Mike Lude experienced a lot in his first 92 years.
He grew up during the Great Depression, enlisted in the Marines during World War II, coached college football and became the longest-serving athletic director at Washington, teaming with football coach Don James to lead that program to new heights.
But at 93, Lude had never sky-dived.
“I always wanted to jump out of an airplane, and I remembered that George (H.W.) Bush jumped out of one when he was 90,” said Lude, who had a parachute coach ride on his back. “I thought if he could do it at 90, I can do it now. It was terrific. I was like a pig in mud and enjoyed every second of it.”
When Lude turns 100 in less than a year and a half, he is “really contemplating doing it again.”
Lude, who was married to his wife, Rena, for 70 years until her death in 2017, is living a full life in Tucson, Arizona, and is as sharp on today’s news as he is with events from decades ago. He faithfully exercises and still keeps up with the Huskies.
“Mike is a ball of fire,” said Dave Senko, who Lude hired as UW sports information director in 1989. “He was going 90 miles per hour, and he still hasn’t stopped. He’s lived an unbelievable life.”
Lude was UW athletic director from 1976 until January 1991, leaving after being pushed out by then-school president William Gerberding and James Collier, vice president for university relations.
That certainly didn’t diminish his UW tenure, which included the expansion of Husky Stadium in 1987.
“He led by example,” said associate athletic director Chip Lydum, the only remaining member of UW’s athletic administration from Lude’s tenure. “He was a hard, hard worker. I would come in early in my career at 7 in the morning, and Mike would already be there getting after it.
“He’s charismatic and dedicated, and very loyal to his employees. To this day he stays in touch with everyone. You knew he was in your camp, and you really wanted to work hard for him.”
The few, the proud
Milo “Mike” Lude, born June 30, 1922, grew up on a farm in rural Southwestern Michigan. He was a sophomore at Hillsdale College (Michigan), playing football and baseball, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
“I was at a pancake supper at a sorority, and everyone was sitting on the floor listening on the radio, because there was no television, of course,” Lude said.
The next morning, the football coach told the underclassmen that the Marines had started a platoon-leader training program that would allow enlistees to stay in school.
“The bombing of Pearl Harbor was an emotional stimulation for a lot of us,” Lude said. “I said, ‘That’s for me; I want to be a Marine.’ ”
Lude was discharged from active duty as a captain in June 1946 but remained on inactive reserve — 17 years in all from the time he enlisted — and the lessons and discipline he learned in the military have lasted a lifetime.
Just ask the people who worked under Lude.
Brian Flajole, tournament director for the Boeing Classic golf tournament in Snoqualmie, was assistant to the athletic director during Lude’s final full year as Husky AD in 1989. Flajole fondly recalls football game days at Husky Stadium, and how Lude’s Marine background was on full display.
“He was a nervous wreck on game days,” said Flajole, who joined Lude in Florida when Lude became executive director of the Blockbuster Bowl in 1991. “We would get there at 5:30 or 6 in the morning (for 12:30 p.m. games), and off we would go. There wasn’t an inch of the athletic campus we didn’t walk through, whether that was the basketball stadium, the crew house or every classroom.”
If chairs weren’t straight, they would make them straight. If there was garbage on the ground, they would pick it up, Flajole would make a note of it and send a message to the culprit that said something like: “Mike would like you to pick up your garbage in room 203 when you are done using it.”
After the tour, the two shared doughnuts before Lude would have a meeting with James.
“I used to think, ‘Why are we doing all of this?’ ” Flajole said. “But there was a certain discipline to it all, with his military ties. That was the regimen, that’s what we did on game day, and that’s the way it was. The Marine came out in him 100%, and he was so proud of it, too.”
Senko remembers being picked up by Lude at the airport on the night before starting his job at UW.
“When Mike drops me off, he says, ‘I’ll pick you up at 6:30 in the morning.’ I am like, ‘6:30?!’ ” Senko said. “Being an-ex Marine, he’s ready to roll early. He picked me up at 6:30, and I’m thinking, ‘I haven’t been up this early for work in my life.’ That was Mike every day.”
Lydum, also a Marine, gets a note from Lude every Nov. 10, the date the Marines were founded in 1775.
The notes say, “Happy Birthday Marine.”
‘A heck of a good team‘
After leaving full-time duty in the Marines as a captain in 1946, Lude returned to Hillsdale College and was captain of the football and baseball teams. In 1947, Hillsdale football coach Dave Nelson hired Lude to coach the offensive line; he became the baseball coach in 1948.
Lude followed Nelson to the University of Maine, and then to Delaware, where he stayed for 10 years as an assistant before becoming head coach at Colorado State in 1962. He compiled a 29-51-1 record over eight seasons, then transitioned to administration after a quarter-century of coaching.
In 1970, Lude became the athletic director at Kent State. The next year, he hired James as football coach.
After the 1974 season, Husky athletic director Joe Kearney called Lude to ask if he could interview James.
“I said no,” Lude said. “But it was tongue in cheek.”
James, of course, got the job.
In early 1976, Kearney left to take the athletic-director job at Michigan State and asked James to join him.
“Joe Kearney offered Don the head-coaching job, and Don said, ‘I’ve got to really think about this because I just uprooted my family,’ ” said Carol James, widow of Don James. “He said, ‘Give me 24 hours.’ ”
Carol James said Don contacted Dave Cohn, who was on the UW Board of Regents.
“Don said, ‘I don’t want to leave here because we love it, but I’ve got to have your word: You don’t have to give him the job, but you’ve got to interview Mike Lude for the job as athletic director,’ ” Carol James said. “Don said, ‘If you’ll just interview him, I’ll stay.’
“The rest is history.”
Indeed. Lude and James helped transform UW football into a national power.
“They both did their own jobs, and they didn’t try to tell the other what to do,” Carol James said. “Our two families melded together immediately as a team from Day 1. We all worked together, and we had the same goals. It was a heck of a good team.”
Said Lude: “Don James and I spent nearly 20 years together. He not only was the football coach, he was also my best friend.”
Barbara Hedges was the new UW athletic director when the Huskies won a conational title after the 1991 season. The morning after the Huskies beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl, Lude got a call.
“It goes like this: Mike, what size ring do you wear?” said Lude, who received a title ring from his best friend. “He said, ‘You were my athletic director that made this happen.’ ”
Saving Harshman, three times
Lude also had great respect for men’s basketball coach Marv Harshman, who had been at UW for five seasons when Lude arrived.
“I had great coaches and great human beings in Don James and Marv Harshman,” Lude said.
But Lude said the man in charge at UW held a different view on Harshman as a coach.
“Three times, I saved Marv Harshman’s job,” Lude said. “President (William) Gerberding, for some reason, had the opinion that Marv Harshman wasn’t a good coach. There was no reasoning, other than, that (UCLA) coach John Wooden told him once that Marv Harshman was the very best coach of average talent in the nation. To Gerberding, as he explained, that meant he wasn’t able to recruit prime talent. And doggone it, that wasn’t true.”
Lude said that when he met Harshman the first time, Harshman told him he had coached 13 years at Pacific Lutheran and 13 years at Washington State and wanted to finish his career by spending 13 years at Washington.
“I said, ‘Marv, as long as I am here, you’re going to be head basketball coach,’ ” Lude said. ” ‘There is no 13-year limit on you.’ ”
Lude said that when meeting with Gerberding after he took the job as UW president in 1979, “I made a terrible mistake, and I told him what Marv Harshman had said (about the 13 years). When Marv hit the 13th year (1982-83), Bill Gerberding called me into his office and said, ‘He’s going to resign, right?’ I said, ‘No, he is the best basketball coach we could ever hope for.’ ”
The next year, Lude said Gerberding told him to tell Harshman to retire, “and I said no,” Lude said.
During the 1983-84 season, Harshman got two technical fouls and was ejected at UCLA in a game Gerberding was watching from home, and immediately called Lude.
“He says, ‘We’ve got to bring him home tomorrow,’ ” Lude said.
Lude said he couldn’t do that but agreed to meet Gerberding in his office the next morning.
“He was absolutely red in the face, and said, ‘He’s got to be fired,’ and ‘We don’t want him on the campus anymore,’ ” Lude said.
Lude promised he would go to Los Angeles before the next game at USC, tell Harshman he couldn’t be abrasive with officials and said, “I’ll sit on the bench with him.”
“I absolutely hated having to do that, but Gerberding eventually said, ‘OK, but it’s your butt,’ ” Lude said.
After the next season, in which UW won its second consecutive Pac-10 title, Harshman told Lude he was resigning.
“Marv said, ‘This is getting too stressful for both of us,’ ” Lude said. “Bill Gerberding made it impossible for him to work in a happy situation.”
Life after UW
Lude didn’t want to comment on his forced exit as Washington’s AD but acknowledged he had planned to stay until his 70th birthday.
He wasn’t done working when he left at 68. Shortly after resigning in January 1991, he became executive director of the Blockbuster Bowl. The next year, he became athletic director at Auburn, retiring in 1994 on his terms.
The Ludes split time between Bellevue and Tucson for many years in retirement before staying full-time in Arizona.
Two of Lude’s two daughters — Cynthia and Janann — live in Seattle and Tacoma, and Jill, the youngest and the only one still working — lives in New Jersey.
Lude, of course, greatly misses Rena.
“I had an amazing wife, absolutely sensational,” he said.
Mike is still doing fine. He lives in a two-bedroom casita at a retirement community “with a great view of the Catalina Mountains.” He exercises 45 minutes three times a week in a program and three days on his own: 100 leg lifts with weights on his ankles, and counter pushups.
“I keep active,” Lude said, who still drives and just got a five-year extension on his driver’s license.
Lude still follows the Huskies closely, reading Seattle Times stories online, and said athletic director Jen Cohen “is doing a very good job.”
Lude also makes a weekly call to Carol James, something he started doing after Don James died in 2013.
“He calls me every week to make sure I’m OK,” Carol James said.
When told that Lude wants to skydive again when he is 100, she wasn’t surprised.
“I would be shocked if he doesn’t,” James said.