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Who Won? Who Cares! : Veteran La Verne Football Coach Roland Ortmayer Just Wants His Players to Have Fun

October 29, 1987|SCOT BUTWELL | Times Staff Writer

Call La Verne College football Coach Roland Ortmayer the authentic eccentric.

He is authentic because Ortmayer, 70, has been coaching 42 years--the last 40 at La Verne. "Ort," as everyone calls him, says people often ask him when he is going to retire, but he has no idea. Assistant coach Rex Higgins thinks Ort will coach until he dies.

He is eccentric because of the different approach Ortmayer brings to intercollegiate football, which is refreshing amid recurring player payoff scandals and recruiting violations.

Consider his philosophy, which hasn't changed since his first year as a coach in 1945: He has no coaches' meetings, no playbook and no game plans, and practice is optional.

And he feels football should be played for fun.

"Most coaches these days, at any level, are win-at-all-cost types," Whittier College Coach Hugh Mendez says. "But with Ort, it's fun-at-all-costs. Ten years down the road, his players remember not whether they won or lost but if they had fun."

Ortmayer, in keeping with his philosophy, claims he has no knowledge of his lifetime wins and loses. For the record, his is 176-170-1.

"When you're coaching a group of college students, the game should be played for fun," the crew-cut coach said. "Don't get me wrong, I still want to win. But winning shouldn't override having fun."

In that spirit of fun, Ortmayer sets aside one practice every year to have watermelon relay races. After the races, it's chow time.

Players say they enjoy playing for Ortmayer because of his idea that football is played on the field and by the players--not by the coaches, who should need to give little input once the game has begun.

The quarterback calls his own plays. Sometimes, that's not as much fun as it might seem, as this year's starter Mark Brown found out a year ago while filling in for injured starter Mark Van Allen.

"Being a freshman, everybody took advantage of me," Brown said. "It was either 'pass it to me' or 'let's run this play.' "

Ortmayer remembers when another young quarterback was having trouble getting control in the huddle during a scrimmage. "I told the quarterback to tell whoever talked to shut up," Ortmayer said. "A few minutes later, I came back into the huddle and started to say something and was quickly told by the quarterback to shut up.

"I probably had something important to say, but I didn't speak. I had to keep with what I had said earlier."

Brown plans to make more decisions this season but will still listen to his teammates' advice. And even some from Ortmayer, who gives suggestions but not orders.

La Verne's 53-52 overtime victory last year over Occidental provided a case in point. "We were behind, 52-45, and facing a fourth down and long at Oxy's 15," Ortmayer recalled. "I suggested to Mark that we try a Hail Mary but he'd already made up his mind what play to call.

"He told me later a receiver came up to him, grabbed his jersey and said, 'You do exactly what I tell you and we'll score.' "

They did.

"That's why we don't have a playbook," Ortmayer said. "If we had one, it would be like: Here it is, challenge it and you challenge me.

"We want our players to say something is a dumb idea if they think so. It's more difficult for them to do that if we put everything on paper."

In a harsher way, Ortmayer's open-minded philosophy resulted in his becoming a conscientious objector during World War II.

His concept that "all of life is fun and nothing should destroy life" was threatened. He thought the world could resolve its problems without combat.

So with the war going on, Ortmayer fought forest fires for one year, supervised institutionalized mental patients for two years and was a guinea pig for diet studies another year.

After the war, Ortmayer took a job as basketball, baseball, track and football coach at William Penn College in Iowa for two years before heading to La Verne with wife Cornia, to whom he has been married for 44 years.

Ortmayer also is the track coach and athletic director.

He also teaches some classes. In the summer, he teaches "When Lewis and Clark Met the Mountains," and leads students retracing the famous expedition.

"Lewis and Clark didn't go to enough exciting places," said Ortmayer, who has been making the trek with students for 16 years. "So we travel off the path some."

The son of a Methodist minister, Ortmayer was raised near the trail in Montana. His father, Louis, was a Methodist minister who also coached football at Dakota Wesleyan University in South Dakota.

Though Ortmayer's own life style (early to bed, no cuss words) reflects his clergyman father's, he is committed to letting his players set their own standards and determine their life styles.

Even on the field.

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