Weeb Ewbank's Legacy at Miami Everlasting
Oct. 19, 2010
The Miami University's Cradle of Coaches Plaza project begins to culminate this Saturday (Oct. 23) when the first three of eight unique statues celebrating the storied history of RedHawk football will be unveiled at 12 noon in a public ceremony at Yager Stadium.
CARM COZZA and PAUL DIETZEL, two of the eight legends who will eventually be immortalized in the outdoor shrine at the south end of Yager, will return to Miami's campus for a special Friday night function and Saturday' unveiling, while deceased Pro Football Hall of Famer WEEB EWBANK will be represented by his widow, Lucy.
The public is invited to attend the special Friday evening reception and dinner (Oct. 22) honoring the three luminaries at Miami University's Shriver Center. Tickets are available for $40 each. The reception at Shriver's Multi-Purpose Room begins at 5 p.m., with dinner following at 5:30 p.m.. To order tickets, call (513) 529-8097.
Those attending the Oct. 23 Miami home football game against the Ohio Bobcats are invited to arrive early for the 12 p.m. inauguration of the three statues. They will also be introduced to the Yager Stadium crowd during the game.
Today, MURedHawks.com profiles the great Weeb Ewbank. On Wednesday, Carm Cozza will be featured. Then, on Thursday, the spotlight will be on Paul Dietzel.
WEEB EWBANK: "People loved Weeb and Weeb loved people ..."
By Drew Davis
Wilbur "Weeb" Ewbank's football connections read like a virtual who's who list of the sport's great players and coaches. That list includes Joe Paterno, Paul Brown, Otto Graham, Don Shula, Buddy Ryan, Chuck Knox, Art Donovan, Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath, who all coached with or played for Ewbank over his career at Miami, Brown University, the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Colts and New York Jets.
Throughout his career Ewbank made a habit of uncovering and developing talented players.
"You can take 50 guys and run them a couple laps around a ping pong table and Coach Ewbank will pick out the football players," Lenny Moore, running back/receiver for the Baltimore Colts once said. "He knows talent like nobody I've ever seen. There isn't a better football man on this earth."
Among the players Ewbank developed were NFL Hall of Famers Donovan, Unitas and Namath.
"I think Weeb is the greatest coach ever," Donovan, who played defensive tackle for Ewbank's Colts said. "He took two of the worst teams ever, the Colts and the Jets, and built them into champions. He took Unitas and Namath as rookies and developed them into hall of famers. You can't do any better than he did."
Before his Hall of Fame NFL career began, Ewbank got his start at Miami University. A native of Richmond, Ind., he attended nearby Miami where he was a three-sport star and graduate of the class of 1928. He led the Buckeye Conference in hitting in 1926 and '27 for the baseball team, lettered three years for the basketball team and was a quarterback on the football team.
During his time at Miami, he also began two of his most important relationships. In 1926 he married his wife, Lucy Massey, who would be at his side for the next 72 years.
He also made a lasting professional relationship, meeting Paul Brown, his teammate on the football field. Ewbank's coaching career began in 1928 at Van Wert High School in Van Wert, Ohio. He coached the football team there for two years before moving back Oxford to coach all sports teams at McGuffey High School. During his tenure, McGuffey enjoyed its greatest success in its history on the gridiron. Ewbank's team won 71 of its 98 games and never suffered a losing season during the 13 years he was coach. "We were unbeaten and unscored upon in 1936," he recalled to Tom Archdeacon during an interview for an article in the Dayton Daily News in the 1990's.
Ewbank left McGuffey to join the Navy during WWII. In 1943 he joined his old Miami teammate, Brown, on the coaching staff of the football team at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. That reunion of Miami men would set in motion Ewbank's path to the summit of American football.
After the war, Ewbank joined the coaching staff at Brown University as backfield coach where he mentored Paterno in 1946. He left that position a year later to become head coach at Washington University in St Louis in 1947. He went 5-3 his first year at the school and 9-1 in his second season, the best record the university had savored in 30 years. Ewbank may have been well on his way to building a stellar collegiate career but a phone call from Brown changed his course to the professional ranks.
He left Washington after the 1948 season because, as he told the Globe-Democrat, "The only man who could take me away from this job said he needed me. I hated to leave. I had a dickens of a time convincing my wife we should do it. We loved St. Louis - and still do. But it was a step up and a new challenge."
Brown was building a powerhouse professional team with the Cleveland Browns and Ewbank joined his staff. Over the next five years he helped Brown's teams to five league championship games, winning one AAFC Championship and one NFL Championship. Those Browns teams included Shula and Graham.
In 1954 Ewbank got his big break to take over as head coach of his own professional football team after Brown recommended him for the position with the Baltimore Colts. The Colts were coming off a 3-9 season and looking for a coach to help them rebuild. Ewbank did just that, acquiring a core of talented players, including Shula, over his first two years. The final piece of his puzzle was a quarterback to lead the team. In 1956 he saw potential in a young, rookie free-agent quarterback who had just been cut by Pittsburgh. That quarterback was Johnny Unitas, arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time.
In 1958, Ewbank guided the Colts to a sudden-death overtime victory over the New York Giants to win the NFL Championship in what has been called "The Greatest Game Ever Played." That year he was named the AP and UPI NFL Coach of the Year. His Colts repeated as NFL Champions in 1959 with another win over the Giants.
Ewbank's success raised expectations in Baltimore and in 1962 he was let go as coach of the Colts after a 7-7 season. He quickly landed on his feet as he was offered the position of head coach and general manager of the AFL's New York Jets. The Jets, entering their first year as the Jets--after competing as the Titans previously--had just finished a 5-9 season and needed a coach who could rebuild from the ground up. Once again Ewbank began to acquire talented players and sought a talented quarterback to direct his offense. He drafted Joe Namath first overall in the 1965 AFL draft and again had a young quarterback to lead his team to the top. He also put together a talented coaching staff that included two future head coaches in Ryan and Knox.
In 1968 Ewbank was back at the pinnacle of professional football as his Jets won the AFL Championship, making him the first and only coach to win NFL and AFL championships. The Jets went on to defeat Ewbank's former team, the heavily favored Baltimore Colts, 16-7 in Super Bowl III. That win was the first by any AFL team in the AFL-NFL Championship game.
Ewbank retired after the 1973 season with a career record of 134-120-7 (including playoffs), two NFL Championships, one AFL Championship and one Super Bowl win. He was enshrined as a football icon in the NFL Hall of Fame in 1978. He and Brown remain the only two Miami graduates to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. In 1969 he was one of the eight charter members in the first Hall of Fame class at Miami University.
Shortly after his retirement, he and Lucy moved back to Oxford. There he was always present around the campus, attending football games every Saturday and taking in numerous baseball and basketball games. He was also a presence at football practices, quietly observing the young players prepare and offering advice when asked questions.
"I can still see Weeb sitting in the car, watching the Miami football team work out," the late Dave Young, Miami's former sports information director told the Hamilton Journal-News in 1998. "If Randy Walker or Tim Rose or any other coach wanted to ask him any question about quarterbacks, he was happy to oblige, [but he made sure to never intrude]."
"In my capacity I got to meet a lot of people who were a part of the Cradle of Coaches, but I can't think of a person who meant more to it than Weeb, or who stood more for what it was all about," Young said.
"Weeb was always available to the athletes," former Miami Athletic Director Dick Shrider said. "He loved Miami University and anytime we called on him he was available to help us in any way he could."
Ewbank's commitment to helping his alma mater dates all the way back to his early coaching days. While he was coaching McGuffey, Miami's basketball coach abruptly left for another job in 1938 and Ewbank stepped in to coach the round ball team in addition to his duties with the high school.
"One of the things that we all treasure about Weeb is that he never forgot where he came from," then Miami football coach, the late Randy Walker said in 1998 after Ewbank's passing. "Miami was very, very special to Weeb. It wasn't uncommon to see him out at practice or, of course, every game. He's going to be truly missed by all of us in the Miami family."
On November 17, 1998 Ewbank passed away at 91 years of age.
Lucy, now 104 years young, still lives in Oxford. He is also survived by his three children and 17 grandchildren.
At his funeral, many of his former players, including Namath, Unitas and Donovan, came to Oxford to pay their respects to a man they knew as much more than a brilliant football coach.
Said Namath to the Hamilton Journal-News, Nov. 22 1998: "Great is not enough to describe what he meant to people. Not just individually, he meant a great deal to so many people. It sounds a little corny saying that pro coaches were like fathers, but it's true. Not only Weeb, but his wife, Lucy. They cemented relationships. You saw all these guys with an outpouring of love. That's because people loved Weeb and Weeb loved people."
To view the MIAMI MEMORY vignette about Weeb Ewbank, click here