From the Sports Editor: Former players full of Tubby Raymond stories at memorial for Blue Hen coach

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Friday’s Tubby Raymond memorial. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — So here’s a story for you, said Billy Vergantino.

The first time the future Delaware quarterback met Tubby Raymond, he was a little nervous.

The Blue Hens football coaching legend was coming to Vergantino’s house to recruit the high school senior.

Tubby Raymond

Vergantino remembers thinking through what he was going to say while his family was making sure the house was straightened up.

Everything was perfect — until Raymond walked through the door.

“My brother, who’s five, takes a full-out sprint from across the room and launches himself at Coach Raymond,” says Vergantino, picking up the story. “He’s airborne, heading towards Coach. And Coach has no option but to catch him and the kid’s legs wrap around him.

“He (Raymond) is like, ‘Geez, hey kiddo.’ If you know Coach Raymond, it’s going to make you laugh when you picture this, right?”

There were a thousand stories like that flying around the Carpenter Center on Friday afternoon.

Hundreds of Raymond’s former players came together for a memorial service for the late Hall of Fame coach. Raymond, who died on Dec. 8 at the age of 92, spent 48 years coaching football at Delaware, including 36 seasons as head coach.

The memorial may have been as big a single gathering of former Blue Hen football players, both old and young, as there’s ever been.

They all talked about the respect they held for their old coach, his constant attention to detail and his ability to make them feel like they were playing for something bigger than themselves.

But with that many former players all in one place, there were bound to be Tubby stories.

Lots of them.

Raymond’s son David told the audience about the first time he got to punt for his father. It was after the Hens’ starter got injured in the first half of a game.

David said he was a nervous wreck.

So, when the time finally came, the younger Raymond was standing next to assistant coach Ted Kempski on the sidelines.

David said his father looked at Kempski and said, “Is that all we’ve got?”

Former star quarterback Rich Gannon remembers the time Raymond was making the QBs practice form tackling in the spring.

“I was over there and I must have been fooling around or something,” said Gannon. “Tubby was watching from the other field. He screamed over in that voice, he said, ‘Gannon, you better figure out how to do that because you’re going to throw a lot of interceptions. You’re going to need to learn how to tackle.’”

Tubby Raymond memorabilia on display at Friday’s memorial.

Even former Vice President Joe Biden had a story about playing for Raymond. Biden was a member of UD’s freshman team in 1961 when Raymond was an assistant coach.

Biden said he had been particularly fast in a drill where the defensive backs worked on back-pedaling.

“Tubby looked at me in classic Tubby Raymond frame of mind and said, ‘Biden, I don’t know what kind of player you’re going to end up being but I never saw anyone who could run backwards as fast as you,’” Biden told the crowd. “I didn’t know whether to tell him to go to hell or say ‘thanks.’”

Of course all the stories weren’t about Tubby’s infamous one-liners.

Leon Clarke, now an associate principal at Smyrna High, remembers the pressure of trying to get Raymond his 300th career victory in 2001.

The milestone came in a 10-6 win over Richmond in Tubby’s last game coaching in Delaware Stadium.

“You don’t want to leave Coach Raymond at 299,” said Clarke, who played defensive back. “We tossed him up on our shoulders and we carried him off the field for the legend he is, was and will always be for us. Being a part of that process, it was incredible.”

With so many players in town on Friday, former standout fullback Dan Reeder was sure there would be a lot of debates over whose teams were the best.

But he said every player would also agree that there was something special about the way Raymond made them feel about the program.

“We were always prepared,” said Reeder. “I never remember coming into a game at Delaware thinking that we were the underdog. I always thought that we were the favorite. That’s one thing the Wing-T gave us. When it was cranking, it was exciting to watch and it was exciting to run.

“You always heard the people saying, ‘Turn the page Tubby, turn the page.’ But there was a method to his madness. He was very smart and he had smart guys around him.”

What was clear on Friday was that all the preaching Tubby did about Delaware football tradition is a very tangible thing.

The players who came out for the memorial were bonded not only by being part of Blue Hen football but in their experience of being coached by the man himself. Even after he retired in 2002, Raymond was still around the program, painting his trademark senior portraits up until midway through this past season.

So while guys who became stars playing for Raymond — like Gannon, Reeder, George Schmitt and Scott Brunner — were on hand, so were younger players, like Joe Flacco and Pat Devlin, who were never coached by Tubby.

There was also a realization that, with the way college coaches move around now, there aren’t likely to be many more coaches like Raymond, who are involved with so many players at one program.

“I really think it’s special, it’s unique,” said Brian Ginn, another former Blue Hen QB. “You’re not going to see 35 years at one school again, in my opinion.

“It’s really a special bond that we all carry. We may not know each other but we played for Coach Raymond. Once we see each other, there’s that instant bond right then and there.”

Nagy makes it big

One former Delaware quarterback who couldn’t make it back for Friday’s ceremony was Matt Nagy.

He talked about coming but he ended up not being able to travel because of some bad weather in the Midwest.

Nagy was also a little busy, what with being named the Chicago Bears’ head coach on Monday. He’s believed to be the first former Delaware football player to achieve that status.

It was a pretty remarkable achievement for a guy who was only a coaching intern with the Eagles in 2008-09.

“It’s wild,” admitted Ginn, who has remained friends with Nagy since the two dueled for Delaware’s starting quarterback job in the late 1990s. “It is surprising but it’s not surprising. He’s been focused on this.

“He mentioned that years ago and you kind of chuckled it off. But here he is now. It’s awesome. … You knew he was going to find a way to be successful.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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