Randy Walker and Northwestern University had that Ozzie and Harriett feel to it; they were made for each other. They were no couple but they were meant to be together, a perfect match of values and beliefs, working together to keep those old school principles alive and well.
But that came to an unexpected and tragic end Thursday as Walker, the school’s likeable and fast-becoming beloved football coach, died of an apparent heart attack at 52.
No, it is not fair. For anybody.
Randy Walker came to Northwestern, succeeded at Northwestern but unlike his predecessor Gary Barnett, didn’t want to leave Northwestern. This was not going to be a rung on the ladder, a stepping stone to a fatter pay check and a larger stage.
Walker had achieved the kind of success that earned him the right to move up in class. For the past three seasons he had guided the Wildcats to finishes of .500 or better in the Big Ten, something that hadn’t been achieved since a six-year run from 1936-41 and signified an end to Evanston’s version of the Great Depression.
He led three different teams to bowl games, another first for a Northwestern coach. He was transforming a nobody into a somebody.
But there were other victories too. The success on the field was matched by success off it, as Northwestern continued to be one of the nation’s leaders in football student-athlete graduation rates. The Wildcats also earned the American Football Coaches Association Academic Achievement Award in three of the past four years.
But Walker believed in Northwestern, which made him unique. And he was not afraid to dream big at a school where most believe success can only be an accident, not a habit.
Yet in Evanston he was able to find kids who thought like he did, who believed the answers to discovering success were hard work, discipline and all those other things their grandfathers and grandmothers held dear to their hearts and tried to instill in their minds.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Maybe he knew at a different place, with a different caliber of athlete, they wouldn’t be buying what he was selling. Maybe he had simply found his comfort zone. Maybe he believed that somehow, someway and against all odds, he could really win a national championship, as he boldly said was his goal when he was hired in 1999.
Whatever the reason, he was going to stay and fight the good fight, despite being a middleweight in a conference full of heavyweights. And as he always had, he would find a way to teach his kids how to bob and weave and, eventually, deliver the knockout blow.
Northwestern was lucky to have Randy Walker, and Walker would tell you he was lucky to have the Wildcats.
Together they had the makings of a best-seller, a success story already with many more chapters yet to be written. But the end came way too quickly.
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Video: Football from NBC Sports
Saban hurt by colleagues' comments?
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