FORT COLLINS. On any given weekday, students or faculty attending Mass at Colorado State University’s St. John XXIII Parish might find themselves sitting next to their university’s winningest football coach.
“That hour (at Mass) is the best hour of my day,” former Colorado State University (CSU) football coach Sonny Lubick said during a talk at the school’s Aggiornamento Institute April 19. During the talk, he shared how his Catholic faith played a dominant role in his life beginning with Catholic school, through his years as a coach and now.
Lubick ranked among the top 20 NCAA Division I active coaches in career wins at the end of 2007. During his 15-year tenure at CSU, which ran from 1993-2007, he posted 108 wins and 74 losses. Lubick won or shared six Western Athletic Conference or Mountain West Conference titles, guiding the program to nine bowl games, and was named National Coach of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 1994. The new football stadium slated to open at CSU this fall will be named “Sonny Lubick Field” after a donor gave $20 million for that purpose.
“He is one of the most successful coaches in CSU history and has drastically transformed the program for Colorado State football,” said Leanne Tracy, Director of the Aggiornamento Institute and Associate Director of Campus Ministry.
Lubick grew up in Butte, Montana. His father worked in copper mines and his mother was a waitress. Attending Catholic grade schools, he learned punctuality and discipline. When, at the end of eighth grade, his father told him they couldn’t afford to send him to the Catholic high school, he cried until his mother took him to see Brother Mahoney, who agreed to let him attend the all-boys Catholic high school in town for half of the normal tuition rate.
He always wanted to be a football coach and went to college with the intent of making it his career. Lubick began his career in Montana, followed by assistant coaching positions at CSU, Stanford and the University of Miami. He returned to CSU as head coach in 1993.
Coaching entailed communicating and teaching and also “seeing (players) not for who they are, but for who they can become,” Lubick said. “I’d look at a young guy, a 17-year-old, and think, ‘This guy’s gonna become an All-Conference player.’ It’s believing and inspiring them to be the best they can be.”
“Good football is like good religion,” Lubick said, “You can’t fake it. Everybody here, the students that go to the games, they think there’s a trick, there’s some gimmick to get the ball in the end zone,” Lubick said. “And there are no tricks, there are no gimmicks. You’ll hear this every day from the priests if you talk to them: there are no shortcuts. As I tell my children, there’s no magic, just put yourself into it, do the right thing, be a good person.”
He said one of the most memorable events in his faith journey happened 15 years ago, when he was attending Mass while visiting his sister in California.
“I find a place to sit down and enjoy the Mass, and I’m sitting there thinking about how we’re gonna make our next first down. This priest comes in there and his first words are, ‘Oh Lord open our hearts and teach us how to love.’ I mean, the way he said it, it boomed through the whole church. Man, that was 15 years ago and I still think about that — open our hearts and teach us how to love, how to be good people.”
He also told students not to be afraid of failure.
“Success isn’t forever and failure isn’t fatal. It’s okay. None of us are gonna be successful all the time. (When you’re winning), people think, ‘You’re a good guy, everything’s going fine.’ (When) you’re a failure, ‘Boom, you’re out of here.’ That’s part of life,” Lubick said.
Prior to his CSU days, when he joined the coaching staff at the University of Miami, he said, “I thought the most important thing is, ‘I gotta get one of those rings.’ We ended up getting two of those national championship rings. I wore them about a week.”
“There’s more to life than a championship ring. There’s something more important in life, and that’s our faith.”