Lengyel was the head coach of the Young Thundering Herd in 1971, an unenviable task that might have been too much for a lesser man, in the wake of the 1970 air crash tragedy that took 75 lives. Lengyel has been back in Huntington many times since leaving the Herd after the 1974 season, but this year's Ohio-Marshall game marked the first time he had ever served as a television color analyst for a contest involving the program he once directed so well during a time of roller-coaster emotions for all involved with the Marshall family.
"The stadium is just outstanding," marveled Lengyel when comparing Marshall Stadium to the Herd's former digs at Fairfield. "If anyone had said thirty years ago that we would be in a facility of this magnitude or have a team as good as this and a coach as good as Bob Pruett, you would have to scratch your head and wonder."
Lengyel (right) with Weekley
Getting into broadcasting is something new for Lengyel, who retired on October first after 13 years as the Athletic Director at the Naval Academy. Lengyel is finding his new broadcasting assignments to be challenging. But for this grandfather of six, meeting challenges head on is a theme that runs through his career in sports as a coach and administrator for the last 40 years.
"Broadcasting gives you a very interesting perspective on the game," Said Lengyel. "It's hard work that announcers do. I never dreamed of the amount of preparation time that announcers put in prior to a game. I'm finding it a bit difficult working through it. It's a tough job. The way broadcasters handle it when they throw it back to you on camera and the way you have to recall prior games, that's quite an art. I have a long way to go."
To say that Lengyel has a good grasp on the inner workings of college sports would be a gross understatement. His coaching career spanned 18 years at all three NCAA levels, and he has been a head coach in football, lacrosse, baseball, wrestling and swimming. He served on staffs in his native Akron, along with stops at Heidelberg, Cornell, Wooster, Marshall and Louisville, before moving on to take the reigns as athletic director at Missouri, Fresno State and during a return stint at Louisville. His peers also acknowledged Lengyel as a leader in college sports by his election to president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and he also served as president of the Division I-A Athletic Directors.
He feels that one of the great things about broadcasting games rather than coaching them, is the absence of the constant pressure to win. He doesn't get that sinking feeling that comes with the inevitable defeats.
"No, not nearly as much," reflected Lengyel on the coaching pressure that he knows quite well. "In fact, my wife (Sandra) used to close her eyes when we would go on offense or punt the ball and I would ask her 'How to you think my offensive staff feels when you do that?' And she says, 'Jack, I'm just so nervous.' Now, she's not as nervous when we come to the stadium and quite frankly, I'm enjoying it so much more and I'm much more relaxed."
Lengyel can also confidently address the subject of changing conference affiliations. While at Navy, he moved the Mids from the Colonial Athletic Association to the Patriot League in 1991 and elevated the women's intercollegiate program to Division I status. He also was at the helm when Navy opted to take a pass on a football-only invitation to Conference USA.
"When our administration looked at that particular situation, we felt that C-USA was more of a western- based conference," said Lengyel. "They felt that they would rather stay with the east-possibly going into the Big East or the ACC. That would be more in keeping with the type of teams that we had been playing with over the years."
Lengyel takes pride in the progress Marshall is showing on the football field these days and came away very impressed with Herd quarterback Byron Leftwich after watching the junior quarterback throw a school record-tying six touchdowns in MU's recapturing of the Bell from the Ohio Bobcats.
"He does it all," Said Lengyel of Leftwich. "He's just an outstanding player who is going to set a lot of records before he ever leaves here. I understand that he's going to finish up here and not leave for the pros early. Coach Pruett says if he does that he will have an even better team next year, if that's possible."
Despite all of his accomplishments, Lengyel will always be remembered in Huntington for his work with the Young Thundering Herd. After leaving Wooster for Marshall, Lengyel was a key figure in keeping the Herd football program alive in the wake of incredible odds.
"I'm very impressed with the progress they have made," Said Lengyel with a satisfied smile that reflected a man at peace with his role in one of the most amazing stories in the history of college sports.