From the notebooks of Greg Fruth: Mr. D. and a coaching staff “second to none”

 

Greg Fruth, a self-described “Slicer football pack rat” and a retired La Porte High School teacher, has compiled a series of stories gleaned from countless hours of research. He shares his love for LPHS football with WNLP readers by allowing us to post his collection. This is the fifth in the series.

“Mr. D.” – Dick Deardurff

In the mid 60s we called him Mr. D. Coaches weren’t yet called by the moniker of coach. Most of the coaches were called Mr.: Mr. Hoke, Mr. Schreiber, Mr. McKeever. Of course, Stan was Stan. The first days of my sophomore season, I couldn’t call him Stan. Calling an adult by his first name wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. But after a few times of calling the head coach Mr. Klimczak and having all around stare at me, I decided Stan was, indeed, Stan.

Mr. Deardurff was different. He was Mr. D. To explain this abbreviation, Dick Ddeardurff says his name is “a long mess of a word.” Not really. Only two syllables. I think we called him Mr. D. out of respect. I know we weren’t taking liberties with his name. Mr. D. was an intense coach. All players had seen this intensity to know never to take any liberty. We respected him, as we did all our coaches. We recognized how much work and pride he and the other coaches put into their duties.

Also the head track coach for 14 years, Mr D. had to to have put hours into planning every practice. Each type of athlete (sprinters, hurdlers, middle distance, etc.) had a nightly workout. This organization, this intensity, and this dedication had brought results: La Porte had a highly respected track program, the La Porte Invitational Track Meet was one of the best in the state, and Mr. D.  had coached two state hurdle champions, Jerry Saffell and Tom Thompson. Saffell had even been a national champ. With the football program, we recognized Mr. D’s work with the Slicer running backs. The 1962 team had seen all four members of the backfield (Saffell, Mike Hoke, Dick Jones and Rick Reider) named All Northern Indiana Conference. At times Mr. D. would joke with the players. At times he lifted the veil from that intensity. So Mr. D. was the title given to this coach.

Dick Deardurff was a La Porte kid, growing up on Jackson Street. He started playing sandlot football at Scott Field. In junior high he was a lineman, a starting tackle. During a practice game versus one of the parochial league teams, the coach decided to experiment with Dick in the backfield. Dick stayed in the backfield until his last game of college.

Dick was a standout athlete for the Slicers. A two-year starter at halfback and defensive back, Dick was named best defensive back and captain his senior season. He led the Slicers in scoring, had a 3.3 yard rushing average, caught 11 passes for 91 yards, and was named All-NIC Honorable Mention. He played basketball. He ran track. He did everything for the Slicers. Dick will admit he wasn’t as athletic as many. But early on he realized he could be outstanding if he worked hard and out-conditioned all others. (Players from the 1950s through the early 1970s will testify to Mr. D.’s conditioning. Dick would walk on his hands from one end zone to another.)

At the end of the school year, Dick was awarded the WLOI Most Valuable Athlete trophy at the Kiwanis all-sport banquet. The Herald-Argus sports editor, Joe Eyler, complimented Dick: “Deardurff is one of the hardest working boys you would ever care to see in any sport. He didn’t have nearly the ability of some of his teammates but his great competitive spirit and desire to play made up the difference. Coaches would be happy if they could have a whole team of boys like Deardurff. He always did his best to do what was asked of him.”

During his senior season, Dick and the Slicers faced a City team led by a famous La Porte lefthander, head coach John Janzaruk’s scouting report read: “City has a right halfback named Ed Gondek, who always runs to his right. City has a left halfback named Ken Schreiber, who always runs to his left. Neither of them hit anybody!” Schreiber has explained that those City backs wanted only to run. Dick does describe Schreiber as a “damn good” football player.

Dick played for Janzaruk and assistant Earl Dolaway, “two of the best coaches. They just fit together.”

“I saw the place and had to go.” One glimpse of the beautiful Hanover College campus drew Dick to the southern Indiana school. Accompanied by the Slicer basketball stars Joe Landis and Jack Mullarkey, Dick attended Hanover for four years. Dan Lewis, La Porte teacher, coach and, later, attorney had attended Hanover. According to Dick, Dan was “so instrumental in my group.” Dan assisted Slicers in attending Hanover. A La Porte – Hanover College route was established. While playing for Hanover, Dick also played with other former Slicers: Clyde Severs (current defensive coordinator Bob Severs’ father) and Dick Machek.

Dick Deardurff’s family literally drove him to Hanover, dropped him and his cardboard-box suitcase at the gym door, turned around, and drove back to La Porte. The family couldn’t afford to stay overnight in Madison.

The last two years Dick lived in the gym. As part of his financial package, he and another student-athlete were given a room in exchange for work on campus.

The third day in practice during his frosh campaign, Dick impressed the coaches. All four years Dick was a starting halfback except for two games. One week all quarterbacks went down so Dick was moved to QB. “They put in a lot of run-pass options for me. Quarterback wasn’t my position.” Going into the last game of his last year at Hanover, the coach moved Dick from halfback to wide out and defensive end. He caught passes for a total of 180 yards. Having been a defensive halfback, he felt too small to play defensive end, but his quickness made blocking that little end most difficult. In that final game, Dick faced a future Slicer coach and teacher, Art Rose, a pulling guard.

Dick calls an article in the Louisville Courier his greatest compliment. The sportswriter called Dick “Mr. Everything.” Dick played halfback, he played defensive back, he played quarterback, he played wide out, he punted, he kicked off, and he kicked extra points. His senior year he was captain, most valuable player, and a repeat all conference selection. He was fifth in the state in scoring. During his four years at Hanover, the team had won the conference twice. Dick had also run track for the Panthers. The Courier was right: Mr D. was Mr. Everything.

From left: Stan Klimczak, Jim Gazdick, Head Coach Dick Deardurff, Bob Strieter, Dave Parsell

With his degree and after a stint in the service, Dick returned to La Porte, where he first taught and coached at Washington Elementary School for one year. For a few years, Dick was the high school JV basketball coach. For 16 years he was the running backs coach under head coach Stan Klimczak. Klimczak, Deardurff, Schreiber, Hoke. In 1966 Larry McKeever joined them. There’s a coaching staff second to none!

At first overlooked for the head coaching position, Dick, after 21 years, fulfilled his “lifetime ambition.” Dick told a South Bend Tribune sports writer, “My objective since my sophomore year in high school was to come back and be a head football coach at La Porte. It’s an answer to a lifetime ambition. “

 

For four years Mr. D. led the Slicer grid squad. “Coaches Gazdick, Parsell, Strieter, Klimczak — I appreciated them very much.” In his first season, Dick switched Chris Yelich from the line to the fullback position. A 6-5, 225-pound fullback!

The program did make improvements, but the victories were elusive. Coaching is a most tiring profession. At the age of 49, Dick decided to retire and spend time with his wife, Jean.

  In his letter of resignation, Dick stated: “The opportunity to serve as head football coach … has been the fulfillment of a lifetime dream. My final record of 16 wins and 24 losses falls far short of the goals I had established and I would have given anything to have brought a conference and state championship to La Porte. … Thank you again for this very enjoyable period of my life.”

Twenty-four years of coaching football in the Maple City. Add another 10 years of playing organized football. Then another five or six years of those sandlot football games at Scott Field. Football had been an important part of Dick’s life.

No coach can dedicate himself to the game without the support of his wife. Jean Deardurff was Dick’s sidekick throughout those years. Says Dick, “My wife was made for the job.” Dick also credits Jean, a grade-school teacher, with raising their two children — and Rick. Over a year ago, Jean passed away. “I do miss her.”

Mr. D. has always been Orange and Black. He played for the Orange and Black. He came back to coach the Orange and Black. Since retiring, Dick has been active in the Slicer Football Association, supporting the Orange and Black. Mr. D. is still Orange and Black.

We called him Mr. D. Most importantly, we realized he was a Slicer, a La Porte kid who had come home to coach other La Porte kids, a La Porte kid who, through hard work, had surpassed his athletic abilities. In high school, he had been 5-9, 155 pounds. He had striven to be bigger than his size. When he pushed his players, all he wanted was for all Slicer athletes to work as hard and to surpass their abilities. He coached as he had played, with intensity.

Dick told Herald-Argus sports editor Dave Krider that LPHS sports certainly was a big part of his life. “A lot of the players come back to see me after graduation. It’s very rewarding to know you had a part in forming their lives.”

To Hanover, he was Mr. Everything. To us, he’s Mr. D.

10 Responses to “From the notebooks of Greg Fruth: Mr. D. and a coaching staff “second to none””

  1. john zakes

    May 20. 2020

    I am still amazed by the handwalking! Mr. D was also a great classroom teacher. I had him for a class called ”business law” and it was probably one of the most useful classes I took in high school. he made it fun to take. thanks for all the info on Mr D Greg

    Reply to this comment
  2. David Sirugo

    May 20. 2020

    I played under all of these coaches at one time or another. Great coaches who taught us a lot about football and teamwork.
    Terrific article !!

    Reply to this comment
  3. Class of 80

    May 20. 2020

    Mr. D taught health. He used a golf club without the head as a pointer, a sword, walking stick and an attention getter. He would wave that club around during class. No one goofed off. You might get plonked in the head. Mr. D was cut from the same cloth as another Coach D – Mike Ditka.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Amy

    May 20. 2020

    Finally Mr.D gets the credit he is due! Their daughter’s name is Pam if you want to put that in. This is a fantastic article! Thank you so much for writing this and I will try to share it with his kids. Wonderful!

    Reply to this comment
  5. Gail Johnson

    May 20. 2020

    Great coach, teacher, man… thanks for the reminder, Greg.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Second String Running Back

    May 20. 2020

    Great article ..Keep em coming

    You were my coach Greg at Kesling when you and Art Rose coached when I was in 9th grade. You guys were rough and demanding but it paid off as we won the Duneland Conference going undefeated…I still remember being on second string offense (running back) going against 1st string defense..Used to close my eyes after getting ball knowing I was gonna get slammed and boy did I …Hated every practice knowing that every time I did fumble at end of practice You would make me do laps around goalposts.

    I thank you for this as hard work pays off in the long run

    I’ll let this ride to see if you remember who I am

    Thanks Coach

    Reply to this comment
    • Greg Fruth

      May 22. 2020

      As I write this, brain cells are dying. To pull a memory from so long ago, I need at least a clue, or ten.

      Reply to this comment
  7. Corey

    May 20. 2020

    A very nice article on Slicer Football and Mr. D.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Pam Hodges

    May 21. 2020

    Thank you Greg for the article on my Dad. I was always so proud and lucky to be his daughter. He was also a great Dad who is missed very much.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Marcia Johnson

    May 22. 2020

    Thank you Greg for a wonderful article. Mr. D was a wonderful teacher, coach, and family man. I enjoyed knowing him and being on the faculty with him.

    Reply to this comment

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