Former Hornets football coach Lavan started UD matchups


Al Lavan died on Monday a the age of 71. (DSU Athletics photo)

Al Lavan’s coaching career took him all across the United States.

But one of the things he’ll always be remembered for happened in Delaware.

Lavan coached Delaware State University to the 2007 MEAC championship and a FCS playoff berth. The first-round playoff matchup set up the first ever football game between Delaware State and Delaware.

Lavan died earlier this week on Monday in Colorado. He was 71-years-old.

He was Delaware State’s football coach from 2004 to 2010. In 2007, he led the Hornets to their first MEAC title in 16 years with a perfect 8-0 conference record. The Hornets went 10-2 that season and the 10 wins still stand as a team record.

Delaware State was drawn against instate foe Delaware in the first round for the first matchup between the state’s only Division I football programs. While the Hornets fell 44-7 that day it did set the stage for the two teams to being scheduling games in the regular season which became known as the Route One Rivalry.

In the inaugural game in 2009, the Hornets hung with Delaware for three quarters until the Blue Hens won 27-17. But for Delaware State, the result proved the two teams belonged on the same field.

“This is what you live for,” Lavan said that day. “I always say to our guys, ‘It’s four o’clock in the afternoon at the playground.’ All the good guys, everybody that can play, are there at four o’clock. That’s what you thrive on. I think our players’ response to that, in the midst of all the things that go with the buildup to this type of game, I really thought was outstanding.”

“I think it shows that it’s a game worth playing,” said Delaware coach K.C. Keeler after the game. “I have so much respect for Al and his program. They fought hard. It was a great football game.”

Lavan went 41-37 during his tenure at Delaware State with a 34-21 record in MEAC play.

During 2007, Delaware State was ranked as high as 10th in the FCS polls. In Lavan’s first year he guided the Hornets to a 4-3 MEAC mark which was the first time the Hornets had a winning record in conference in four years.

Current Delaware State coach Rod Milstead invoked Lavan when he was hired on Feb. 1 of this year, saying he did not think the program needed to be rebuilt despite the recent struggles.

“The tradition and foundation have been laid for years from Bill Collick through Al Lavan,” Milstead said. “I just think we need to do some things to reboot it.”

Tributes from Lavan’s many coaching stops were evident across social media this week.

He had an 18-year NFL coaching career as an assistant with stops at the Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs. Lavan was a part of a Super Bowl winning staff when he was with the 49ers.

“Sending our thoughts and prayers to the Lavan family following the passing of former 49ers running backs coach Al Lavan,” the 49ers Twitter account tweeted this week. “He was a member of George Seifert’s Super Bowl XXIV coaching staff.”

Lavan’s coaching career also included college stops as an assistant at Eastern Michigan, Colorado State, Louisville, Iowa State, Georgia Tech, Stanford and Washington.

He played for Colorado State at defensive back and kicker. He is most famous as a Ram for kicking the game-winning field goal in a 12-10 win over rival Wyoming in a 1966 regular season game.

After he graduated from Colorado State, Lavan had a brief NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons. His career was cut short when he was 24-years-old after an injury while playing for the Falcons.

He injured his neck while making a tackle in the 1971 regular season and continued to play hurt the rest of the year. It wasn’t until the offseason that further medical tests showed he would have to give up his playing career.

That’s when he turned to coaching.

“I was very young when I was injured,” Lavan told the State News in 2004. “I really hadn’t given a lot of thought to another career. I had anticipated on going on to the pros and withing three years I was injured and not able to play anymore.”

But Lavan did have some experience as a coach.

In his senior year at Colorado State he assisted coaches with drills during spring practice. And when he retired from the NFL, it was Colorado State who gave him his first coaching job.

He coached for 30 years until he got his first head coaching stint which came when Eastern Michigan named him its interim coach for the final three games of the 2003 season.

Lavan went 2-1 to close out Eastern Michigan’s campaign, the next year, he was accepting the head coaching job at Delaware State.

“I can’t hide my excitement for the opportunity here,” Lavan said at his introductory press conference. “I see this as an excellent opportunity to move a program forward.”

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