This past Saturday I sent a congratulatory note to retired Michigan football equipment manager Jon Falk as the seconds ticked down in the Wolverines impressive win at Ohio State. He responded immediately and graciously from his residence. Just over 50 years earlier, Jon had eased my transition into the non-playing aspects of athletics.
In September 1972, Falk was assistant equipment manager of Miami University, mainly dealing with football. After three days as a walk-on freshman kicker, I decided it was time to walk away. After making some notifications, I turned in my gear. Big Jon sensed that I might like to remain in the athletic realm and offered me a job which mainly involved sorting and distributing laundry for Miami football. I went to work the next day for an hour each day in the basement of Withrow Court behind Miami Field.
It was an interesting season for me to interact with Miami football. I already knew two regulars quite well. Quarterback Steve Williams and receiver John Wiggins had both been MVP’s during Sidney’s 30 straight victories. In high school, John was a speedy running back and my 1969 teammate. I’d see these guys and most of the team most every day on the road to a 7-3-0 campaign.
The head coach was Bill Mallory who would later be the head man at Colorado, Northern Illinois, and Indiana. St. Marys native Floyd Keith was receivers coach and eventually headed the Black Coaches Association. Defensive coordinator Dick Crum succeeded Mallory at Miami and was later the field boss at North Carolina and Kent State.
Other notable players included kicker Dave Graham, whose dad had quarterbacked the Cleveland Browns to multiple titles. He and Williams were roommates. Dave was very considerate of me when I withdrew from the team.
Freshman Sherman Smith was the backup QB and would eventually become a premier NFL running back. Miami’s image as the “Cradle of Coaches” was later enhanced by two other freshmen who were destined to be big time college coaches. Running back Randy Walker (from Troy) got top jobs at Miami and Northwestern, while defensive back Ron Zook ran the programs at Florida and Illinois.
Ozark Range was also part of that rookie group and I believe he was a receiver. I include him here only because that’s the most unique name I’ve ever heard. Freshman center Steve Kramer was the son of Central Michigan head coach Roy Kramer. Roy later ran both the Southeastern Conference and college football playoff.
Team manager Steve Fisher (Wapakoneta) was eventually Sidney’s head boys basketball coach after much success at Covington and Bethel. I’d sometimes see associate athletic director Wayne Gibson who was Sidney’s head football coach before heading to Oxford in 1956 as an assistant football coach. He and my dad were good friends.
I also had a job on game days as a pressbox spotter for public address announcer Bernie Phelps. Little did I know that 34 years later I’d occupy his seat but at the University of Dayton. I enjoyed Bernie and learned from him. I still do PA work and often remember Bernie.
My time in Oxford was brief and 1972 was my only year with Miami football. The Redskins, as they were still known, went 32-1-1 with a trio of Tangerine Bowl conquests the next three seasons. Mallory and most of his staff went to Colorado after 1973 and Crum stayed behind to take over. My fellow freshmen from the 1972 squad led this iconic period of success. Mallory departed about the same time Falk went to Michigan to handle equipment for his old Miami buddy and coach Bo Schembechler.
It’s my pleasure to send the first copy of this column to Jon Falk in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Thanks Big Jon for providing me a special experience a half century ago. When I turned in my gear, you gave me a much needed boost and so much more.
Despite only a brief association, I remain a loyal Miami football fan. Whenever I visit Oxford, I gaze at the buildings that stand on the former Miami Field site, and drive by Withrow Court on the way to the current Miami football complex which includes Yager Stadium. I take pride in Fred Yager being a fellow Sidney graduate (SHS 1910).
Sports Extra appears each Friday. In addition to Miami University, Dave Ross has also worked for the athletic departments of Urbana University, University of Dayton, Sidney High School, and Fort Loramie High School. He joined the media business in 1975.