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Walking the Line with Mike Lude

Appearances can be deceiving. At Husky football games during the 1990 Rose Bowl season, fans could blithely open up the game day program, locate the page featuring Athletic Director Mike Lude, and read the following passage: </i>"Once described as `Mr. Energy'… the 68-year old Lude shows no visible signs of slowing down."</i>

From the public's perspective, football Saturdays at Husky Stadium had never been better. Washington was racking up impressive triumphs; it finished the '90 season featuring the Pac-10's Offensive, Defensive and Special Teams players of the year. Don James was also awarded Pac-10 Coach of the Year. As Athletic Director, Mike Lude had been one of the driving forces. Behind the scenes, however, UW President Dr. William Gerberding was in the process of forcing Lude into an ignominious early retirement. The reality at Montlake was that of the metaphorical iceberg that Hemingway referred to… 90% below the water's surface.

In a conversation with Dawgman.com, Mike Lude talked about his recently published book, Walking the Line, which was composed with much assistance from former P-I writer and editor Bill Knight. The book details Lude's meager existence amid a poverty-ridden childhood, to his time in the Marines, coaching experiences, being fired at Colorado State, and subsequent career as Athletic Director for Kent State, Washington and Auburn.

Walking the Line also describes how Lude reached the pinnacle of his profession in 1988 by being named the National Athletic Director of the Year. He had come to Washington and inherited a $400,000 debt, but in subsequent years had helped morph it into an $18 million surplus. Lude details the success strategies that he employed, his clashes with Bill Gerberding, and intimate details from within UW's athletic department.

It's not often that Husky Stadium is decried for being ugly. The year was 1976 and Mike Lude had just been appointed Athletic Director. As he was cruising in his car across the 520 Bridge, he gazed to the west and winced at what he saw. "Husky Stadium looked so ugly from the bridge," recalled Lude. "With just the one upper deck—it looked like a one-winged seagull… When I was hired one of my secret ambitions was to balance it by adding a second upper deck on the north side. I had written it down on my list of goals."

Lude had been cautioned by his predecessor Joe Kearney to not even bring up the idea of an upper deck to UW's upper campus. Kearny also forewarned Lude about the bureaucracy involved with the AD job at Washington. But in Lude's second year, good fortune struck and opened the doors to a new possibility. Led by Warren Moon, the Huskies stunned heavily favored Michigan 27-20 in the 1978 Rose Bowl.

"There is no question that we couldn't have gotten the new upper deck without the early successes, but especially the 1978 Rose Bowl win over Michigan," reflected Lude. "The other bowl victories were important, but not like that first one. Without that Rose Bowl, we wouldn't have been able to construct the launching pad that enabled our program to be rocketed into outer space."

Mike Lude considered one of his strong suits to be an ability to sell with enthusiasm his ideas. He solicited private funds and helped orchestrate the remodel of the Graves building and weight room. He also spearheaded the construction of the Lloyd Nordstrom Tennis Center and Tyee Center.

On game days, Lude would arrive at Husky Stadium at 6 AM. He would go around double checking on preparations and saying hello to all the workers. He constantly made attempts to infuse enthusiasm and a sense of teamwork into the Athletic Department. "There is a difference between working with someone, and working for someone", he said.

Mike Lude's golden child, of course, was the north upper deck of Husky Stadium that was completed in 1987. This added 13,500 additional seats that in turn provided extra revenue. But Lude had wanted to go further.

"I had wanted to put in (luxury) suites at Husky Stadium, but President Gerberding thought it seemed elitist," said Lude. "So after some negotiation, I got him to concede for a meeting room that would overlook the field. That became the Tyee Center, which later was appropriately renamed the Don James Center."

This scenario was one of many where Lude and Gerberding locked horns. According to Lude, Gerberding fought hard to terminate popular basketball coach Marv Harshman and attempted to keep Washington (8-2-1) from accepting an invitation to the 1986 Sun Bowl against Alabama.

In Walking the Line, Lude stated that he was consistently embarrassed and confused by the treatment he received from Gerberding. I asked Lude if part of his impetus to write the book stemmed from the public not knowing the truth behind what occurred.

"No, that never bothered me," said Lude. "I want to emphasize that for the first twelve years of my time at the University of Washington, President Gerberding and I had a good and effective working relationship. It wasn't until about the last two and a half years that things changed. I didn't know what was happening at first. But things were suddenly much more difficult than they had been before. I suddenly had to justify everything. I'd have to prepare an agenda of everything that was going on, and it became more and more difficult to get things done. One day I finally said to myself, Judas Priest it's hard to get things done around here!

As Lude wrote in his book: "The Bill Gerberding I got to know was far different from the picture of composure and control he projected in public. I remember too vividly the Gerberding who fumed and criticized and who could be hostile to the point of insulting in the presence of someone with whom he disagreed."

Ultimately Gerberding forced Mike Lude into retirement a year earlier than had been previously agreed to. He also took stances that seemed intent on harming the football program. I asked Lude why Gerberding was antagonistic and what went wrong with their agreement.

"I don't know," he said. "Some people at the university suggested to me, we don't know what happened. It seems that they (Gerberding and upper campus) are jealous of the success that you and Don James have had. Now, I don't know that for sure, but that was what was told to me."

When Lude received a terse memo stating that his time was through, it was the culmination of two years of frustration. Former Husky tailback Beno Bryant spoke of when Lude entered the locker room to say farewell to the players: "Guys were crying, coming up to him and saying good-bye and giving him a hug. It was tough to see him pushed out like that."

What it also cost Lude was a chance to be part of the 1991 Washington football team that went 12-0 and won the National Championship. Lude is unabashed in describing his disappointment from that time. But he was also the delighted recipient of a thoughtful act of friendship.

"We had worked fifteen years to get to that point, and to not have my name on the trophy, along with all the other fine people who contributed to that success, was a sad thing for me," said Lude.

"It was 1992 and I was executive Vice President of the Blockbuster Bowl," he recalled. "It was January 2nd, the day after Huskies had just won the Rose Bowl, and I arrived at my office (in Florida) at 6 AM. At about 8 AM, suddenly the phone rings. I pick up the receiver and it was Don James. He doesn't say hello, he just says Mike, what size ring do you wear? I just got the message, we're number one."

"I was really appreciative of Don for including me in that."
Walking the Line is published by Classic Day Publishing, and is now available at University Book Stores and on line at www.MikeLude.com and www.HuskyFever.com .

Mike Lude and writer Bill Knight will be making the following public appearances to sign their book, Walking the Line. Lude is very friendly and approachable and he and Bill Knight look forward to talking football with you.

University Book Store:
September 16th @ 7 PM Bellevue 990 102nd Ave
October 14th @ 6 PM Tacoma 1754 Pacific Ave

Husky Pre-Game vs. UCLA
September 18th Husky Huddle, Dempsey Indoor, Husky Fever Corporate Booth
Derek Johnson is a freelance writer and a columnist for Sports Washington magazine and Dawgman.com. He can be reached at uwsundodger@msn.com

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