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Friday, June 30, 2006

Northwestern Football Coach Passes Away

Randy Walker gave Northwestern's football program the type of stability the former Big Ten doormat had never enjoyed in its entire history.

And he contributed just as much off the football field.

Walker died Thursday night of an apparent heart attack at the age of 52. His sudden passing sent shockwaves throughout the college football community.

Randy Walker died of an apparent heart attack Thursday night.
"This is a devastating loss, not only for our athletic program, but for the entire Northwestern community," Northwestern athletic director Mark Murphy said. "Randy truly embraced Northwestern and its mission and cared deeply for his student-athletes, both on and off the field."

Walker posted a career record of 96-81-5 that included a 37-46 mark during his seven-year tenure with the Wildcats. He became the first coach to lead Northwestern to three bowl appearances, including a Sun Bowl berth that closed last year's 7-5 campaign.

He was the first Northwestern coach to beat all of the Wildcats' Big Ten opponents during his career. His high-powered offenses regularly averaged 400 yards per game and caused headaches for the Wildcats' more-talented conference foes.

Walker's teams were even more successful in the classroom. Northwestern regularly graduated at least 90 percent of his players.

"Not only was Randy a great friend to the conference, but to his players, his staff and fans," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in a statement. "Randy accomplished a great deal at every institution he worked for, but most importantly he personified the values of intercollegiate athletics.

"He was positive, resilient and honest."

And loyal.

Emotional Opener
On Aug. 31, Northwestern opens its season at Miami University.
Oxford, Ohio, is not a normal destination for Big Ten teams, but it was home to Randy Walker. He was from Troy, Ohio, and played at Miami, starring as a fullback on teams that went 32-1-1 while he and current Illinois coach Ron Zook were teammates from 1973-75.

He was the head coach at Miami for nine seasons, and still is the school's all-time winningest coach.

Walker died late Thursday night of an apparent heart attack. He was 52. Now the two programs that meant the most to him will meet in what surely will be a highly emotional setting.

After leading the Sun Bowl appearance, Walker signed a four-year extension through the 2011 season. Instead of using Northwestern as a springboard to anther job opportunity, Walker appeared intent on finishing his career as a Wildcat.
"He coached at Northwestern (as an assistant) in 1988 and 1989 and wanted to come back," said Louis Vaccher, the publisher of WildcatReport.com. "This was where he wanted to be. I think he would have stayed as long as they would have had him."

That loyalty extended to his home life.

Walker was a family man with a wife, Tammy, and two children in their 20s – Abbey and Jamie. His youngest child, Jamie, graduated from Northwestern in 2004 and works as a recruiting assistant on the football staff.

"My thoughts and prayers are with them," Michigan State coach John L. Smith said. "We've lost truly one of the good guys in the coaching profession. I liked being around Randy and talking football. I also enjoyed coaching against him. … He was a great guy, a class guy and he'll be missed."

Walker came to Northwestern from Miami (Ohio) University, where he had played fullback in the 1970s. Walker posted a 59-35-5 record in nine seasons at his alma mater, including a 10-1 mark his final year.

His 1995 Miami team upset Northwestern to hand the Rose Bowl-bound Wildcats their only regular-season loss of the year.

"I am in absolute shock," said Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner, who worked on Walker's staff at Miami before succeeding him as head coach. "I lost a friend and someone I learned a lot from in our time together at Miami. He is a great man, a great family man and a great person. Words cannot express how much I will miss him."


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