I once asked Frosty Westering whether his way of coaching football could work at the major college level.
“Of course,” he said, smiling. “It all depends on what the goals are.”
He was right, and he also knew better. Major college sports are mostly about gladitorial spectacle, vicarious triumph for others and profit-making.
It would be easy to mock all of those things, but that’s the way American culture has accepted big-time college football for more than a century. It wasn’t the only way.
The goal for Westering, who died Friday in Tacoma’s St. Joseph’s Hospital at 85 after a long illness, was to make football a means to an end, and to direct his players, and others, to cherish and improve lives, not scoreboards.
“Frosty Westering showed me how to play the game the right way, what athletics really was all about — that it was bigger than just stepping on the field, making tackles, interceptions, winning games,” former PLU NAIA All-America linebacker Steve Ridgeway told Scene, a PLU publication. “In the time that I was at PLU, Frosty gave me a faith to build my life on, he gave me a hope for the future, and a sense that love never fails.”
That doesn’t mean that Westering and his teams were pushovers, as attested by his 306-96-7 record and four NAIA national championships. His teams were unabashed about knocking down opponents. They were equally unembarrassed to help them up.
Former Boise State (2001-2005) and Willamette University (1993-97) coach Dan Hawkins was among those who marveled at Westering’s ability to win with high values.
“All the ideals his program stands for we need more of in today’s society,” Hawkins said. “Honesty, integrity, respect, pride, a sense of caring, sacrifice, and competing against oneself. are some of the many attributes he has passed on to his players.”
Born Dec. 5, 1927 in Missouri Valley, IA., Westering came to Pacific Lutheran in 1972
after successful coaching stops at Parsons College (Iowa) and Lea College (Minnesota). His slogan, EMAL (“Every Man A Lute”) became a form of greeting and brotherhood for a generation of athletes at PLU who found his views, however corny they may have seemed to skeptical outsiders, a compelling bond.
He introduced a number of non-football customs that startled some players at first, but easily became a distinctive tradition: Beginning preseason practices with a three-day “breakaways” where footballs and pads were left behind in favor of team-building games that included skits and songs; team “attaway” cheers for a laundry list of things including Mt. Rainier, alums and other PLU athletic teams; and “afterglows” following all games where love, hugs, compliments, food, laughter and tears were shared among players, family and friends.
Among the many episodes that endeared Westering to his players and to outsiders was the story of a stop at a fast-food joint by the team’s buses for a post-game meal following a road game. The staff was overwhelmed by the simultaneous orders, but the players pitched to to help servers and clean tables, then saluted every staffer in the restaurant with a teamwide “attaway” salute that included each worker’s name.
PLU won NAIA national titles in 1980, 1987 and 1993 and finished as runner-up in 1983, 1985, 1991 and 1994. After the school moved to NCAA membership in the fall of 1998, the Lutes won the 1999 NCAA Division III championship by becoming the first and only team with win five road playoff games in a row.
In 32 seasons at PLU his record was a staggering 261-70-5 (.784 winning percentage) with 15 appearances in NAIA playoffs from 1979-87. PLU also made the NCAA playoffs in its first four years of membership.
Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005, Westering is one of only 11 college football coaches who have won at least 300 games. In order, they include John Gagliardi, Eddie Robinson, Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden, Amos Alonzo Stagg Paul “Bear” Bryant, Charles “Pop” Warner, Roy Kidd, Westering, Tubby Raymond and Larry Kehres.
His 300th career victory came in the second game of the 2003 season — his final one at PLU — and finished his 40-year college coaching career with an incredible 305-96-7 overall record (.756).
He earned NAIA Division II Coach of the Year honors in 1983 and 1993 and was the NCAA Division III Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association. He won numerous conference coach of the year awards.
On Jan. 8, the AFCA honored him with the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award, which recognizes former and current football coaches “whose services have been outstanding in the advancement of the best interests of football.”
Inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame in 1995, Frosty is also a member of the Tacoma-Pierce County Sports Hall of Fame, the PLU Athletic Hall of Fame, the Iowa Collegiate Coaching Hall of Fame, and the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame.
Westering was honored with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Lifetime Achievement Award, the Athletes for a Better World Lifetime Achievement Award, and twice was named the Tacoma News Tribune Man of the Year in Sports.
The excellence on the field, however, was a by-product of his life philosophy. He had a doctorate in education from the University of Northern Colorado, but he connected with people in ways that don’t come from books.
In another story from Scene, Westering said, “A championship, in the world, gives you authenticity that you did it. But that really doesn’t say anything until you ask, ‘What was the trip like?’ The trip was the greatest thing in life, whether we won or lost.”
Paul Hoseth, who coached alongside Westering at PLU for more than 20 years and is a former athletic director at the school, told Scene, “The impact that he has had on students who both played and didn’t play football here has been amazing, and not only at this institution but many others. I just can’t imagine people not being impacted in some way.”
To his players, he emphasized a double-win theme: victory on the scoreboard and the satisfaction of playing to one’s potential. A football letter-winner at both Northwestern and Nebraska-Omaha and a Marine drill instructor, Frosty wrote two books: “Make The Big Time Where You Are” and “The Strange Secret of the Big Time: What Makes Life Great.”
In a mentorship program started decades ago by Westering, PLU football players annually donate approximately 2,000 hours to Tacoma-area schools.
He is survived and his wife, Donna, five children and 13 grandchildren, and more than a generation of athletes in the Northwest who understand that game outcomes are enjoyable moments that are nearly the least of what college and learning have to offer.
Pacific Lutheran University’s sports information and communications departments contributed to this story.