Walking into the CSU football office, how could I not be intimidated? It’s another world.
The halls are decked with awards and accolades. The trophy cases bleed green and gold. The history and tradition are so humid, they cling to your being.
As I wait to interview Sonny Lubick, other coaches discuss the day’s press clippings.
“Did you see that article on Sonny?” defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders asks defensive coordinator Larry Kerr, referring to a column from a Boulder writer. “Apparently it’s pretty brutal.”
I’ve prepared for what I’m told will be 10 minutes with the man, the myth, the legend that is CSU’s head Ram. Outside, I’m 6-5, 220. Inside, I’m Mini-me.
But when I’m finally called back behind the curtain to meet the great and powerful Oz, something unusual happens. I’m in ANOTHER world. Funny thing is, it’s one more to my liking.
“Sorry I kept you waiting, I’m just having a little lunch,” says Lubick, holding a cracker smeared with peanut butter. “You ever have peanut butter and jelly? I’ve got a peanut butter cracker. Gets me through the morning.”
As a reporter, I’m used to asking the first question of an interview. Here’s to reversing the trend.
Ten minutes turn into 25. Interview becomes conversation. If this week – perhaps the most hectic of the football season – was World War III, Lubick’s office, at least for this morning, was the demilitarized zone.
Leaving the office, I’m left with two possible conclusions:
1. Sonny is a super cyborg robot, programmed in the ways of personal relationships and dynamic football strategy.
2. He’s just that good.
Most would argue the latter.
“Just the way he treats people is pretty amazing,” said Matt Lubick, Sonny’s oldest son and the Rams’ wide receivers coach. “He has no ego. He treats the president of the university the same way he treats the janitor.”
When you think of Sonny Lubick, you’re most likely reminded of CSU’s wins (45 since ’97, 10th nationally), bowl appearances (six since ’94, more than any other Mountain West school in that span), and the resurrection of a once anemic program.
And while his football accolades have landed him in the spotlight, most anyone who knows Lubick remembers him for other reasons.
“He’s always asking how you’re doing and how your family is,” said Joey Cuppari, the Rams’ senior wide receiver. “You think of ‘Sonny Lubick’ as this big coach, but it’s nice to see a guy that actually cares so much about his players. You know he’ll go out on a limb for you.”
Maybe that’s why so many players have gone out on a limb for Lubick.
“He has an amazing ability to influence people,” said Rhett Nelson, a senior defensive back. “He can get people to do what it takes to get the job done. I think it’s his people skills that set him apart.”
Lubick doesn’t find himself or his approach that unique.
“I’m really no different from anybody else. You probably got better grades than I did in school,” Lubick says to me. “I was lucky enough to choose a profession I liked, though sometimes I think I would have been just as happy doing construction work and getting to go home at 5 o’clock every day.”
Going home at 5 o’clock would be close to an early retirement for Lubick. But at 65 and in the early stages of his 14th year at the helm of a college football team, Lubick is as excited as ever.
“Even at my age, I can hardly wait to get out of bed and get to work,” said Lubick, entering his 10th season at CSU. “It’s not a job, it’s a passion.”
Lubick’s passions exceed the world of football. First and foremost is his family. He looks back in disappointment having not attended one of his son Mark’s college football games due to a busy schedule.
“Matt also played in college and when I had one weekend off at (the University of) Miami, I bought a plane ticket out to Montana to see him play,” Lubick said. “I flew out there for a few hours, froze my tail off and then flew back. It gets busy during the season, but that was important to me.”
Also important to Lubick are nights out with his wife, Carol Jo, and an occasional lazy evening at home. With so little time in his schedule, Lubick makes a point to enjoy the little things.
“My idea of a good time during the season is one evening by yourself,” Lubick said. “You have to stop and smell the roses. It’s easy to go through life without doing that and before you know it, it’s too late.”
Asked when he was happiest, a sideline celebration or conference championship is nowhere to be found.
“When I’m happiest is when I’m in the back yard, maybe cutting the grass,” Lubick said. “I can never get the mower to work though, so I usually never finish.”
Even if the grass remains long at times, Lubick will still have a legacy when he decides to hang it up.
In the annals of sport, Lubick’s legacy will be measured by wins, conference championships and bowl game victories. In his own mind, Lubick has a different picture.
“I thought once I won a national championship (as defensive coordinator) at Miami, I’d be set, but those things get forgotten,” Lubick said. “Wins and losses are gone in a week. Fame is very fleeting.
“What makes me feel better than wins or losses are when players come back after graduating and tell me, ‘Thank you,'” Lubick continued. “If the players and coaches leave their time here feeling good, then I did a good job.”
Lubick realizes his accomplishments are ordinary compared to others who get less publicity. He talks about the annual CSU Honors Luncheon and the people who were recognized.
“One of my more humbling experiences is seeing the teachers and doctors who get recognized at that luncheon for great accomplishments – working towards curing cancer and other things,” Lubick said. “Those people are doing amazing things and that’s the only real recognition they get. We get all sorts of newspaper articles, for what? Winning football games. It really puts your priorities straight.”
Lubick sums up his priorities by quoting Henry David Thoreau, who said, “I am a wealthy man. My needs are few.”
“I’m lucky in so many ways,” Lubick said. “I’m about as pleased as a man my age can be. Whether it’s football or going out with my wife to dinner and having a beer, I’m satisfied.”
Thanks to Sonny, so are many.