While sitting down and talking with Arizona great Ricky Hunley last week he brought up Tom Roggeman and how special of a coach he was to him.
“I just spoke to Coach Rogge about a week ago,” Hunley said, his face smiling. “He’s doing great. He’s back in Phoenix closer to his daughter (Pam). The good thing still being around guys like him is that he always brings up good things, the good old days.”
Roggeman, 86, passed away Saturday. Hunley contacted former teammate Julius Holt about the news.
“Ricky is taking it pretty hard,” Holt told me. “Roggeman meant a lot to Ricky.”
He meant a lot to many. He meant a lot to the development of Arizona’s program going from the WAC to the Pac-10.
Roggeman coached at Arizona from 1977 to 1979 and then 1982 to 1986, starting with Tony Mason when the Wildcats first played in the Pac-10 but most of his time was under Larry Smith. After Mason was fired before the 1980 season, Roggeman stayed with the program as the strength coach in 1980 and 1981.
Former Arizona receiver Jay Dobyns, who played for Sahuaro with Roggeman’s son Rock, said he and his Wildcat teammates signed a petition “stating we wanted and needed Coach Rogge on the field with us.”
In his second coaching stint with the Wildcats, Roggeman replaced Chuck Amato, who left to start a legendary career at Florida State.
“One day I got a call to go see Coach Smith,” Roggeman told Glen Crevier of The Arizona Daily Star. “I didn’t know what he wanted. When I walked in he said, ‘Rogge, how’d you like to join my staff?’ I about jumped over the desk.”
Roggeman served as the defensive line and linebackers coach during his coaching tenure. He went with Smith to USC in 1987. It was difficult for Arizona fans to watch Roggeman do the USC “V” symbol with his fingers at Arizona Stadium, but it was never difficult to respect him.
No other coach in the history of Arizona’s program could motivate a team like Roggeman.
He was the captain of Purdue’s 1952 Big Ten Conference co-champions. He then became a Marine and then a lineman for the Chicago Bears. He coached for 37 years, seven at the high school level followed by 25 years of college ball.
He joined the Marines in 1953 and played for the base’s football team in Quantico, Va. He later became stationed in a demilitarized zone in Korea in 1954 and played for 1st Marine Division team, of which he was named captain. He was a leader wherever he went.
Former Tucson Citizen sports columnist Corky Simpson wrote of Roggeman in a 2007 column: “He was a carnival barker and the football field was his midway. When the team needed a motivational speech, he was always the speaker. Was he ever! Rogge was William Jennings Bryan tearing into that ‘Cross of Gold,’ Franklin D. Roosevelt pointing to a ‘Rendezvous With Destiny,’ Ronald Reagan telling Russia to ‘Tear Down That Wall.’”
In addition to Hunley, Roggeman coached some of Arizona best defenders in school history — Byron Evans, Cleveland Crosby, Mike Robinson, Glenn Perkins, Lamonte Hunley and Brian Warren.
“What I remember most about our time at Arizona,” Roggeman told Simpson in the 2007 column, “was the camaraderie players developed when they got to UA. Some were highly recruited, some were not. We didn’t get a lot of blue-chippers. But we got guys who really wanted to play.
“The bigger the team that was coming in to Tucson, the more fired up our kids got. We were never ready to concede. The other guys might have been highly favored to beat us, but they had to do it on the field.
“We were never beaten before the game started. Our kids just rose up. . . . It was the Gunfight at the OK Corral every doggone Saturday.”
Former Arizona lineman/linebacker Julius Holt posted a heartfelt comment on Facebook about Roggeman’s passing, stating that “Roggeman was like E.F. Hutton. When he spoke, no one said a word and when he was done speaking, you were mad as hell and ready to go hell and fight the devil, or better yet, beat Notre Dame, even with his son (Rock) playing for the Irish (Arizona upset Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., in 1982).”
Sons Buck and Rock Roggeman became football coaches after they were raised in Tucson.
Buck played at Stanford and went on to coach at Pacific Grove, Calif. Rock, nicknamed after Knute Rockne of Notre Dame, played for the Fighting Irish and later coached at East Carolina.
Rock died at the young age of 47 in 2010 after battling cancer for a year.
Dobyns said one story about Roggeman and his son Rock that sticks out is when Roggeman called Dobyns in 1978 when Dobyns was a junior at Sahuaro and Rock was a sophomore.
“I get a call from Coach Rogge, ‘Jay, come over to the house. Me and Rock are getting a workout in,'” Dobyns said. “I go to the Roggeman’s house. For the next couple hours we did walking frog squats with sections of a telephone pole on our shoulders with him barking at us. Some would consider that a punishment. For me and Rock, to be drilled by his Pops, it was pure joy.”
Holt offered a story of how Roggeman’s heart was as strong as his bite.
“Coach Roggeman loved every player on the football team and we loved him,” Holt wrote. “I remember getting a call from Roggeman a few years ago and he said I’m very proud of the man you have become considering where you came from (inner city of Washington, D.C.). My best memory besides beating Notre Dame is the statement he made to me about not being embarrassed in the weight room. Coach Roggeman was a father, grandfather, teacher, listener, motivator and he made you believe when you had nothing to believe in.”
Roggeman’s wife Florence, with whom he was married 49 years, passed away almost 12 years ago. They were retired in Granger, Ind., near Mishawaka, where he was a high school star. Roggeman was inducted into the Indiana Hall of Fame in a ceremony in South Bend in 1992.
“I probably would have cashed it in when Florence passed,” Roggeman told Simpson, “but the kids all made it home and stayed with me for a while. At one time we had 13 in the house, kids and grandkids. They didn’t give me time to slip into remorse.”
Mr. and Mrs. Tom and Florence Roggeman and their son Rock are now back together again in spirit. Their widespread family must be appreciative of what Rogge meant to them. He carries that same meaning to his numerous players and fans.
“The man will be missed, but his life lessons will live on,” Holt said.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.