A Life Well Lived Celebrating Bill Mallory
By Pete DiPrimio
June 3, 2018, 10:49:00 A.M.
BLOOMINGON, Ind. Mark Hagen was sweating. They all were. A mid-afternoon sun blazed above Memorial Stadium, blasting away comfort, forcing everyone to earn this moment.close window
Bill Mallory would have loved it.
Several thousand gathered Saturday to celebrate an 82-year-old life well lived. Hagen had known Mallory for more than 30 of those years, first as an acclaimed football recruit out of Carmel High School, then as an All-Big Ten Indiana University player, finally as a coach and a friend.
How do you compress that into a few words?
Hagen aimed to do it well. So did the nine others chosen to lock their jaws and do right by a man who had done right for so many.
"Bill Mallory was a man of honesty and integrity," Hagen said. "He never minced words. You always knew where you stood."
Hagen was a Mallory Man and damn proud of it. Now IU's defensive line coach, he strove to emulate the man and his impact.
"It was tough playing for Coach Mal," Hagen said, "but life is tough. We would run through a brick wall for him."
Wife Ellie Mallory was there, of course. So were sons Mike, Doug and Curt, all coaches, and daughter Barbara, a dozen grand and one great granddaughter, and so many others, including the Indiana State (where Curt is now the head coach) and IU teams. A funeral service had been held that morning at First United Methodist Church in downtown Bloomington. It drew so many that the overflow was held at nearby Buskirk Chumley Theater.
Tears had flowed then, and would now.
Good byes are hard, especially for someone who meant so much to so many for so long.
"He was the ultimate leader," Hagen said. "He cared more about everyone else rather than himself. He was about loyalty, toughness, competitiveness and honesty."
Added Anthony Thompson, the 1989 Heisman Trophy runner-up and now an IU associate athletic director: "Coach Mal spoke with passion. He was a man of great conviction. He cared about each and every one of us. It was great to know him."
Mallory was a football force of nature, a man of passion and dedication who demanded the best or else. That included "The Dawn Patrol," when players would have to get up before dawn and run drills to pay for their sins.
IU had just five winning seasons in the 36 years before Mallory's 1983 arrival. It has had just one since he was fired in 1996.
"That tells you all you need to know about Bill Mallory," the Voice of the Hoosiers Don Fischer said. But there was more. He won conference titles at Miami of Ohio, Colorado and Northern Illinois.
He had more victories (69) and produced more bowl games (6) than any Hoosier coach in history.
"The real legacy of Bill Mallory," Fischer said, "was not winning or losing or the many honors, but the lives he touched and the way he lived his extraordinary life."
Mallory's impact was such that, decades later, on hearing his voice, Thompson who Fischer called the greatest football player he's ever seen -- would sit up straight. He wasn't about to disappoint his former coach.
Thompson had done that once, as a freshman, when he blew off treatment for a deep thigh bruise, and got called into Mallory's office to answer for it.
"That was the first and last time he had to yell at me," Thompson said.
Mallory set the highest standards and lived up to them.
"He was the most disciplined man I was ever around," former Mallory player and assistant coach Steve Stripling said. "There were no gray areas. It was do the right thing. Don't look back. Move forward."
"He said he was loyal to his coaches. Nobody would tell him to fire a coach. You don't see that today, that loyalty."
Of course there were stories.
Here are some of them:
When Hagen and the rest of the Cream & Crimson freshmen arrived on campus 1987, Mallory set them straight about the upcoming opponents, starting with the season opener against Rice.
He used a large schedule board for emphasis.
"He taps the schedule board and said we'll get after Rice," Hagen said.
"Then it was Kentucky and it was like a bomb went off. He kept hitting (the schedule board). You could see the intensity and energy growing. Saliva bombs were coming out. It was like, where did this guy come from? We remembered this middle age gentleman come into our house for recruiting. It was like the Hulk coming out of nowhere."
Hagen was fine with that.
"I was all in. There was no turning back. He meant business. It was just getting started."
Mallory avoided press conference controversy, with one notable exception. After a couple of perceived bad officiating calls in a 1991 24-16 loss at Michigan, Mallory spoke his mind.
"He said the officials had done a poor job," Hagen said. "It was tame compared to nowadays.
"As players we loved it. He had our back."
Big Ten officials didn't share that love. IU had a choice pay a $10,000 fine or accept a one-game suspension for Mallory.
Mallory chose suspension. He missed the Wisconsin game.
IU trailed 17-0 at halftime before rallying for a 28-20 victory.
Mallory was there to greet the team afterward.
"He had a big smile on his face," Hagen said. "His men had come through for him. We had his back."
Hagen remembered a 1989 practice. The defense had been struggling, especially with tackling, and Mallory had enough. He decided he'd show the Hoosiers how to tackle, and went after then tailback Vaughn Dunbar.
The result -- a busted watch, broken glasses and a cut above his eye.
"His competitiveness was off the charts," Hagen said. "He demanded toughness."
Stripling was an offensive lineman at Colorado when Mallory arrived in Boulder. Players lived in "Wild West" conditions that clashed with Mallory's Midwest values. He started a football dorm that had "a long list of rules," Stripling said.
One of them was no girls in the dorm.
Stripling said he and a younger teammate were on a double date. They pulled up to the dorm and the girls ran inside.
Suddenly, Stripling heard an all-too familiar voice.
"'What are you doing in my dorm?' It was Coach Mallory."
Stripling and his teammate did what seemed to be the most sensible thing:
They ran across a field, crawled through an irrigation ditch and disappeared into the night.
"We were getting as far away as we could," Stripling said. "We thought we had survived."
The next day Stripling got the call come to Mallory's office.
"It was the longest walk of my life. I thought he was going to rip my face off. That he'd put me on Dawn Patrol for a month."
Instead, Mallory used a different approach.
"He said, 'You disappointed me. You had a younger player with you. You were supposed to show leadership. It crushed me, but I knew that was the kind of coach I wanted to be."
Stripling became an assistant coach under Mallory. He's now the defensive line coach at Cincinnati.
"He was special. We're all proud to be Mallory Men."
Mallory's passion left a lasting impression on Vince Scott, a record-setting kicker for Mallory's Northern Illinois teams.
The Huskies were losing at halftime to Western Michigan, and Mallory was ticked.
"Coach goes on a tirade," Scott said. "I'd never seen anything like it. He was smashing the chalk board. His face was redder than our jerseys.
"All of a sudden, Bam! Coach was down. You could hear a pin drop. The team doctor goes over to him. Assistant coaches went over. He had passed out.
"Then you saw arms and legs flailing. You heard him yell, "Get off me! Get off me!'
"He jumped back up and goes right at it again. It was an incredible sight. That was his intensity."
Then there was a game at Ball State. Mallory was so determined to beat the Cardinals that he said if Northern Illinois won, he'd run back home from Muncie.
"We kicked the crap out of them," Scott said. "We got on the bus after the game and there was no Coach Mallory. We looked out the window and saw a man in a suit and tie running down the highway. We pulled alongside of him and it was Coach Mal. It was like 80 degrees, but he was pumping his fist. Spit was flying. He ran at least another half a mile. It was awesome."
For the record, Mallory finally did get on the bus.
Scott earned the starting kicking job as a freshman. During that spring semester, he didn't do the academic job and was put on probation.
Mallory was ticked.
"He was tenacious about never putting up with any nonsense," Scott said. "I got that phone call 'Coach Mal wants to see you.'
"I got to his office. The door slams shut. He had that foam flowing (around his mouth). As he would say, 'You jacked around! Gosh darn it, Vince!'
"I started sweating. I was like 140 pounds when I came into his office. I was probably 120 when I left."
Scott learned his academic lesson for three years. During his senior season, the Huskies made a bowl game. Several players, including Scott, figured they'd paid their dues, had earned some slack and skipped a class.
Mallory took instant action.
"He put us on Dawn Patrol. It was 5 in the morning, freezing cold. We probably had a foot of snow. We made it on time and saw Coach was there. He ran with us. He pushed us. We were miserable.
"That was Coach Mal. He took advantage of every teaching moment. You always had to stay committed."
Finally, Scott remembered a summer softball game between players and coaches.
The players had the lead going into the late innings.
"Coach comes up and gets a hit," Scott said. "He tries to stretch a single into a double. He slides into second. He was wearing shorts and gets up pumping his fist, fire in his eyes, blood dripping down his leg. He didn't even look down at his leg. We were like, 'Oh, my God. Welcome to Mallory Land.'
"Losing was not an option, even in a friendly game of softball.
"We didn't always have the most talented players, but we played the Mallory way. We played old-school football. We wanted to do nothing more than win for Coach Mal."
Scott stayed close to Mallory after leaving college. He lived in Bloomington for a while and had Mallory speak to some of his youth sport teams. Mallory and his wife showed up when Scott's wife had surgery. When Scott lost both parents, "Coach Mal was at my side. I never forgot that.
"He never spoke about himself. It was always humble, humble. So many times I would think, What would Coach do? I always tried to do what he did because that was the right thing."
Former Hoosier assistant coach Floyd Keith took the Memorial Stadium stage without his suit coat.
"If Coach Mal was here, he'd say, 'Floyd, where's your darn coat? You're turning soft on me. Damn it!'"
Keith joked about the way Mallory sometimes fractured English, turning Kentucky into a one-syllable word, calling Nebraska (New-braska) and Toledo (Tahledo).
"You learned something all the time around him," Floyd said. "He taught me how to shine a pair of shoes. You never went anywhere until your shoes got shined.
"He never passed up a Bob Evans or a Cracker Barrel. And he loved ice cream."
Floyd called himself a "Mallory disciple" and that Mallory was "One of the best to ever coach the game."
"He taught me so much. He taught me that a buckeye ain't worth much."
That was a reference to the Ohio State Buckeyes. IU beat them in 1987 and '88. Mallory famously stomped on a buckeye during a rally before the '88 game.
"And then we stomped their ass, 41-7," Keith said.
And then there were Mallory's rules to live by.
"Any coach will talk about taking principles and using them," Keith said, "but Coach Mal lived by them."
*Coach your team as you'd raise your family.
*Be demanding and firm, but fair.
*Always emphasize good character. It should be the cornerstone for every decision you make. If you build your program on character, you'll win.
*Emphasize intensity and competitiveness. "That man lived it, on and off the field," Floyd said.
*Education. "He cared that you got a degree and went to class."
*Loyalty. Mallory refused to fire assistant coaches, even when it was in his best interest to do so. "It's too much about money anymore," Floyd said. "It ain't about the real things. Will an individual stand up for justice and not block its path? Coach Mal stood for the right things every time."
*Integrity. "Do it the right way," Floyd said. "It wasn't always the easy way. If you were with Bill, you would win. I have seven rings with Bill. I wear one every day."
*Commitment. "If you're going to do it, do it right," Floyd said. "Be 100 percent committed to what you do."
Mallory's inspirational force was evident during a video that showcased many of his highlights. One was his IU farewell press conference the day after he'd led the Hoosiers to a 1996 win over Purdue. He called it "the best victory I've ever been a part of."
Another was his unexpected visit to the Michigan State locker room following the Spartans' 27-3 victory over IU in 1987 that clinched the Big Ten title for Michigan State and a trip to the Rose Bowl, and kept the Hoosiers from winning it.
"Both teams fought our asses off," Mallory said. "We have a lot of respect for you. You're a damn fine football team. I'm just going to say this. By God, go out to the (West) coast and kick their ass because we're damn tired of losing to them."
Mallory threw a right fist for emphasis as the Spartans roared.
Tim Tyrrell, who played quarterback for Mallory's 1983 Mid-American Conference-winning Northern Illinois team, said he was "Hypnotized after meeting (Mallory) for the first time" and that playing for him was "A dream come true."
"To this day," Tyrrell said, "when I make a decision, I think, what would Coach Mal do?' He was the greatest man in the world."
Mike Poff, a former offensive line for Mallory at Miami of Ohio in the early 1970s, remembered an intense teaching moment.
During a game, Poff was twice called for jumping offside, then complained to an official about it, earning a third penalty. Mallory pulled him from the game.
"Coach meets me (on the field)," Poff said. "I was thinking, 'This won't be good.'
"He put his arm around me and ripped me. My helmet ear hole almost melted.
"The next day he called me into his office. He demanded good sportsmanship. He said you represent your university with pride and dignity. We don't do that at Miami."
Mallory left a big impression even on those who never played or coached for him.
Consider Kelly Bomba, an IU senior athletic director, who said Mallory represented "Equal parts toughness and love," and that he was "Respected like none other. Revered, in fact."
She added that Mallory "pieced (players) together like an intricate puzzle" and that, decades after playing for him, they continue to arrive at events 15 minutes early because they still feared the Dawn Patrol.
"He still resides in their hearts and minds. He's beloved beyond measure. A true leader of men."
Consider Connor Smith, the son of former Hoosier Chris Smith, who gave up his high school graduation ceremony to speak Saturday afternoon.
"I wouldn't want to be any other place," he said.
Smith had met Mallory during various team reunions and functions, and they'd developed a close relationship, as so often happened when Mallory met someone.
"We talked about football and my future," Smith said.
A week before Mallory died, he sent Smith a letter congratulating him on his graduation and telling him he'd do well because "You're a winner."
"By knowing him," Smith said, "I've become a better person."
So many others could say the same thing.
On this sun-splashed day, so many did.