Posted Online: Nov. 09, 2011, 9:05 pm

Vikings lose a legend; Schmulbach ends storied coaching career at Augie

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By Tom Johnston,

Photo: Submitted
Longtime Augustana coach Tom Schmulbach has decided to call it a career after 28 season at Augie.
The last connection to Augustana College's four straight NCAA Div. III football titles is hanging up his coaching whistle this week.

Tom Schmulbach, a long-time Viking assistant and former head coach, is calling it a career after the Vikings take on Illinois Wesleyan on Saturday in Bloomington.

Schmulbach spent 30 years at Augustana, coaching for 28 of those and said, "It was just the right time. ... I want to get out while there are still parts of me that can do some things well.''

That means being a grandfather, father and husband, said the 64-year-old, who will join his wife, Jan, in retirement.

The memories were plentiful for Schmulbach, who also held positions at Geneseo and Rockridge high schools before joining Bob Reade at Augie just before the Vikings won their four straight NCAA Div. III national titles from 1983-86.

The national crowns, though, were not the pinnacles of his career. That distinction went to coaching sons Jeff and Joe at Augie in the 1990s.

"Professionally, there are probably a lot, but personally, as far as highlights for me and my family, that was really it,'' said Schmulbach. "It was just an awfully neat thing to see them enjoy part of what I enjoyed for so long. ... That was slightly ahead of a lot of other great things that happened here.''

Viking head coach Rob Cushman has only coached with Schmulbach for four years, but said the veteran's value to the program and the school "was almost immeasurable.''

"He was a wonderful person and great role model,'' said Cushman. "He was absolutely a joy to be around for our players and coaching staff. It's often stated, but as good of a coach as he is, he is a better person. He's had a huge effect on everybody he has come in contact with.''

That includes athletic director Mike Zapolski, who is beginning his fourth year at Augie.

"I have appreciated Tom's wisdom and work ethic – all of which have been a foundation for his many contributions to the success of our program,'' said Zapolski.

Schmulbach's tenure was filled with plenty of success – including a 33-14 record and two CCIW titles (1997 & 1999). But there were also some trying times, including his battle with throat cancer that was diagnosed just before the 1999 season. While giving everything he had to the program, Schmulbach also relied on great friend and longtime colleague Larry Johnsen to step in as co-head coach for that title run.

Schmulbach said "I loved being a head coach'' and he wished that run could have lasted longer than it did.

"Everybody in their profession wants to get to a certain level and see if they can handle it and it was great,'' he said. "It was a great challenge.''

However, Schmulbach didn't mind being back in the trenches.

"But in the last 10 years, I've gotten to be able to go back and coach people again. The higher up you go, the less you get to work with people and the more you work with other parts of the game. The last 10 years, I've gotten to go back and do the best thing about coaching and that is working with people.''

Cushman said a search for Schmulbach's replacement will begin after the season when he and the administration formulate a game plan for the staff.

"We'll get another offensive line coach,'' said Cushman, "but we will never replace Tom Schmulbach.''

The Schmulbach file

Tom Schmulbach, who led the Augustana football team to CCIW titles in 1997 and 1999, compiled a 33-14 record in his five years as head coach, is retiring from the coaching staff after Saturday's game at Illinois Wesleyan.

- 1971-78: Assistant at Geneseo High School.
- 1979-81: Head coach at Rockridge High School.
- 1982-99 & 2002-2011: At Augustana (running backs coach from1982-89; offensive coordinator from  1990-94, head coach from 1995-99; offensive line coach from 2002-2011).
 - 2001: Volunteered as assistant coach at United Township High School.