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Remembering Lehigh's Battles With The Late Tubby Raymond

(Photo Credits: Delaware Online)

When I heard the news Tubby Raymond, legendary Delaware head football coach, died last week at the age of 92, two immediate memories came rushing back to me.

One occurred on October 16th, 1999, when Tubby had made a complaint to the local paper or radio in the run-up to Kevin Higgins' Mountain Hawks beating his Blue Hens on Delaware's homecoming, 42-35.

I have no idea if the quote even actually happened, but my recollection is that Tubby said that Lehigh had "St. Bartholomew's" on their schedule, and hadn't played anybody.  It was a verbal jab that many Delaware fans took with them to the stands to heckle the Mountain Hawk fans that made the short trip to Newark.

Up until that point, I had watched a bunch of Lehigh football games over the years.  I experienced their rise in the 1990s.  I enjoyed wins, and championships, and playoff victories.

But never had I felt a win so viscerally vindicating than the one over Tubby Raymond's team - a win that might have kept the Blue Hens out of the playoffs that year, and might have allowed Lehigh to squeeze into the playoffs at 10-1 with a precious at-large bid.  (And they did it on homecoming!  Homecoming!  "It was one of the most enjoyable wins I've ever had," Higgins said years afterwards.)

The other memory that came rushing back was the run-up to Delaware's home I-AA playoff football game a year later.  I remember the visceral excitement that I had that Lehigh was going to have a chance to beat Delaware twice in two years at their place.  And I was looking in the newspaper for what Tubby Raymond had to say about Lehigh.  Nothing.

And Tubby's 2001 team simply shut up, and hit Lehigh in the mouth repeatedly in a 47-22 rout that wasn't as close as the final score might indicate.  When RB Antawn Jenkins dove over a Lehigh player into the end zone to punctuate Delaware's 33rd unanswered point after Lehigh briefly went up 10-7, I felt like I was smashed in the mouth, and I wasn't even suited up.

After the game, Tubby was hugely respectful to the Mountain Hawks, turning from Disney villain to charmer in a single stroke.  "We ought to play Lehigh every year," he said, favorably comparing the Mountain Hawks to any team on their Atlantic 10 schedule.  "It's a great game and a great national rivalry."

And that was Tubby Raymond, in a nutshell to Lehigh players, coaches and fans - a mixture of competitive verbal needling (that sometimes cut close to the bone), enough so that you wanted to see him beat more than any head football coach in America.  He tended to back up the talk with excellent teams - when Lehigh teams beat Delaware, these were not ordinary wins - they were gems, and when the Mountain Hawks lost to his teams, they were crushing.  And then, when the clock read 0:00, win or lose, Tubby would say something that made it hurt just a little bit less, allow you to regroup, and make you want to circle Delaware on the schedule for next year.

I never had the honor of meeting Tubby Raymond, but he had an awful lot to do with my passion for Lehigh football, and for that I am grateful for him.

Harold Raymond came to Delaware in 1954 as David M. Nelson's backfield coach, where he also coached baseball.

Tubby "was his hand-picked successor in 1966, when Nelson feared Raymond would bolt UD for a head coaching job somewhere else,"  Kevin Tresolini of Delaware Online shared in a definitive retrospective of his life which is worth reading in its entirety.   "Raymond teamed with Nelson to make the Delaware Wing-T, invented by Nelson and honed by him and Raymond, into a nationally recognized offensive scheme used by high school, college and even NFL teams. The Wing-T was effective by utilizing smaller players in schemes that fooled defenses with motion and misdirection."

In 1966, Tubby's first year of coaching, Lehigh's football program was in the doldrums, with 1966 being the Engineers' low-water point with an 0-9 record.  Not unexpectedly, Delaware had Lehigh as their homecoming opponent and throttled them, 41-0.

Four years later, though, head coach Fred Dunlap would finally beat Tubby's Blue Hens with a team that featured the bruising talents of RB Jack Rizzo, beating Delaware 36-13 in front of more than 13,000 screaming fans during upperclass parents' weekend.  One of the members of Dunlap's coaching staff on that game was offensive line coach John Whitehead.

Throughout the 1970s, Lehigh and Delaware became rivals due to the competitiveness of both teams, as Lehigh athletic director Joe Sterrett, who also played and coached against him, confirmed to me this week.

"Our players, and also our coaches, were always excited to play Delaware," he told me.  "There was a feeling that they didn't view our program as an equal to theirs, and that most of that sentiment came from Tubby.  Though I know he respected Lehigh, our coaches and our players (he told me so!), there were always quotes from him that could be interpreted otherwise.  So we were always excited to take them (and him) on, and when we won, it was always among the most satisfying wins of that season.  I find it remarkable that so many of our alums who come back to campus for games end up talking about a "Delaware game" from their era.  And 'Delaware' meant Tubby......even when their roster had some exceptional, NFL-bound players."

During the 1970s, Tubby's teams every year were among the class of the East, in competition for the Lambert Trophy and national championships at the Division II level. 

"I believe that even though Lehigh had victories over Delaware in previous eras, the victories over Delaware brought as much (or almost as much) credibility to Lehigh Football as did [Lehigh's postseason playoff runs]," Joe said.  "Beating 'Tubby' was respected by everyone in our level of football because he was such an esteemed figure, and their program was ALWAYS a factor in the national landscape.  Lehigh became a 'national' program partly because we had success against Delaware, and success against Delaware gave the program confidence that we could compete against anyone."

Sterrett, who was a Lehigh freshman in 1972, shared a story as to how he was recruited by both Delaware and Lehigh.

"Delaware was among my final college options and when I sat in his office before leaving from my official visit there,"  Joe told me this week,  "Tubby told me that if I really wanted to be a part of a winning program (my high school team hadn't lost), Delaware was the only choice. He told me I could have a 'nice experience' at Lehigh, but wouldn't have the kind of success that was certain to be part of Delaware.  So when I subsequently chose to attend Lehigh, there was a big part of me that was privately compelled to prove his prophecy wrong!"

By 1975, Lehigh, led on offense by Sterrett, running a pass-happy flavor of the Wing-T offense tweaked by Whitehead, now the offensive coordinator, the Engineers were in the conversation for the Lambert Trophy, too, with one of the crown jewels of that season being a 35-23 win over his Blue Hens in Newark. 

Before that game, Tubby would call the game with Lehigh a "rivalry" - the first indication anywhere that Lehigh and Delaware were rivals - and his endorsement of the games with Lehigh as rivalry games seemed to raise the stakes even further publicly.

But to Joe and the other Lehigh coaches and players, the rivalry was already well established.

"I will always believe that beating Delaware in 1975, and playing well in that game, were key influences for some of the post season honors I earned," Joe said.  "Tubby was then the chair of the National Football Coaches Association and his influence was significant.  So while he hated that a Lehigh team, which relied upon its passing game quite a bit, had defeated his Delaware team which ran the ball and stopped the run (the way he believed football was supposed to be played!), he demonstrated his respect (I believe) by advocating for the honors I received.  I would speculate this was true for some other Lehigh players who had noteworthy seasons and careers, and also beat one of Tubby's Delaware teams.  When Tubby spoke, people listened!  This was the less visible, kind and respectful side of the man that wasn't as evident in his sideline or in-season persona."

It was when Whitehead was promoted to head coach in 1976 when the Delaware/Lehigh rivalry went from special to legendary, however.

It seems like the rivalry between Whitehead and Tubby partially sprung from their similar backgrounds.  Both were assistants.  Both inherited the Wing-T, and adapted it.  Both would become national champions at the D-II level, and both would coach teams that won the Lambert Trophy.

Off the field, they were friends, but on the field, their competitive fires burned passionately.

"Whitehead can roll off story after story about his confrontations with Raymond and his Blue Hens," a Morning Call story recalled.  "Like the time in 1975 when Mark Weaver ran back a kickoff for a 97-yard touchdown which helped the Engineers to a 35-23 win. To begin with, Weaver, a Salisbury High product, was the right kid for the situation. His flamboyance still ranks among the best in Lehigh history.

"Mark's run irritated the hell out of Tubby," said Whitehead, his round face lighting up with the recollection. "Mark put on a little dance when he got to the end zone. That really got to Tubby. He told his film crew that he wanted the film to show his defense. Tubby told his defense he doesn't want something like that to happen ever again, especially from a Lehigh kid."

"[Future NFLer] WR Steve Kreider made this great catch (from QB Mike Rieker)," Whitehead said. "Steve hauled it in with one hand, something like you see on a highlight film. We were beating up on Delaware that day, and Steve's catch just added to the frustration. Tubby thought Steve was hot-dogging it. He even yelled, `Hot dog, hot dog' loud enough for Steve to hear it."

Whitehead was one of the few head football coaches that had Tubby's number, going 6-2 against him during which time Lehigh won a Division II national-championship and made a run at the I-AA National Championship game in 1979 - a year when Tubby's Delaware team beat Lehigh, 21-14, led by a defensive player who would end up becoming an immensely successful head football coach in his own right - K.C. Keeler, current head coach at Sam Houston State.  Delaware QB and future NFLer Scott Brunner would also feature, along with one of Lehigh's best-ever linebackers, LB Jim McCormick.

"Raymond stubbornly refused to give credit to the Engineers," The Brown and White said after that game.  "Raymond blamed the team's offensive ineptness on the field playing conditions.  He claimed the soggy turf limited his team's play selection, saying they should have scored several more touchdowns."

The public persona of Tubby, again, though, was different than the private, off-the-field side.

"Among the many things I admired about the guy was the commitment he showed to his senior players," Sterrett told me.  "He used a lot of the limited personal time a coach can find to paint portraits of each senior football player, which he presented them after their final season.  Tubby was a really good artist and he wanted his players to have something special to remember their Delaware experience.  That kind of commitment was really quite special and showed the softer and more sensitive side of the man."

Publicly, "Tubby" always seemed to be good for some real great copy before and after his games with Lehigh.  Paul Reinhard of The Morning Call and other great reporters could always count on Tubby to deliver the goods before and after games.

"It was another day in the mines," Tubby was quoted as saying in 1984 as Lehigh QB Marty Horn ripped apart a Blue Hen team 46-6 that was led on offense by a young, inexperienced sophomore QB called Rich Gannon.  One of the turning points of the game was the play after Gannon scrambled for a 52 yard game, getting pushed out of bounds at the 3 yard line, but on the very next play Lehigh CB Mark Thomas jumped a route and scored a 100 yard interception return for a touchdown, Lehigh's longest interception return in the modern era.  "I thought he (Gannon) could have scored (on the run)," Tubby said.  "Then he made a mistake. He's young. It (the interception return) took the air out of our sails."

"It took Rip Van Winkle 20 years to wake up, and it only took us three quarters of a football game," said Tubby after a 28-17 come-from-behind victory in 1986, Gannon's revenge game. "We made every mistake you can make . . . We didn't drive the ball the way we can, and our defense was modest.   We picked up the momentum after we realized they were done scoring."

"I really don't like this place," said a half-joking Raymond after beating Lehigh for the final time in Taylor Stadium in 1987, 28-24. "I hate walking up the three flights of stairs to the locker room. On the sideline, the line judge ran over me three times because there's just no room there. The fans are sitting on your back, in your head and everybody's screaming. They can hear everything you're saying; it's kind of like being naked.  As much respect as I have for Lehigh and the number of fantastic games we've played here, I'm glad to get out of here. Sure, I'd like to play Lehigh again somewhere down the road . . . but not here."

And Raymond's attitude inflamed the passions of Lehigh's coaching staff as well during that game.

"P Steve Banco, under a heavy 10-man rush, was hit on the play and knocked to the ground, but no yellow flags joined him there. "I thought I was roughed on the play, but anything I say would sound like sour grapes," he said.

"When asked if the ball was partially blocked, Lehigh head coach Hank Small quelled a volcano ready to erupt inside of him.

"'No, the ball wasn't partially blocked, but Steve was partially nailed!' said the Lehigh mentor. 'I'm tired of having to keep my mouth shut each week (about officials' calls), but I'll keep it shut one more week. I'm just tired of them (the officials) having such an influence on the outcome of the football game in obvious situations.'"

Something about this rivalry seemed to really stir up the emotions.  (This quote makes me laugh every time I read it.  Wouldn't you love to react like this every time there's a bad call against your team?  I'm betting if YouTube was invented back in 1987, this would be a Greatest Hit.)

By the time 1993 had rolled around - and a humbling 62-21 loss to Delaware and Raymond's Wing-T offense - a new group of Lehigh players were learning to hate - yet respect - Delaware.

"You try to put this behind you, learn from your mistakes and forget all about it," then-WR Dave Cecchini, said of his final game against the Blue Hens. Not that he remembered much of it - he suffered a concussion early in the game, "yet played the whole way", according to The Morning Call.

"It could have been on the very first offensive play. QB Scott Semptimphelter was scrambling around and I (blocked) a linebacker. He came over me and his foot came through my facemask and cut my nose," Cecchini said, pointing to an inch or so long scar that ran down the length of his nose as proof.  "The other play, we ran an option and I came over to crack (the weakside linebacker) and our helmets butted pretty hard."

After Taylor Stadium was torn down, Lehigh and Delaware faced off again, but as members of different conferences.  Though Delaware was still in the Atlantic 10, the Brown and White helped form what would become the Patriot League, eschewing football scholarships, and the three games in the early 1990s were dominated by the Blue Hens.

But when Lehigh re-emerged onto the national scene in 1998 and 1999, Tubby Raymond was there to rekindle the rivalry between the two schools, adding that old juice and adding kerosene to my own passion for college football.

Rest in piece, Tubby.


Comments

Anonymous said…
great essay Chuck. Tubby was a true piece of work, with that gruff, baiting persona as a front. He did have that totally different side, very apparent in his retirement years. He certainly got his Blue Hen players to hate the Engineers, and those games were definitely wars- I saw more than a few of them in the late 70s/early 80s. Funny thing about Tubby ripping on LU's schedule- Delaware padded their record by playing DII West Chester every single year for decades, and in that 70s/80s era played such noted football "heavyweights" as the Merchant Marine Academy and the Coast Guard Academy. I recall KC Keeler having 2 or 3 Pick-Sixes in a single game against one of those heavyweights.. Scores tended by run around 63-0.

Of course most people also knew the original Philly Phanatic as Dave Raymond, Tubby's son.
Anonymous said…
CW Post was another powerhouse on the Blue Hens schedule in the Tubby era...

on the other hand, Tubby did schedule D1 teams like Temple and Navy to offset the weak sisters in the opening weeks. There was no Nova or New Hampshire to open the season..
Anonymous said…
Thank you I grew up a townie on the Southside of Bethlehem and Saturday's afternoons were Lehigh football. I was born in 59 so at some point I remember Nate Beasley # 36 runnning all over Lehigh. Except for Lafayette no Lehigh opponent traveled like Delaware. Huge game when UD game to town. Rizzo and D'Oroio and of course McQuillen and John Hill could play.

Re Tubby his picture is right next to cantanerous in the dictionary. Your article hit the spot.

Thank you

Gerry Donchez
Becahi Class of '77
Anonymous said…
Gerry you are so correct about UD traveling well. They often traveled with more fans than an average game in Newark. The trips to Taylor Stadium would have brought even more fans if it wasn't for the small venue and limited ticket sales. There was a strong feeling among the fans that UD could travel to D1 schools and win-as Tubby himself never hesitated to point out- but those were rare opportunities. In 1980 about 22K Hen students and faithful traveled up to the old VET to play and beat Temple. The Owls had no more than 5K of their miniscule fan base that night, so it was a UD home game. With Navy, probably 15K in the stands in Annapolis on the several occasions there. They may have had the most travel friendly fan base of any similar school in America, but Tubby never overplayed his hand.
OK, enough Hens..they have their own FCS football issues these days, and many of their fans must regret the unfortunate end to Keeler's tenure.

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