Arizona Football

Jim LaRue, 89, Arizona Wildcats football coach 1959-66


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Arizona athletic director Dick Clausen, left, and coach Jim LaRue after LaRue’s hiring in 1959 , both crossing fingers for the future, as captured by the Tucson Daily Citizen
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Former Arizona football coach Jim LaRue was such a hot coaching commodity in 1961 that the Tucson media reported his move to a higher-profile job as a foregone conclusion.

“Pro scouts passing through Tucson the past two weeks were quick to point out that LaRue’s name is being whispered around as a man who undoubtedly will be high on many colleges’ lists as the annual coaching turnover begins,” Tucson Citizen sports editor George McLeod wrote.

LaRue, a Clinton, Okla., native with no head coaching experience before his hire in 1959, was in the midst of a two-year run of 15-4-1 in his second and third seasons when McLeod filed that report. Arizona was coming off a 22-13 win at Tempe to finish 8-1-1 in 1961.

“He told us that he had been asked to quit but that he wouldn’t quit on us because we didn’t quit on him.”
— Unidentified Arizona football player in 1966 talking about Jim LaRue’s firing

On the rain-soaked field at Sun Devil Stadium after the game, LaRue was asked a series of questions about his future.

“You never know what you’d do in any situation until you have the opportunity,” LaRue was quoted as saying by McLeod. “But I don’t know of a better coaching opportunity than what I have right here at Arizona.”

Five years later, after consecutive 3-7 seasons and a 20-17 loss to ASU at home in 1966, LaRue was not given a choice for his future. After he refused to announce a resignation, he was fired by athletic director Dick Clausen, the same man who hired him seven years previously.

LaRue, only 41 when he was let go, remained close to his players until his last hours with them as the head coach.

“Coach LaRue was standing there talking to us about keeping our grades up and everything like that, then he suddenly said, ‘I’m not going to be the coach next year,'” an unidentified player was quoted as saying by the Citizen. “Everyone was stunned. He told us that he had been asked to quit but that he wouldn’t quit on us because we didn’t quit on him.”

LaRue, 41-37-2 with the Wildcats, never was a head coach again. He gave up the riches and bigger jobs in 1961 after coaching the likes of quarterback Eddie Wilson and running backs Bobby Thompson and Joe Hernandez. He wanted to make his mark in Tucson, a city he grew to love.

He achieved to the end of his tenure, coaching “Marvelous” Mark Reed — as reporters referred to the Arizona quarterback in 1966 — to become the most prolific passer in the nation with 2,368 yards.

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After embarking on five assistant coaching jobs after his firing — including the defensive secondary position with the 1985 Super Bowl Chicago Bears — LaRue returned to Tucson in 1997. He chose the city as his place of retirement although he was born in Oklahoma and attended school at Duke and Maryland.

He had assistant coaching stints with Maryland, Kansas State, Houston and SMU before coaching Arizona in 1959.

After leaving the school, he coached against the Wildcats as Utah’s defensive coordinator. Among those encounters was Arizona’s infamous collapse in 1972 in which the Utes rallied for 28 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win 28-27 in Salt Lake City.

Through that experience and living most of his professional life elsewhere, LaRue still called Tucson home.

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The Arizona Daily Star reported this morning that LaRue, 89, passed away at a Tucson hospice Sunday.

To his dying day, he never quit on his city.

A funeral will be held Monday at 1 p.m. at Christ Church United Methodist, 655 N. Craycroft Road. Burial will be at East Lawn Palms Cemetery, 5801 E. Grant Road.

LaRue is survived by his brother, Robert, and two daughters, Jill and Judy.

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He has also written articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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