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WORLD LOST A TEACHER WITH OFFENHAMER'S PASSING

Dick Offenhamer had been dead a week and it still couldn't be confirmed until late last week. Everything was private. If you knew Offy, that was typical.

Once he left the spotlight as the most successful football coach ever at the University at Buffalo, he left it. There were no second thoughts. He did things his way, including his leaving of this world.

I remember asking him why he turned down Weeb Ewbank's offer to become personnel director of the New York Jets after he left coaching. "I want to continue doing what I've been doing lately," he explained. "Being a fan."

For him, being a fan meant driving to his alma mater, Colgate, on as many autumn Saturday afternoons as he could manage. I remember covering a Cornell-Colgate game, homecoming for the Red Raiders, in which a large group of alumni were honored. There was Offy, in the middle of the line of old-timers, wearing the widest grin.

Leaving coaching might be difficult for most old-timers, but Offy was different. To him, there was more to life and he experienced most of it. He held a degree in English and worked as hard at being an English teacher at old Kenmore High School as he did coaching the football teams, among the most powerful in Western New York during the '40s. After he retired from coaching, he went back to the classroom. He never lost his English teacher demeanor.

"When you interview Offenhamer," said Phil Ranallo, the late Courier-Express columnist, "you get your grammar corrected at the same time."

Offenhamer did that to people. You sat up a little straighter when you were in his company. He was fun to be with, but there were certain standards that you just understood.

Jim Maley, one of his old players at Kenmore, remembers the first question Offenhamer asked him at his first football practice wasn't about gridiron assignments but "how do you spell ostentatious?"

Not that he let players off the hook if they had faulty football technique. When he was Colgate's freshman coach, he recruited Karl Kluckhohn, a Springville schoolboy star and later one of his aides at UB.

"I was a good receiver but not a very good blocker when I came to him," says Kluckhohn. "My first day he asked me, 'Where did you play? In the Epworth League?' " The Epworth League is a Methodist youth organization.

"I remember when I came to Buffalo to interview for a job on his staff," says Buddy Ryan, who went on to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals. "The airlines lost my luggage and I arrived at his office needing a shave and not looking too good.

"He gave me that look of his and I had to explain that my personal appearance was usually a lot better. I got the job and spent some of the best years of my career working for him. We stayed friends. When I went to the pros he always made it a point to come down and see me when my team was in Buffalo."

As a coach, Offenhamer could make the change from field to living room as smoothly as he did his change in careers.

"He could be tough on the players," says Joe Marcin, retired college football editor of the Sporting News who once worked for Offy as UB's sports information director. "But he was entirely different when dealing with their parents.

"I remember we had a player from New England suffer a serious knee injury on the practice field and immediately it was clear that he'd never play again. Offenhamer used my office phone to call his parents. By the time he finished talking about what happened and the kid's future, they must have thought the injury was the greatest thing that ever happened to their son."

Willie Evans, one of Offy's star halfbacks who went on to become director of athletics for the Buffalo public schools, remembered the change he saw in Offenhamer's persona when their relationship was altered.

"The team began to fly to home games during my time at UB, and I sat just above the wing," remembers Evans. "Dick sat in front of me. I got to talk to him about things other than football for the first time. He was proud of having an English degree. I saw a different man on those trips."

Non-football people saw an even different side of him.

"He was a great practical joker," says Chuck Burr, who worked at UB then. "One August, the alumni office dummied up a phony front page of the 'Alumni Bulletin' with the headline 'OFFENHAMER PREDICTS UNBEATEN SEASON.'

"We planted it on his desk and he blew his stack until someone let him in on the joke. Later, he got back at me. The punch line, though, was that was the season UB won the Lambert Trophy. We lost only one game."

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