Lamar Leachman, starting center and linebacker for the 1953 Tennessee football team who coached for 37 years in high school, college and the NFL, died Saturday, in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He was 80.
Mr. Leachman was a heralded football player at Cartersville (Ga.) High School, where he held the Georgia high school rushing record until Herschel Walker broke it in 1979.
He came to Tennessee as a freshman in 1951 and was a reserve linebacker in 1952, before ascending to the starting role a year later, wearing No. 10. He missed the 1954 season with a knee injury, and concluded his career in 1955 as a reserve center and linebacker. He played professionally for the Calgary Stampeders in 1956.
In 1957, Mr. Leachman began his coaching career at Savannah (Ga.) High School. He was defensive line coach for the New York Giants the year they won Super Bowl XXI. He coached the Pro Bowl in 1992 and the 1993 American Bowl in London with the Detroit Lions. He retired from coaching in 1995.
While coaching at Jenkins High School in Savannah, Mr. Leachman made a significant impact on the fortunes of Tennessee football, sending Dewey Warren, his starting quarterback and middle linebacker, to Knoxville in 1963.
As Marvin West has written in "Tales of Tennessee," Mr. Leachman pitched Warren's services to Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, but Bryant politely said, "No," suggesting that Warren might be able to help Tennessee as a linebacker.
With some considerable persuasion from Mr. Leachman, Tennessee assistant coach Bob Woodruff got Warren's name on a grant-in-aid form. The young athlete known as the "Swamp Rat" bypassed the linebacker position after his freshman season, getting his chance under center in the 1965 Ole Miss game and making the most of his opportunity.
"He gave me that name when I was a sophomore in high school," Warren recalled on Oct. 29, 2012. "I was a minute or two late for practice, and he said I was like an old swamp rat. The players heard it, and the name stuck with me."
Warren remembered Mr. Leachman as a "tough man who always supported and believed in me. He was a great coach who got everybody ready to play. He told Coach Bryant he ought to take me with him to Alabama, or I'd come back to beat him some day. Coach Bryant never forgot what he said. He reminded me about it after the 1967 Alabama game."According to those who knew him, he was one of the very best teachers of defensive techniques in the game. In Lawrence Taylor's book, "Living on the Edge," he makes reference to Mr. Leachman's teaching skills. Leonard Marshall also commends Lamar's importance in his pro career in his book, "The End of the Line."A Celebration of Life service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday in McMillan-Small Funeral Home Chapel in Myrtle Beach, with Dr. James Mezick officiating. Burial will follow in Southern Palms Memorial Gardens.
The family will receive friends at the funeral home from 4:30-6:30 p.m. today.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Alzheimer's Association, www.alz.org, or the Grand Strand Humane Society, 3241 10th Ave. Ext. North Myrtle Beach, S.C., 29577.