I first read about Roland Ortmayer nearly 22 years ago in a Sports Illustrated feature article by Douglas S. Looney entitled “A Most Unusual Man.”  The article chronicled Ortmayer’s life and coaching career at the University of La Verne.  Incidentally, La Verne competes in the same Division III conference as the California Institute of Technology which I wrote about in the recent post “Bigger Than Basketball.”

Roland Ortmayer (known to all around him as Ort) was the most unconventional football coach I have ever read about.  He coached for 43 years at La Verne, but never won a conference championship outright and never produced a successful pro player.  When Looney interviewed him for the SI article, Ortmayer described himself as “a teacher, a kayaker and a rafter, a fly-fisherman and a mountain climber, not to mention being a husband, father and grandfather.”  Regarding the omission of coaching from his resume, Looney wrote that doing so seemed fitting since calling Ortmayer a football coach would be like “praising Picasso for knowing the primary colors.”  Ort was so much more than a coach.

Ort’s unorthodox approach to coaching included no recruiting, no mandatory practices, no weight training, and no playbook.  Ort washed the team’s towels, socks, and jocks and scrubbed the grass stains out of the practice and game uniforms.  Ort never cussed.  “Oh, crum” was as profane as he ever got.  Ort’s teams won about half the time and lost about half the time, which seemed like a reasonable balance to him.  

Among the quotation gems in Looney’s article are:

“Football to me is like climbing a mountain.  The climbing is where it’s at.  When you finally reach the top of the mountain, all it is, is cold and windy.”

“Okay, we scheduled the game, so let’s play it.” (His pre-game motivational speech)

“I think there is something wrong with a player if he practices every day.  Some days your car won’t run or your girlfriend requires more attention than football.  Maybe it’s just a nice day to go to the beach.  Heck, I’ve missed practices, like when I wanted to visit my daughter.  They practice better without me, anyway.”

“Some people say we don’t take winning seriously enough, so a lot of high school coaches don’t want their players to come here.  But I noticed that fathers want their sons to come.”

Those who played football for Ort praised him for the difference that he made in their lives and the “larger than football” lessons that he imparted to them. 

Roland Ortmayer passed away on October 9, 2008 at the age of 91.     

You can read Looney’s archived article at SI Vault.  Reading it can still bring a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. 

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