Lubbs: MHS gridiron great; better in the game of life

On and off the field, former football coach was respected and admired

Posted 6/1/20

MENDOTA – Respectful and kind. Trustworthy and fair. All attributes most of us strive for, and Dean Lubbs perfected.

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Lubbs: MHS gridiron great; better in the game of life

On and off the field, former football coach was respected and admired



Sports editor

MENDOTA – Respectful and kind. Trustworthy and fair. All attributes most of us strive for, and Dean Lubbs perfected.

Whether in the classroom, on the football field, in the clubhouse at the golf course or just during a simple conversation on the street, Lubbs personified all of those traits.

That’s why he had so many friends. And that’s why so many people will miss him after he passed away on May 26, just two days after his 74th birthday.

Lubbs began establishing himself in the Mendota community in 1969 after he earned a master’s degree from the University of Missouri. Football was his game, having attended Western Illinois University on a scholarship after playing high school football in his hometown of Manlius. Lubbs spent 10 years as an assistant football coach at Mendota High School before assuming the reigns as the varsity head coach in 1979.

During his 15-year tenure as the Trojan mentor, Lubbs compiled an 81-64 career mark with six NCIC titles and six appearances in the Class 3A playoffs. He had eight winning seasons, including six out of his last seven years.

It took Lubbs just two seasons to build the Trojans into a playoff team when the 1981 squad won the conference title and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in school history. Mendota’s next trip to the playoffs came in 1987, Lubbs’ most successful season as the head coach. Aside from two regular season losses to Marquette and Hall by a combined 10 points, the Trojans were no match for their seven other opponents. Mendota won those seven games by a combined score of 229-30 and rolled into the playoffs as one of the most lethal teams in Class 3A.

The Trojan juggernaut continued into the playoffs where they blew out Coal City, Hall and Normal University High on their way to the Class 3A semifinals. In that game, Mendota’s machine was finally derailed by powerful Kankakee Bishop McNamara, which went on to win the state title with a lopsided victory over Taylor Ridge (Rockridge). There is no disputing that the state championship game was played the week before the state finals when Mendota and Bishop Mac slugged it out in Kankakee.

Mendota concluded the 1987 campaign with a 10-3 record. Thirty-three years later, that is still the best season ever played by a Trojan football team.

The Trojans went on to make four more playoff appearances (1988, 1990, 1991, 1992) in the next five years under Lubbs. The 1993 season was his last on the Mendota sideline. He resigned from his position on Nov. 8, 1993. He remained at MHS as an instructor in physical education, sciences and computer programming until his retirement in 2001.

Throughout his time as a football coach at MHS, he always credited everyone but himself for his success. Soon after his resignation, Lubbs said he attributed his accomplishments on the gridiron to his assistant coaches, the scouts and the players. “You can win games with that combination,” he said.

For his outstanding achievements on the football field, Lubbs was inducted into the Illinois Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1998.

Lubbs was adored, admired and revered by practically everyone he came in contact with. Countless people have been saddened by his passing. Many remember him with heavy hearts.

Phil Bodine – Former teaching and coaching colleague at MHS

“I started teaching and coaching in 1990 on Dean’s football staff. There is no one I have come across in my 30 years of teaching/coaching who I respect more, care for more and learned so much about coaching/life than Russel Dean Lubbs. He is always on my mind as I coach to this day. The things he taught me I hope I am doing the same and I hope I have made him proud. I pray I have. He was the most respected teacher/coach in the halls of Mendota Township High School. I will miss him dearly. It would behoove us all as coaches/teachers to hope to be as good a man as Dean Lubbs. I will miss you Dean!”

Mike Cooper – Former player and 1985 MHS graduate

“I played football because of Dean Lubbs. I wasn’t a great player, but he inspired me to play for the love of the game. As a player, I learned the importance of hard work and doing things as a team. Coach Lubbs was all about the importance of the team. Professionally he impacted the way I coach and treat kids and as an administrator he taught me the importance of treating people the right way. Coach Lubbs should have been a state championship football coach – he had the best public school team in the state for Class 3A the year we lost to Bishop Mac.”

Mark Cooper – Former player and 1987 MHS graduate

“Coach did an amazing job establishing relationships with his students and players. Integrity and sportsmanship were always points of emphasis with his teams. He had a significant impact on my life as an educator and coach. To this day, I still try to emulate many of his attributes he had as an educator and coach.”

Dave Elsesser – Former player and 1985 MHS graduate

“I didn’t play football or wrestle for him, but in a way, I think it enabled me to get a better measure of the man that he really was. My most lasting impressions came when he was assistant basketball coach, and, of course, I was the guy at the end of the bench. But it didn’t take long for me to figure out that he cared as much about us as he did the guys who were playing 32 minutes. I never forgot that, and some of the coaching I got from him in meaningless JV games, I’ve gone on to apply in other facets of life. He built in me a confidence that I hadn’t before known – things that, I think, came forward in everyday life. I truly loved the man, and, as these things usually go, it didn’t really crystallize or come to the fore until later in life. Fortunately, I was able to thank him and let him know how much he helped me down my path. He had the ability to connect with kids of all types. He could reach the kids that maybe had a head start in life just as well as those who had to fight and scratch for everything they got. And he had a way of knowing just what to say, when to say it and how to say it. He was exceptionally intelligent and articulate, a man with a remarkable vocabulary. He knew a lot about a lot, and had a mastery of many different things.”

Mike Kilmartin – Former teaching and coaching colleague at MHS

“Dean was a person I respected as a teacher and coach. He was a mentor to me from 1990 on. We played softball and basketball together. He arrived at MTHS before other teachers to prepare for his teaching and coaching. He was my assistant in basketball and I his assistant in football. I loved Dean and will always be grateful for his guidance and wisdom. He played a major role in resurrecting the football and basketball programs. He was very intelligent and will be missed by many.”

Jose Medina – Former player and 1995 MHS graduate

“Coach Lubbs was a great coach. He was someone that you did not want to let down and always strived to want to play hard for. He was fair and honest with his players and always pushed us to be the best and to outwork our opponents. I had the privilege of getting coached up by him for one last time during the Mendota vs. Princeton alumni game a few years back. It was great listening to him talk about football. Players past, present, and those that may not have known or may have heard of Coach Lubbs all listened to him speak. That was a testament to Coach Lubbs’ knowledge and understanding of the game and the respect players had for him. He was one of my favorite coaches to have played for. I enjoyed my time as a player under his guidance and leadership. R.I.P. Coach Lubbs, you will be missed.”

Gary Vicini – Former football coach at Hall High School

“We were good friends. We got to be really good friends after I became head coach in 1984. Dean had kind of struggled with his program some and I think it was when John Fippinger was our coach and Mendota beat us, maybe in about 1982 or ’83. It seemed like his program kind of took off from there. And he basically lived up to his name – he became the dean of NCIC Southwest coaches. One of the things I respected most about Dean is that he was always in it for the kids. I can remember when the coaches used to get together after the season to decide all-conference teams. Back then the rules were that a kid could only be honored on one side of the ball. It was one or the other. Dean fought tooth and nail for that to be changed. And for him to push that through, he had to get all the guys from the bigger schools on the other side of the conference to go along with it. The 1987 Mendota-Hall games were somewhat of a landmark for both programs. Hall made its first playoff appearance that season after going 0-9 the year before. Mendota reached the 3A semis before losing to eventual champ Bishop McNamara. One of Mendota’s losses came in the regular season to us. That 1987 team was by far Dean’s best. It was probably, on our side, more of an upset when we won at our place. But in the playoffs, Mendota’s running backs and linemen really did a good job against us. Dean was always a gentleman, win or lose.”

Mike Wasmer – Former coaching colleague

“Dean possessed a combination of the finest traits in a person – intelligence, wit, integrity, compassion. An exceptional teacher/coach, but more importantly an outstanding human being.”