It's punch-in-the-face news. And I hate it.
Randy Walker died last night of a heart attack.
He was 52.
One of my bosses delivered the sad fact shortly after I had sat at my desk this morning. The best I could manage was a 1,000-yard stare to nowhere. I'm not good at these things. Probably never will be. I don't know what to say, so I say this in my mind: God, thy will, not mine, be done.
Next, I found myself flashing back to five years ago, when I received a phone call from my hysterical sister informing me of my father's sudden death of a heart attack.
Dazed. Angry. Sad. Confused. Worried. Scared. Reflective. Those emotions roared back in the quiet hum of the office.
While Randy wasn't a close friend, he was a guy I had gotten to know over the years. He also was a guy I had gotten to like -- a lot. He loved to talk. And I loved to question and listen. A few times, we verbally volleyed for an hour. His frankness and honesty made me laugh. I always looked forward to picking his brain about Big Ten football -- and life.
It was those conversations about life -- the work-a-day world and family -- that revealed the fabric of Randy Walker. He talked of visiting his daughter and son-in-law in France. He spoke of his son, who worked for him. And then there was his wife.
"I get some of my best coaching advice from her," Randy told me. "Before games, she tells me: 'Coach hard, or hardly coach.' She knows if I have done my job during the week, I shouldn't have to rant and rave on Saturdays."
And I could tell he valued his upbringing in a roll-up-the-sleeves family in Troy, Ohio. It was this simple: Randy was given nothing and always took as much as he could -- and, more importantly, made the most of it and helped others.
He was too short and too slow, but he was a star running back on some great Miami (Ohio) teams. The Cincinnati Bengals even drafted him.
"I was gonna make it as hard on Paul Brown as I could for him to cut me," Walker told me.
He took over a Northwestern program that had reached great heights. How could he take it higher? He did.
Vintage Randy Walker.
That's why I once told my wife: "I'd love to work for Randy Walker."
Why? Because he won't settle for anything but your best. You might not like his kicks in the butt now, but you'll appreciate them later.
"I think the light's starting to come on for this guy," Randy told me one morning after he had gotten up way too early to attend a study hall session with a player. "I think he's starting to get it."
Randy wanted every player to get "it." He didn't want to be their friend. He wanted to be their coach. When I told Randy I had two young children, he told me a similar thing: Be their parent, not their friend.
Since Randy wasn't my parent or coach, I'd like to consider him a friend. He touched my life and I'm sure many others. I can't think of a better legacy.
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