Last week was an emotional one for University of Delaware athletics, for a couple of reasons. One reason for that emotion was the honored past, and the other reason was the promising future.
Legendary coach Tubby Raymond died last Friday, as a long life filled with family, friends, football and fame came to an end. The condolences and accolades have rolled in ever since, and there is certainly nothing I can add to what has already been said by people who knew him better than I did. But even if you didn’t know Tubby – and I dealt with him many times in my sports writing career – you understand the impact he had on the university and the thousands of students whose lives he influenced.
Tubby was fortunate to live a long life and be active and productive until the end. And that ain’t a bad way to go out. But Raymond’s death at 92 also signified the end of an era, when coaches spent their entire careers at Delaware and never regretted it. The UD lifer is pretty much a thing of the past and a new generation of young coaches run things at Delaware now. Tubby Raymond could have left UD countless times for jobs in Division I or even the NFL, but he was content in Newark for 36 years.
And, as Tubby loved to point out, he was also coach of the baseball team from 1956-64 and his overall winning percentage of .710 is still the best in school history.
That brings us to the other emotional event at Delaware – the day after Raymond died, the men’s basketball team took on Notre Dame and former Delaware coach Mike Brey. He got a nice reception from the standing-room-only crowd of 4,737 at the Bob Carpenter Center and the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish won going away, as expected, but Delaware hung tough in the first half and the fired-up crowd – just the 39th sellout in Bob Carpenter Center history – had a lot of fun.
In fact, the last time the fans of the men’s team had this much fun was when Brey was coach, the Blue Hens were making a couple of appearances in the NCAA Tournament, and The Bob was the place to be. That’s when Delaware fans showed they would support basketball if the basketball was good, which it wasn’t after Brey left for Notre Dame.
But there are signs that Brey’s former assistant at Notre Dame will lead the Blue Hens out of the wilderness. Delaware coach Martin Ingelsby played for Brey at Notre Dame and then worked with Brey as an assistant for 13 years, and he’s already recruited a lot of talented players — the Hens’ have a solid freshman class, led by Kevin Anderson, Ryan Allen and Chyree Walker, to go with star sophomore Ryan Daly.
Delaware fans have proven they will be there to cheer on their team, providing that team gives them their money’s worth. For too many years, The Bob has been mostly empty for Delaware games, and the worst possible thing happened – people just didn’t care anymore.
Well, they’re starting to care again because Ingelsby has given them hope. And that’s something Delaware fans haven’t had for a long, long time.
But there’s even a down side to that – if Inglesby follows his mentor Brey and turns Delaware into a winner, then he’ll no doubt follow Brey’s example and get a better job at a bigger school. That’s the Catch-22 for a mid-major school like Delaware. A coach with ambition doesn’t go to Delaware to die – he uses it as a steppingstone to bigger and supposedly better things.
Still, that would be a nice problem to have. Nobody expects Ingelesby to hang around for 36 years like Tubby Raymond did, but if he can get the Hens back on track, that will be enough.