Williams College community mourns loss of longtime coach Renzie Lamb
WILLIAMSTOWN — Mike Whalen might have just summed up Renzie Lamb in one statement.
"We used to joke that he was the mayor of Williamstown," Whalen said. "Everybody knew him and everybody loved him."
Lamb, 81, died Saturday of natural causes. He was walking down at Cole Field when he collapsed.
Lamb coached at Williams from 1968 until he retired in 2003. He was an assistant football coach under the late Bob Odell and then under Dick Farley. He became the men's head lacrosse coach in 1969, and also spent 10 years as the women's squash coach at Williams.
The stadium at the Weston Field complex was named Farley-Lamb field in 2014 after the two coaches who are both in their respective Halls of Fame. The football and lacrosse teams call Farley-Lamb home.
"I am flattered and humble," Lamb told The Eagle when the school announced the name of the facility back in 2014, "and I am really pleased to be behind the hyphen. It's Farley, hyphen, Lamb field."
Lamb is in the Intercollegiate Men's Lacrosse Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the Manhassett (N.Y.) Lacrosse Hall of Fame, the New England Lacrosse Hall of Fame and the Western Massachusetts Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
He is the first coach honored by the IMLCA who only coached in NCAA Division III lacrosse.
"He did it his way," said Farley, responding to what his wife Suzanne had said to him. "It was just unique. Everybody in NESCAC knew who he was."
The memorial for Lamb will be Friday, Nov. 30. There will be a funeral mass in the college's Thompson Chapel at 11 a.m., followed by the burial service in the Williams College cemetery at 12:30 p.m.
"Bob Odell was the football coach. When I came aboard, I came in really as a young defensive backfield coach and the head track coach. Renzie's role at that time was the freshmen coach," Farley said. "Freshmen weren't eligible to play at the varsity level. They would have to play on the freshman team.
"He was very demanding. He was not forgiving. But the kids loved his experiences".
Farley, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006, arrived at Williams after Lamb did.
"[The freshmen team] would play a game on Sunday, and he would go scout our opposition for the next week. He'd come back and give a scouting report, not only to the coaching staff, but he'd give the scouting report to the team on Mondays. It was like Seinfeld," Farley said. "He'd exaggerate a lot of things about the opposition, and he'd always give kids a nickname that was somewhat unique. He had the 'Toast Brothers,' because they got beat on pass plays. He just had a unique way with kids."
One of those many players he had a nickname for was Ken Dilanian. The 1991 Williams graduate is currently the Intelligence and National Security correspondent for NBC News. Dilanian, who played for two 8-0 teams in 1989 and 1990 and graduated in 1991, was one person who received a memorable nickname from Lamb — Freddy.
"When we got there as freshmen, I think they knew that Teddy [Rogers] was a great player and they knew who he was. I was on the other side," said Dilanian, referring to Rogers, a three-time All-American defensive end. "We were together, and Renzie just decided it should rhyme and he decided to call us Teddy and Freddy. He called me Freddy from freshman year on, and it stuck."
Dilanian, who grew up in East Longmeadow, was asked about his first practices with Lamb. Instead, he recalled a preseason meeting.
"My first memory was a meeting, a defensive end meeting where there was this incredible rapport and humor with the seniors," Dilanian said. "I'm just this wide-eyed freshman going in. I realized that this is a different thing. He treats these people like men. He's funny. He's got this larger-than-life aura. That carries onto the field in practice.
"He made it way more fun than it ever would have been without him."
Darrell White played for Lamb at Williams — one year of lacrosse and four years of football, graduating in 1978. He is now an ophthalmic surgeon in the Cleveland area and the founder of SkyVision Centers there.
When asked about his first memories of Renzie Lamb on the football field, White did not have to think very long.
"He was the most unorthodox sideline coach and halftime coach in the history of coachdom," he said. "There were times he would be angry at us, and he pretty much did this every year. We were playing the Coast Guard when I was a freshman and he was unhappy with the way we were playing — and he quit. He went and sat in the top of the stands.
"He was truly, truly — as a football coach — one of a kind. I played for some really spectacular coaches in my career. A legendary high school coach in Massachusetts where I was born, I played for Dick Farley and I played for Renzie."
Whalen did not play for Lamb. He did play against him when he was a player at Wesleyan for Bill Macdermott. That started a longtime relationship.
"I actually met Renzie when I was a player, in my senior year," said Whalen. "As I got into coaching, obviously learned many of the legendary stories and then got to experience some of them. As I progressed in my career, fast forward and ended up coming to Williams, he welcomed me with open arms, was great, was always there to support me and help in any way he could.
"A great mentor, a great friend and a great coach."
Rogers wrote to The Eagle about Lamb's passing, and in his email, said that Lamb took him under his wing.
"In addition to coaching me in football and lacrosse, Renzie served as a mentor, father figure and, ultimately, one of the most loyal friends a person could have," Rogers wrote. "I feel grateful for having had him in my life for over 30 years."
Dan McCarthy graduated from Williams in 1987, and was strictly a lacrosse player. In fact, he played at Chaminade High School in Mineola, N.Y., the same high school that Lamb played at. Lamb later played football and lacrosse at Hofstra University, before coaching lacrosse at Manhasset (N.Y.) High School. Then he came to Williams.
For the past decade, a group of former Williams lacrosse players have traveled to play in the over-40 and over-50 divisions at the Vail (Colo.) Lacrosse Shootout. In 2017, when Lamb turned 80, they all wore "Renzie 80" jerseys.
They had a team birthday dinner that year, with CNBC analyst Paul Meeks hosting. Each player told stories that brought the house down with laughter.
"He was a rough and tough Marine who worked his players hard, but he was also a hilarious man with a huge heart," McCarthy wrote in an email. "He was thoughtful and kind to everyone, even if he was running you into the ground because he was trying to make you better."
Jeff Stripp, the current boys lacrosse coach at Mount Greylock, was an All-American for Lamb on the Williams lacrosse team.
Stripp has been a driving force in the growth of Berkshire County lacrosse, and some might consider him the father of the sport throughout the county. If that's the case, then Renzie Lamb is the grandfather.
"From my perspective, he inspired me," said Stripp. "He's the reason for my lacrosse, for my love of lacrosse. His footprint and his imprint is all over what we do here as an association and as a group. He meant a lot to me, and inspiration is just one of the things."
Jim Roy was a football player at Williams from 1987 to 1991, like Dilanian and Rogers.
"I had a chance to reminisce with Coach Lamb a few years ago in Williamstown at our 25th class reunion," Roy wrote in an email. "That was the very last time I had an opportunity to speak with him, but I was so very glad to say thank you just one more time. He taught me much about life and I try my very best to pass along what I have learned to my children and children that I have an opportunity to coach."
One of Lamb's former players, in both football and lacrosse, went into the same business. Kevin Gilmartin, who graduated in 1994, is the current head football coach at Division-III Salve Regina. Gilmartin said that he might not be a coach were it not for Renzie Lamb.
"We could be on this phone for 48 hours," Gilmartin said, when asked during an interview about Lamb. "You step on campus as a freshman and you're awkward and uncomfortable. You're trying to meet people and you don't know what's going on. All of a sudden, there's this one guy who immediately starts to make fun of you, makes you laugh about yourself at the same time. You have an instant bond with him. I think he did that with every football-lacrosse player that came through campus.
"There were other people he did that to, who didn't even play a sport, but immediately bonded with him."
Since his retirement from coaching, Lamb has been the heart and soul of the Williams Sideline Quarterback Club, an organization that has been in existence since 1948. Lamb has been the organization's long-time president.
He presided over one final Quarterback Club luncheon before the Williams-Amherst football game last month. He always closed the meeting with the following:
"If you wish to be happy for an hour, get intoxicated. If you want to be happy for three days, get married. If you want to be happy for eight days, kill your pig and eat it.
"If you want to be happy forever, beat Amherst."
In almost four decades at Williams College, Renzie Lamb had an impact on thousands of football, lacrosse and squash players. It was an impact that those who mourn his loss still feel today.
"If you were one of Renzie's guys, you were one of Renzie's guys," Darrell White said. "If you played for Renzie, if you played for Renzie ever, for an hour, you were one of Renzie's guys."
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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