Manhattan High football has lost an icon.
Lew Lane, the school’s legendary football coach from 1976 to 1997, died on Sunday at age 75 after suffering a stroke last week.
“The best part of Friday nights were Coach Lane’s pregame speeches,” said Phil Dodderidge, who graduated from MHS in 1988. “He would start raising his voice, and his intensity would send chills down your spine. It was like something out of a war movie. Every time I see a (former NFL linebacker) Ray Lewis speech, I think he’s doing a bad impression of Lew Lane.”
During his tenure at MHS, Lane won 169 games. He led the Indians to a 1988 state championship and made the state title game three other times.
He won 77 percent of his games. His teams won 15 league titles.
A Lew Lane-coached MHS team never suffered a losing season.
Brett Wallerstedt, who graduated from MHS in 1988 and went on to play in the NFL, said Lane was the most “genuine and effective motivator I have ever known.” He said he played for several coaches, but Lane stood above the rest.
“X’s and O’s don’t mean anything if you can’t inspire and motivate your players and coaches,” Wallerstedt said. “He commanded respect: respect for him, his coaches, yourself, your teammates, your opponents, your parents and family, your teachers and administrators, the process and the game of football.
“And he demanded unconditional effort with no excuses.”
In an interview with The Mercury in 2013, Lane said as a teenager he would daydream about football in class.
“I was obsessed with it,” he told The Mercury at the time. “You have to be saturated with it, or you won’t be very successful.”
He grew up in St. Marys and played high school football there. In 1968, Lane served as an assistant coach at Scott City.
His father was a successful high school football coach, so he was always around the game.
Lane eventually took over for J.W. Emerson at MHS. He used the same system and ran with it.
“Coach Lane represented the very best of what we now call an old-school football coach,” said Laird Veatch, a 1990 MHS graduate who’s now an assistant athletic director at Florida. “He demanded and instilled discipline, work ethic, pride, strength and mental toughness in all the right ways and for all the right reasons. Those of us who played for the man we later came to know as Lew — but never would have dreamed of calling him that as player — have a great appreciation for the foundation he gave us in life.”
Added Greg Wilson, a 1989 graduate: “Coach Lane had a way of making me think I was capable of anything while always keeping me humble. Definitely made me exceed what I thought was possible. Very positive impact on developing me into a successful man.”
Lane built a powerhouse. In his first season, MHS went 5-4. Then 6-2 the next year. Then 7-2.
In 1982, MHS went 9-1, then followed it up with another 9-1 season and an 11-1 campaign the year after.
The Indians made the state title game in 1984, but lost to Lawrence. They lost again in the state title game in 1987 before capturing the state championship the next season.
By succeeding for so long, Lane brought stability to the program. Joe Schartz, the current MHS head football coach, said Lane would often discuss consistency and continuity with coaches, who he called “golden threads” of the program.
“Coach Lane was the golden thread,” Schartz said. “Coach Lane was always quick to give credit to his assistant coaches, recognizing they were all part of the thread. To me, his constant recognition of the work others around him were doing exhibited his humility.”
MHS principal Greg Hoyt, who graduated in 1983 and played for Lane, became one of his assistants a few years later. He said Lane would always say: “Never accept anything but their best.”
“He was as intense as any individual that I’ve ever encountered,” Hoyt said. “Screaming. Yelling. Grabbing face masks. It all happened. But it happened because he knew that whatever you were giving as a player, as a coach, it wasn’t the ceiling of what you had. There was always another level to be achieved. He understood that there was more to give, and he may not have known how much more, but there was more.”
Lane seemed to be respected by everyone.
Bill Snyder, who retired as Kansas State’s head football coach in December, said Lane was a special man.
“I thought, as a coach, what I appreciated about him was how he was so very promotional of a values system for young people,” Snyder said. “He promoted discipline in a good way — doing things right, being good students and all that goes along with it. Just very consistent. Did things the right way himself and made sure everybody in his program held to it. As an individual, he’s somebody who cared. He did the right things in his own life, was a family man. Cared about the people around him.”
Lane’s legacy didn’t end when he retired in 1997. In 2015, the field at Bishop Stadium was named after Lane.
For Schartz, one Lane refrain sticks out most.
“Remember who you are, and where you come from.”
Those words are on the MHS football locker room walls. Everyone in the program, Schartz said, understands their significance.
“Coach Lane would often come by and see me,” Schartz said. “We had great conversations. He always offered his support and wisdom. He was a great storyteller, which helped endear him to his players. The pride he instilled in the program and his players still exists today.
“I will miss Coach Lane’s friendship, our conversations, his stories and his unwavering support of me and MHS football. Coach Lane will be dearly missed.”
For two decades, the fiery, passionate Lane motivated players to come together to achieve goals.
“By (Lane) challenging us to ‘never forget who we are and never forget where we came from,’ we eventually came to realize it really wasn’t about ourselves at all, but about being a part of something bigger, about working our tails off towards something we could not possibly do on our own,” Veatch said.
Lane is survived by his wife, Cindy, and their daughter, Kiley, both of Manhattan.
A funeral is scheduled for Friday at 10:30 a.m.
The Mercury will publish a full obituary in an upcoming edition.