Despite leaving football, Sonny Lubick has not stopped winning
Late in the semester in Fort Collins, a professor and a group of 20 Colorado State students gather to discuss the essence of leadership. Among them sits the man after which the course is named.
Sonny Lubick spent his life working with young people and serving as a leader. But today, Lubick is more student than teacher.
His presence carries the room, but he is there to listen. Students, one after the other, discuss what they learned from the semester-long seminar. The former CSU football coach listens attentively, taking notes periodically, still learning from those around him. At 78 years old, Lubick is still evolving and still thriving in the CSU community.
A New Life
When coach Lubick was relieved of his position as Rams football coach following the 2007 season, he left the program in a much different place than when he arrived. Once a laughingstock, the Rams became a conference and regional power under Lubick. In his 15 seasons, the Rams went 108–74, won or split six conference championships and played in nine bowl games.
It was not really his decision to leave the program. Lubick was forced out by then-athletic director Paul Kowalczyk, and the handling of the situation came under scrutiny from fans and boosters.
Lubick had to learn to move on. In the process, he figured out that life moves on, too.
Lubick hasn’t left the town or the school to which he dedicated so much of his life. He’s sitting behind a desk in Rockwell Hall, the business school at Colorado State, serving primarily in a public relations role. If someone from the University asks him to talk to a student or meet with a class, he does it.
And he enjoys it.
He has another office in town at the Public Service Credit Union where he serves in a similar role. No time clock, no schedule. He simply goes where he’s needed.
Lubick describes his work as mostly, and simply, meeting people.
“Just happy to help where I can,” Lubick said.
And there’s the leadership class — more specifically, the Sonny Lubick Leadership Seminar. Professor Bill Schuster and Lubick meet four times a semester with aspiring leaders and business students.
On this day, the fourth meeting of the semester, Schuster wraps up the course. Going around to each student, everyone discusses what they gained from the course and what they challenged themselves to employ in the future.
A common theme the students recite is to simply be present and engaged in every moment.
“You aren’t looking ahead to what’s next or what happened before you got here,” Schuster said. “You’re just here.”
Lubick may be the most engaged.
Listening attentively to every student, he likes what he hears, smiling and nodding in agreement. When the group centers on him, he asks Schuster with a laugh, “Do you want me to go?”
For a man so accustomed to being the one in charge, he is humbled by those around him. It’s an honor for him to hold the course. He said he gets asked a lot about what he is doing nowadays, and though he has different roles, he tells the room that this is the most important part of his after-football life.
“We would win every game, so to speak,” he tells the class, “if everyone could be as engaged as this group.”
His parting advice to the class: There’s no shame in showing your vulnerabilities. Lubick knows. He’s had to do so plenty of times.
“Just be yourself. Pretty damn simple, huh?” he said with a laugh.
Lubick brushes the credit onto Schuster, saying he does most of the work and that Lubick is really only there to offer expertise on the side. But you can tell Lubick gets a kick out of the role.
Though he is happy with it now, the transition into his new life wasn’t easy.
“When you do something all your life, teaching and coaching for 48 years, and that’s all you ever know and all you have ever done, it’s hard to get used to not being there and doing those things,” he said. “You have to ask yourself, what else am I going to do?”
He has figured it out.
“After a while, you realize time moves on,” Lubick said. “It’s time for somebody else to do it, time to do something else and, for me, it all worked out perfectly.”
Lubick doesn’t live and die with every play on the football field like he used to. He has time and freedom to do what he could not before. That means traveling to Denver to watch the Broncos on Sundays, where his son Marc served as an assistant wide receivers’ coach until last year. It means getting the chance to travel to Eugene, Oregon to watch his other son Matt coordinate the Oregon Ducks’ high-powered offense.
Always active in the Fort Collins community, Lubick has even more time to give back. One of those opportunities is working closely with his daughter, Michelle Lubick-Boyle, who runs the family-founded organization RamStrength.
The organization began in 2010 to help Fort Collins cancer patients meet basic needs as they endure treatment, whether assisting on a mortgage or buying groceries. RamStrength also provides scholarships for CSU students who overcome cancer.
“(Lubick) always put others above himself, and he continues to do that in the community as well,” Michelle said.
Lubick has picked up on a lot since he left coaching.
For instance, he discovered that 15-hour days and frenzied practices cause a person to miss simple things, such as the beauty of leaves. Remember, this is a man who never had free time in the fall for 48 years.
“One thing I never realized, and my first year, I just kind of marveled everyday at the fall of the year,” he recalled. “I never realized how beautiful fall is.”
He has a new activity, though. For an hour a day, four to five times a week, he gets up and uses the treadmill or elliptical.
Physically, he said he feels great.
But any sort of return to the coaching ranks is not on his agenda.
“After a while, you need to be realistic,” he said. “When you’re through, it’s time for someone else to do it.”
Lubick said coaching would be too demanding at this stage in his life, and that is okay, because he’s happy where he is at. However, that part of his personality that patrolled the sidelines on fall Saturdays isn’t gone either.
Football remains a giant part of Lubick’s existence.
As a coach, Lubick rarely spent holidays at home. He continues to travel even after leaving coaching. With two sons in the coaching ranks, football still takes the stage on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Lubick is there when other coaches call for advice. He is there for his community to assist anyone who wants his help, and he’s still doing it in the same humble manner.
“Just because my name was in the paper, people might think something, but I’m no different than anyone else,” Lubick said. “Just being out there to do what I can, to be a good husband, father, grandfather.”
Return To Hughes
On Saturdays this past fall in Fort Collins, Lubick used his second home, Hughes Stadium at — you guessed it — Sonny Lubick Field, to watch the new breed of Rams.
It had been eight years since he last coached a game — eight years since the last time he was publicly recognized at Hughes Stadium. That changed in 2015 under a new coach.
In Mike Bobo’s first season at the helm of the Rams, Bobo opened the door to Lubick, reaching out to him to let him know the opportunity was there to come around whenever he wished. During the offseason, Bobo also said Lubick would serve as an honorary captain for a game this season, and when Air Force came to town, Lubick got the call.
When Bobo made his request, answering the call still proved challenging for Lubick. But it all went smoothly. He spoke to the team before the Air Force game, a resounding 38–23 win over the eventual division champion, and was on the field for the coin toss.
“They had me come out for the coin toss, and I don’t need all that stuff,” Lubick said. “I’ve been out there for a thousand coin tosses.”
It wasn’t about the recognition on the field or flipping a coin — instead, Lubick said he appreciated the chance to give back to the team and the experience.
“I really liked that. You can tell when they really want you to do it, and I enjoyed that,” Lubick said.
For Bobo, Lubick was the perfect choice to speak to his team.
“He loves this University,” Bobo said. “You want people to talk to your team who have poured their lives into a place — Sonny Lubick is that. He bleeds green and gold, and I wanted him to share that with the team.”
Lubick said he sees a lot of himself in Bobo — more than a coach, but a genuine person who cares about his players and staff.
Bobo’s message to his team that day was that there are no perfections in life, no perfect team, no perfect play call, no perfect family. Yet, families always fight for each other and keep doing so.
In His Corner
It’s not every day that a coach sticks around after losing his job. Most times, when a coach gets sacked, the moving trucks are not far behind. Lubick wanted to face everything head-on instead of packing up his bags. He may no longer be the Rams’ head coach, but there’s no shame in that.
“It’s humiliating deep down, to be honest with you,” he said. “But I felt deep down that we did a pretty good job. I could sense that there were some in the community who wanted to get me fired, but there were a lot more who still had good feelings, and you can sense those things.”
Like everyone, Lubick harbors a few regrets, but stepping back, he remains proud of what he and his staff accomplished.
“All of us have to look for the positives. It’s easy to get caught up on the negatives,” Lubick said. “We all have successes and failures in our life, and if you just let one failure define you and kill you and knock you down, hell, you’d quit every time.
“You pick up, and you go.”
He did pick up, but he did not go.
And he has no regrets for remaining in Fort Collins. After all, he invested so much in the community (and continues to invest) that he did not want to break free of it.
That’s why he’s sitting in a leadership class at CSU, winding to a close with students offering the last bits of their observations of this semester.
One of the students speaks up:
“I’ve learned that it’s not about the money — it’s the people you are affecting and the giving. The money will take care of itself.”
Lubick really liked that one.
His coaching never ends, and he’s still winning.