In the end, it wasn't so much the pain in the neck of an 0-7 start this season but a real pain in the back that helped prompt Lou Andrus' resignation as Lehi High head football coach earlier this month.
Andrus gives new meaning to the term "coaching casualty" since an early auto accident - being rear-ended in a drivers' education vehicle - resulted in back-fusion surgery. Although it is the players who are the ones practicing and playing day in and day out, Andrus soon learned that a head coach's active responsibilities can take its toll on a sore back.The back is not the sole reason, though. "It just seems right," said Andrus recently as he reflected on the professional and personal successes realized during his 13 seasons as a prep head coach. He says he'll stay on as the Lehi track coach and has not ruled out returning to football sometime in the future.
His success list includes winning the 2A state title in 1980, making three trips to the playoff semifinals, claiming an early season victory over a powerhouse Bear River a few years back when the Bears ended up as the 3A state runner-up, and coaching nearly three dozen players receiving first-team all- state honors.
Just as satisfying to Andrus is seeing former players succeed beyond participating in the prep ranks, such as a number of advancing to play college ball, with the Lehi coach pleased that one of his former pupils - former Utah State linebacker Mike Hamby - has made it to the NFL with the Buffalo Bills.
Professional football has played a big part of Andrus' life, with his two- plus years as an outside linebacker with the Denver Broncos coming two decades ago. However, his career as well as his life seemed to be in jeopardy when Andrus was told he had cancer, with fears of the disease heightened at the time because of paranoias during what Andrus labels "the Brian Piccolo era."
Andrus' spleen was removed, with his lymphoma condition later diagnosed as dormant. While he later finished his pro career with a two-year stint with Winnipeg of the Canadian Football League, the incident was one of the many that helped to shape Andrus and his perspective.
That perspective is apparent when Andrus says that one of his highlights as a head coach is having some of his former players return later to join him as assistants. That perspective is apparent when Andrus does more than just talk about team unity, with preseason two-a-day practices concluded with an annual steak fry and makeshift squad slumber party on the Lehi football field. And that perspective is apparent in the ever-optimistic attitude of the coach whose stature has him towering over his players.
Andrus submitted his resignation the day before the Pioneers' Oct. 12 season finale against East Carbon, with Lehi not only winless but the only 2A team unable to qualify for the state playoffs. The Pioneers learned of Andrus' action and dedicated their efforts on his behalf - Lehi won 21-12, sending Andrus out on a positive note.
He certainly won't be the sole individual involved in any prep coaching change this year. However, Andrus' departure leaves some vacancies - a coaching vacancy at Lehi High School and a perspective vacancy in prep football.