Yesterday, I heard the news that Coach Paul Dietzel died at the age of 89 yesterday, and I was rather saddened by it, so I decided to honor him with this post.
Football is a big part of Louisiana State University, and it is a big reason why I decided to attend. Many people associated with the football program at LSU, including players and coaches, achieve nation wide fame, and students there cross paths with them regularly in classes, out at bars and restaurants, and at places like the grocery store.
I try to avoid interacting with celebrities when I see them in public out of consideration to them. I am sure it can get rather annoying for them to have hundreds of people a day bugging them for pictures and autographs wherever they go, so I prefer not to do that. I don’t avoid them all together. If a celeb wants to be my friend, then who am I to turn down such a friendship? But I definitely avoid fawning over them.
Among the memorable interactions that I had were having Rohan Davey, an all SEC quarterback and an eventual backup to Tom Brady with the Patriots, ask me if he could borrow a floppy disc in the computer lab. I used to see Andrew Whitworth, starting offensive tackle for the Cincinatti Bengals, every single weekend at a bar called Reggies. He is the largest man I have ever seen in my life. Matt Mauck, quarterback of the 2003 national championship team, was in my spanish class, and he had a great sense of humor, as he made me and my classmates laugh a few times, as he would tell jokes in broken spanish.
I was fortunate to attend LSU in 2003, the year we won a national title, and Nick Saban was the head coach. To date, it was the funnest year of my life. At the time, Nick was larger than life at LSU, and in the state of Louisiana. You only saw him on TV, or if you were to see him in person, it was usually from the stands in Tiger Stadium, while he is coaching the Tigers in a football game. Before he was there, LSU was a perennial loser, and he turned them into a perennial contender for the SEC, and National title, so he was seen as a hero.
I usually parked my car in a student parking lot near Tiger Stadium, and the athletic offices. One morning after parking my truck, while walking to class, I saw a large luxury sedan pull in to a reserved parking spot in the front row of the parking lot near the athletic building. Out of front driver side door steps Coach Nick Saban, and he began to walk directly towards me.
Nick had a tough reputation. He was a no nonsense coach. People in the athletic office were known to dislike working for him. He wasn’t known as the most friendly of people.
I immediately recognized him from the distance when he bagan walking towards me. And it began to register in my mind that I am about to cross paths with Nick Saban. And as we passed, I couldn’t help but stare, and he looked right at me, grinned, and said in a kind gentle tone, “Hey, what’s up man.”
It made my day, and it gave me a favorable impression of him, even though he is now the head coach at the University of Alabama, a school that almost all people associated with LSU love to hate. To this day, I respect him, and have no ill will towards him.
While at LSU I attended church at First United Methodist Church in downtown Baton Rouge. It was a rather large church, and even the more famous of people could get lost in the crowd there, but one of the people that regularly attended was Coach Paul Dietzel, head coach of the 1958 national championship team. He was rather young when he coached the Tigers to their first national title.
I didn’t know Coach Dietzel as the coach. My dad was a middle schooler when he was coaching at LSU. I knew him as the man who attended First United Methodist Church almost every Sunday in the early 2000’s. He was an old man, but was tall, and was still able to stand straight, and walk proudly, but he had an air of humility about him.
A unique thing about First United Methodist Church was that the pastor never read the scripture that the sermon would be based on. A member of the laity was chosen each week to read a passage of scripture from the bible in front of the congregation before the preacher would preach his sermon.
Coach Dietzel was one who was chosen regularly to do it. He was easily the most memorable of readers. As he did so, an aura of intelligence, strength, and humility was exuded from him. And that aura always caused me to pay attention when he read. The only time I ever remembered exactly what scripture was read in that church was when it was read by him, and I attended church there countless times. I vividly remember him powerfully reading Matthew 6:5-15 on a random Sunday morning.
To me, Coach Dietzel was easily one of the most recognizable members of First United Methodist church, so again, when walking near him, I couldn’t help but stare. After all, he’s Coach Dietzel. He is a National Championship coach at LSU. He’s larger than life. He’s a giant among numerous history makers at LSU.
On one morning as church let out, as I was walking through one of the side lobbies in order to make my way to the car, there was Coach Dietzel standing straight, and he was taller than most people. I made eye contact with him. He looked directly at me as I walked by him. He immediately smiled confidently and humbly as we faced each other. He continued to smile when he said, “God bless you, young man.” Then he shook my hand.
I never knew Coach Dietzel personally, but that brief interaction alone left a strong and favorable impression on me. Hopefully, I will get to know him in heaven.
God bless you, coach.