Mike Lude is 96 Years Old and Still Going Strong!

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Steve Holton on the left brought Mike Lude to Vicksburg to meet old friends and tell tales about their years as athletic directors in major universities across the United States.

By Sue Moore

Milo (Mike) Lude left Vicksburg after graduation from high school in 1940 for Hillsdale College to play football and maybe amount to something, he said. The person who urged him to try for college was his high school coach and mentor, Clayton (Whitey) Linton. He leveled with Lude: You are not big enough, not fast enough and you are not good enough.

Lude had spent his growing up years on a farm near Fulton with no running water, no central heat, no plumbing and kerosene lanterns for light until 1935 when rural electrification came along. Now at age 96, he has lived all over the nation as an assistant football coach, a head coach, an athletic director and consultant.

He didn’t start out with those kinds of goals. He attended a one-room school near Fulton until high school. He moved into Vicksburg to live with his grandparents five days of the week and then home on weekends to help milk cows and plow 260 acres of hills and stones, all with horses, on the weekends. He thought every boy wore bib overalls, he recalled. His dad wanted him to play football and it turns out, he was pretty good at it as a 179 lb. lineman. Whitey had just graduated from Hillsdale College and advised Lude to go there. “I owe my career and my life to Linton,” Lude said.

The Marine Corps came calling before Lude could finish college. Upon his return after the war, Lude went back to Hillsdale. He was getting marginal grades in his early years at Hillsdale when his history prof interceded: “you are in trouble academically,” he told Lude. “I’m going to help by tutoring you.”

He majored in biology because it was an easy class for him his freshman year. “At Vicksburg, I just got by with a good attitude and my smile. I was in Mabel Hawkins’ drama classes for four years because she liked me,” Lude said with a chuckle as he acknowledged that “other people can do a lot more for you than you can for yourself all along the way.”

Lude’s greatest accomplishment, he believes, was hiring Don James to coach football at Kent State and then at the University of Washington (UW) – he served as athletic director at each school. With James at UW as head coach, they went to the Rose Bowl in 1978 and beat the University of Michigan 27-20. Lude was named National Athletic Director of the Year in 1988. “My strong suit was probably selling my ideas with enthusiasm. After that first big win it was like the launching pad that rocketed UW into outer space. We were able to put an upper deck on the north side of the football stadium. Without that, the stands looked like a one-winged seagull,” Lude said.

Three more Rose Bowl appearances and 13 total bowl appearances ensued under the James and Lude era from 1977 to 1990. Lude was forced to retire by University’s president. James lasted one more year and quit when one of his athletes was accused of getting paid for summer work.

Lude soon was hired as the athletic director at Auburn University for two years where he hired Terry Bowden as the head coach. He retired from there to take private consulting jobs and settle in Tucson, Arizona where he played a lot of golf and found time for his wife Rena and daughters Cynthia, Janann and Jill.

Lude had a five-year run as athletic director at Kent State just after the National Guard shooting on campus from 1970 to 1775 before the 18 years at UW. This is where he first recruited Don James to head the football program. It was James who then recommended his old boss for the AD position at Washington. Their friendship lasted for their 20 years together and after that until James passed away in 2013. During that time, James would tell his staff “not to mess around with the guy in the corner office because he and I will take care of things.” When Lude went to UW, the athletic program was $400,000 in debt. When he left the program, it had an $18 million surplus. “The secret is I tried to get everything I could for my coaches to be successful. The job of an AD today is asset acquisitions,” Lude said. “The salaries coaches and ADs are getting today are immoral.”

Not everything Lude touched turned out perfectly. His stint at Colorado State University as the head football coach from 1962-1969 only saw one winning season. Previous to that he had been the assistant football coach at the University of Delaware and before that at the University of Maine.

During Lude’s many years of moving around the country, he met Steve Holton, now living in Vicksburg, who was with the University of Houston. Steve along with Perk Weisenburger marketed the moniker “Phi Slama Jama” for the school’s basketball team. Houston went to the NCAA Final Four tournament in 1982/83/84. Holton’s wife is the former Judi Pacukewicz of Vicksburg. They too moved about, from Houston, to Cal State Long Beach to the University of Northern Arizona where Holton was the athletic director and brought in Lude as a consultant. Upon Holton’s retirement from the University of California at Berkeley he and Judi moved to Barton Lake where her parents lived. Keeping in touch with Lude throughout the years, Steve engineered a reunion for Lude. Several of Lude’s athletic director friends, including Perk Weisenburger, who is now AD at Ferris State, gathered over the 4th of July week in Vicksburg.

Lude co-authored a book, “Walking the Line” about his life in sports. It has 85 testimonials in it from guys and gals who helped him or whom he helped along the way. The introduction was written by sports broadcaster Keith Jackson 10 years ago.

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