Big Red Flashback 1962: Cards Hire Wally Lemm

(Editor’s Note: This is a short excerpt from Robert L. Burnes book Big Red: Story of the Football Cardinals, published in 1975 )

To present a picture of Wally Lemm, the best approach perhaps is to indicate what he was not as a coach. He was not, for instance, the bristling, driving type of coach Vince Lombardi was. Nor was he the perfectionist that Paul Brown always has been. Nor the fundamentalist that Tom Landry has been. Nor was he a devotee of the George Allen system which dictates that twenty hours of every working day, seven days a week must be a given over to making the football team a winner.

Wally Lemm with Big Red QB Charley Johnson in 1962

If he resembled any man, in approach to the job if not in flamboyancy, it was probably Jim Conzelman. Jim Conzelman always said “football is supposed to be fun” and Lemm echoed the sentiment. football was a major part of Jim Conzelman’s life, yet he walked away from the game several times and found other pursuits equally rewarding. So did Wally Lemm.

Until he met Conzelman at the Cardinal training camp on the campus of Carroll College in 1942 lemm had his heart set on being a sports writer. Perhaps that explains why, throughout his term of office with the Big Red, he was completely cooperative with the press. Once every week during a football season, he had lunch with the St. Louis media members, enjoying a free and easy give-and-take discussion of the team.

After meeting Conzelman, Lemm decided he wanted to be a football coach. After three years in the Navy during World War II (serving in the Pacific) Lemm was assigned to teach navigation at the Notre Dame midshipman school. There Hugh Devore invited him to help coach the Notre Dame junior varsity.

Now bitten by the coaching job, Lemm returned to Carroll College as an assistant and then to Waukesha High School as head coach. He then moved to Lake Forest college where the Cardinals had moved their training base. After winning a championship at Lake Forest, he moved to Montana State for two years, then became officially associated with the Big Red as an assistant under Ray Richards in 1956; in 1957, he moved back to lake forest for two years, then returned to the Cardinals under Pop Ivy, and finally spent a year at Houston under Lou Rymkus.

He then walked away from the game and went to into the sporting goods business in Lake Forest, only to be summoned back to Houston as a head coach in 1961. He took a struggling team and led it to a championship, then came back to the Cardinals.

He brought the Cardinals close to a championship during times of internal strife in the organization, left under his own power after four years, retired once more, and came back to football again at Houston, built another championship team and retired again—this time, he says, for keeps. He is now in the home building business in Conroe, Texas, just outside of Houston.

During his term with the Cardinals Lemm appeared to have a casual approach to the game but this was deceiving. He leaned on his assistants, praised them publicly for their help, a characteristic foreign to most head coaches. He was always a players’ coach, defending them loyally in the public eye. Soft spoken but outspoken, genial but firm, Wally Lemm was his own man. His approach to the game may have been summed up in something he said frequently—“The one thing I can’t stand is a good loser.”

(Editor’s Note: Wally Lemm coached the St. Louis Cardinals from 1962-1965 and compiled a 27-26-3 record. The Cardinals finished the 1964 season with a 9-3-2 record finishing one-half game behind the division winning and eventual NFL Champion Cleveland Browns. Wally Lemm passed away in 1988.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s