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Lou Saban (1957-1959 at WIU)
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L to R: The 1957 Leatherneck Football coaching staff - Red Miller, Lou Saban, Joe Collier.
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Western Illinois Mourns Loss of Legendary Football Coach Lou Saban

March 30, 2009


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MACOMB, Ill. - Western Illinois University, along with many other collegiate and professional organizations this week, is mourning the loss of legendary football coach Lou Saban, who passed away Sunday at the age of 87.

"I think I speak for the entire Leatherneck community in expressing our deep sorrow to Lou's family," said current Western Illinois head coach Don Patterson. "We are so grateful for all he accomplished at Western Illinois University in such a short time. Leatherneck football owes a lot to Lou Saban."

Saban coached the only undefeated team in school history - the 1959 Leathernecks who went 9-0 and won each of their games by an average of 22 points. His 1958 squad earned a 6-1-1 record, suffering its only loss by a single point and winning the first of back-to-back conference titles. Saban's three seasons with the Leathernecks, 1957-59, resulted in a 20-5-1 record, two first-place finishes and a second-place finish in the Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

"He felt the closest to Western Illinois—that was the job he enjoyed the most," his wife, Joyce, said in a Chicago Tribune article today. "...He identified with the community. He always said he should have stayed there. But he wanted the challenge of the pros."

The three-year span produced two pro football draft picks - Mike McFarland (1961, Minnesota) and first-round selection Leroy Jackson (1962, Cleveland) - and several other professional players.

Saban had just returned to campus in October (2008) for a 50-year reunion of those 1957-59 teams. Nearly every living member of those three Leatherneck teams was a part of the celebration.

"I am so happy that he was able to reconnect with all of his players and staff this last fall," said Patterson. "It was a very special opportunity for me and a very special time for all of them and it meant the world to all of us."

One of Saban's former players who attended the October reunion was Booker Edgerson, a 1958-61 Leatherneck and former member of the Bills and Broncos.

"He was like a father to me," Edgerson said in a Sunday article by the Associated Press. "He steered me in the right direction. He gave me advice. Some of it, I didn't like, but isn't that what a father does? Lou Saban was a great teacher," Edgerson continued. "He knew how to build football programs."

A 1974 Western Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, Saban coached 28 different teams at all levels of play during his 52-year career. In addition to the Leathernecks, he had collegiate coaching stops at Northwestern, Maryland, Army, Washington, Miami and Central Florida, among others. He left Macomb in 1959 to become the original head coach of the American Football League's Boston (now New England) Patriots, and later coached the Buffalo Bills and O.J. Simpson, leading Buffalo to consecutive AFL championships in 1964 and 1965. Saban was president of the New York Yankees from 1981-82 and coached high school football from 1987-89. He continued coaching football even into his 80s, at Division III Chowan College.

"Coach Saban was one of Western's true football coaching legends," said Dr. Tim Van Alstine, current Western Illinois Director of Athletics. "His undefeated 1959 team will always be the standard of Leatherneck football. The fact that his professional coaching career was launched from Leatherneck football will always be a source of pride for Western Illinois University."

Copy by Western Illinois Athletics

Posted By: WIU News (U-Relations@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations