Retirement dinner says thanks to Lutz, Burcham
By JIM WALKER
Tribune Sports Editor
In Ironton, this is what dinner and a movie really means.
A retirement dinner for former head coach Bob Lutz and long-time assistant Mike Burcham was held Saturday night at the Knights of Columbus and, naturally, it included a video about football.
The video highlighted the 39-year run for the Ironton Fighting Tigers with Lutz at the helm that set records, won championships and established itself as one of the elite high school football programs in the state of Ohio.
Burcham told the crowd he and Lutz would now sit back and enjoy the game with the fans.
“What’s better than drinking a beer and sitting around watching Ironton football?” said Burcham with a grin.
Lutz — who retires as the winningest coach in Ohio high school football history with a 381-91-5 record — has always preached “be humble in victory, gracious in defeat.” He was nothing but humble with all the adulation thrown in his direction.
“It’s been the contributions of all the people of this town who love football. I’ve been fortunate to have good players and to have good coaches both at Ironton and St. Joe. I’ve had Mike and his leadership and support. It’s been a fun ride,” said Lutz.
Former Ironton quarterback and new Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder sent a taped message. Snyder used to call Burcham in the coaches’ office prior to Ironton games.
“They touched a lot of lives and they helped a lot of lives,” said Snyder.
“I’ve said the biggest compliment you can give is if (someone) is a difference maker. Both of those guys are difference makers. They made a difference in my life.”
New Ironton football coach Mark Vass — who has played and coached at Ironton — understands the big shoes he must fill but said he feels prepared because of Lutz and Burcham.
“After watching this (highlight) video, it didn’t make me feel any better,” said Vass who is Burcham’s nephew and grew up around his household. “But I couldn’t have asked for two better mentors. They’ve taught me a lot.”
The video included interviews with various people from the community and sports figures. One segment included the late, great Jim “Bear” Mains who talked about the massive amount of pleasure he enjoyed watching Ironton football.
“I wish it would never end,” said Mains.
Although this era has ended, Burcham said Ironton football would continue because of the character of the people in the town and in the program. He said Ironton understands what it takes to win and the players are willing to do what is necessary to win.
“Being around us, you realize you have to have thick skin. If you didn’t have thick skin, you didn’t last in Ironton,” said Burcham.
“You have to have good players to win. Most of the time we had good players.”
Burcham said he and Lutz had plenty of stories to tell about the players from the past five decades and offered an invitation to anyone to visit him and hear the information.
He then assessed his 47 years at Ironton in six words.
“It’s been fun watching you guys,” he said.
The feeling is mutual.
•Head coach: St. Joseph 1969-71. 20-8-1. Two OVC championships.
•Head coach: Ironton 1972-2005, 2007-11. Record: 361-83-4.
•Most Wins Ohio high school football history
•28 playoff appearances
State champions 1979, 1989
•State Runners-up 6 times
•State semifinalists 10 times
•OHSAA Football Coaches Hall of Fame
•NHSFA Hall of Fame
•State Record 64-game regular season unbeaten streak
•Assistant football coach 1966-2011
•Ironton head baseball coach 1967-1984
•Baseball record 323-129
•7 league titles, 10 sectional titles, 4 district titles, one regional title
•1972 Class AA state baseball champions
•OHSBCA Hall of Fame
•Ohio High School Athletic Directors’ Hall of Fame
•University of Rio Grande Athletic Hall of Fame
•Rio Grande all-time leader in home runs