"I really enjoyed getting to Husky Stadium at 6:00 AM," recalled the affable and energetic voice of Mike Lude, speaking from his home in Tucson, Arizona. "I enjoyed taking the tour, making sure everything was ready to go. Checking all the preparations... Checking the rest rooms, making sure that we had enough toilet paper, you know, things like that," said Lude as he laughed. "Then going down to the docks and greeting all the people that were coming to the game… And I miss that marching band with the late Bill Bissell… And I made it a policy to visit the laundry group and the equipment people, because they are so important too. And (radio broadcaster) Bob Rondeau and I had a tradition right before kickoff. I'd walk into the booth and give him a high-five and a hug, and then I'd leave just as the game would start."
Lude paid attention to every detail. He would enter Hec-Ed Pavilion prior to the Marching Band taking the field and give them a personal pep talk, telling them how important they were and how important it was to get the crowd fired up and to do a great show this Saturday. "The University, the fans, the players, and the alumni are all counting on you to provide the atmosphere that makes this such a great place," Lude said to the band before they roared out of the tunnel onto the track before a huge win over the Marcus Allen led USC Trojans in 1981.
In his lifetime, Mike Lude has worked for seven different universities. But his longest tenure was at Washington, where he served as Athletic Director for 16 years, before leaving in the spring of 1991. "If someone were to ask me, ‘Mike do you miss being the AD at the University of Washington?, I would say ‘ABSOLUTELY!", says Lude. "I miss associating with the student athletes, the faculty, the coaching staffs, the maintenance and administrative staffs, the donors, all of these people that are just so important, and it was great working with all of them."
While serving as AD for Kent State in the early 1970s, Lude was the first person to give Don James a chance as head coach. In December 1974, Washington AD Joe Kearney hired Don James to Washington. One year later, Kearney left to become the AD at Michigan State, and wanted to take Don James with him. But James said he liked Seattle and wanted to stay put; and he followed this up by recommending Mike Lude for the position of Athletic Director at Washington.
Lude was subsequently hired, and he and James were able to recommence their working relationship, one that would be instrumental to Husky football for years to come. They are the best of friends to this day. "We stay in constant touch, our wives stay in touch," said Lude. "We visit regularly. He's always my partner when we play golf… And I can say that in all the years we worked together, we never had a fight."
Lude is direct when asked about Don James' exit as head coach at Washington. "I don't think what happened to Don James should have happened. With a concentrated effort by the President of the university, we could have saved the bowl games. Don wanted to save the bowl games. My understanding was that the University of Washington told him that they'd support that, but…"
When asked how he might have approached the situation had he still been Athletic Director at that time, Lude was again blunt.
"I would have fought it very fiercely," he said.
Then the recent words of former Husky offensive lineman Lincoln Kennedy were quoted to Lude. Kennedy stated that he felt Washington had turned its back on Don James and the Husky players during the tumultuous 1993 NCAA investigations, and felt betrayed, and that it was agonizing because it didn't have to be that way.
To which Lude responded, "Lincoln might have an idea there."
What does Mike Lude miss most about being AD at Washington? "The thing I enjoyed most was problem solving," he reflected. "I never felt, oh jeez-- another problem? I always said, hey let's solve it right now! Because I don't want to have to face it tomorrow."
During his interview with Dawgman.com, Lude expressed great pride in all of the athletic programs, but brought up two special memories relating to Husky football. The first took place when the Huskies had just finished 5-6 and were staying home for the holidays. "On January 1, 1977, my wife and I went to the Rose Bowl as guests, as is the case for all athletic directors in the conference, and for the parade we were standing at the corner of Orange Grove and Colorado Avenue. The Big 10 team's marching band makes the turn at the corner and goes by, and I turn to my wife and say, ‘Someday our band is going to make that turn at the corner, and when that happens I think I'm going to cry.'" Lude paused to chuckle before continuing. "Well, one year later I'm standing at that very same spot, and when the University of Washington band made the turn at the corner, with the sound of beating drums and (instruments blaring), sure enough tears started rolling down my cheeks."
Mike Lude's second favorite memory adds extra spice to an already saucy Husky tale. The scene was Miami, Florida on December 31, 1984. "We were at the Orange Bowl pre-game meeting," said Lude with another infectious chuckle. "And sitting there with the coaches (Don James and Oklahoma's Barry Switzer) and hearing the officials say to Oklahoma, you tell your rally squad not to bring the Calistoga wagon on the field unless there is a timeout."
The Sooners cheer squad didn't heed that rule, bringing the wagon onto the field following a field goal and inciting a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. It was one of the strangest penalties ever called in a college football game and had an impact on the momentum of the contest. Washington ultimately won the Orange Bowl, 28-17, and finished #2 in both National polls.
By late 1990, it was announced that Lude was stepping down. Former Husky tailback Beno Bryant once described a very emotional scene in the locker room when Mike Lude was saying goodbye to the players. "Everybody was coming up to him and giving him a hug, and some guys were crying," said Bryant.
Mike Lude recalls one of the special gifts he received at his retirement party. "I have some mementos that nobody else would get… One year when we played Wazzu, after the game there was a semi-confrontation on the field between students and police… They got the goal posts down. But the equipment people saved some of the plywood nuts and bolts from the goal posts, and they made a plaque out of it and presented it to me at my retirement party," laughed Lude.
When Rick Neuheisel was hired in 1999 as the new Husky coach, Lude had been rooting for another to get the job. "I was hopeful one of our guys, Gary Pinkel, would get the job," said Lude. "He played for us at Kent State, and he was a fine player, and is a fine coach. I recommended him very, very highly." Pinkel has recently signed a long-term extension at Missouri that should take him through his retirement.
With all the current troubles at Montlake, Lude expressed sadness. "I feel badly for the University of Washington, I put in almost 16 years there… Barbara Hedges has done an outstanding job. I have respect for her and empathy for her, and doggone it-- it's been tough for her this year. It seems she can't even take a breath before another boulder comes falling down the mountain."
These days, Mike Lude is working with former Seattle-PI editor Bill Knight on a book about the former AD's life. A significant portion of it is dedicated to his time at Washington. It will be published in August 2004. When told that it should make for great reading and that this writer couldn't wait to see it, Lude responded with his trademark humor:
"Let's hope that 65,000 other Husky season ticket holders can't wait to read it too!"
Derek Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lude looks back
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