right on going. I was wrong. He was right. Forget about any gray area.

Then he told me to come back at 3 o’clock.

Yeah, right. I’d interview Barb Viera 15 times before I went back to Raymond’s office at 3 o’clock. I drove back to The Review and informed Freeman or Kevin Donahue, somebody what had happened. Then he told me I was going back.

“You can’t skip it now. He thinks you’re going back at 3. If you don’t go back at 3, he’ll really be mad at us.”

So I went back at 3, wondering all the while what would happen and how I got myself into this mess. Maybe I could change my major. There was no way Raymond was going to be anything but hopping mad (still) at the idiot kid reporter from The Review who couldn’t even get the time of an appointment correct. Tubby Raymond won national championships, made men, did great things, painted portraits of his senior players. His son would grow up to become the Philly Phanatic. Tubby Raymond chewed up goofy 21-year-olds like me all day long and twice on Saturdays.

I pulled into the Fieldhouse parking lot from South College Avenue and looked for a parking spot. There was Raymond. Outside, waiting for me.

Oh boy. I almost kept driving.

I figured he was so mad this time that he had to meet me in the parking lot to tell me there was a better chance of him setting fire to Delaware Stadium than there was of me sitting down to discuss the 1988 recruiting class for the college newspaper.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

“Sorry, son. You were on the schedule for 11. I don’t know what happened. We got doing stuff, it got fouled up. What were we supposed to talk about again?”

Um, the rrrr-recruiting cccc-class cccc-coach.

“Oh, OK, come on upstairs and we’ll talk. I’ve got all afternoon.”

We went upstairs, sat at a big table in a coaches’ room and went through every player coming to Delaware the next year. The names were on chalkboards (maybe whiteboards, this was 1987) with various colors for positions and priority and such. I was there for an hour, maybe more. Raymond was gracious, informative, funny, helpful, a pro. 

He was also stressed, very, very stressed. In mid-sentence, he finished one bottle of Pepto-Bismol, reached behind him to open a cabinet, grabbed another from what looked like a case and took a long pull before finishing up about some stud linebacker from western Pennsylvania. I so wish I could find that newspaper.

I was in awe. Tubby Raymond, the scariest man on campus, was talking, telling stories, waiting for me to catch up with my notes. He was talkative, affable, glad to be there. I wasn’t bothering him. Well, I probably was but he wasn’t letting me know that.

Football was his life’s work. He could talk about it, and the young men who played for him, all day.

No matter what time you started.

For more on Raymond, see: 

Wilmington News-Journal article by Kevin Tresolini.

Personal column by Tresolini (who knew Raymond far better).

Philadelphia Inquirer article by Mike Jensen.