Opinion

Inspirational era ends at PLU; identity search goes on

PLU football coach Frosty Westering (left) is overcome with emotion as his son Scott, the team's longtime offensive coordinator, pays tribute. The postgame ceremony lasted 30 minutes in a drizzle following the coach's last game before retiring in 2003. It ended with a rousing “Attaway” for the man who made the cheer famous. Scott Westering took over as head coach the following season. He won’t be back in 2018.
PLU football coach Frosty Westering (left) is overcome with emotion as his son Scott, the team's longtime offensive coordinator, pays tribute. The postgame ceremony lasted 30 minutes in a drizzle following the coach's last game before retiring in 2003. It ended with a rousing “Attaway” for the man who made the cheer famous. Scott Westering took over as head coach the following season. He won’t be back in 2018. News Tribune file photo, 2003

Pacific Lutheran University is going through an interesting time of transition.

That assessment of the 126-year-old liberal arts college, the pride of Parkland, qualifies as a big-time understatement. It ranks right up there with “the Lute is a different name for a mascot” and “Frosty Westering was a pretty good football coach.”

In the grand scheme of changes now facing PLU and America’s higher-ed landscape as a whole — leadership turnover, funding struggles, declining affordability, soaring student debt — you might not expect the end of one family’s sports lineage would make waves.

But among many alumni of PLU, where two generations of Westerings built a uniquely inspirational legacy enduring nearly half a century, shock and awe have surfaced over news that football coach Scott Westering was sent packing from the job he held for 14 seasons.

Perhaps no PLU asset has been more valuable than the Westering name in terms of generating brand loyalty and community goodwill — except for the KPLU radio station.

Now, in the span of two years, both are gone.

TNT sportswriter Todd Milles reported in mid-November that Scott Westering and PLU had parted ways, just four days after the Lutes finished their season with a win.

“I would like to thank PLU for the opportunity and support over the years,” Westering said in a statement that made his exit seem more mutual than it was. “It’s been an incredible part of my and our family’s life.”

The family patriarch was the legendary Forrest “Frosty” Westering. He was PLU’s football coach from 1972-2003, led the school to four national championships and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as one of America’s winningest coaches.

Much more important to Frosty was the big-hearted campus culture he instilled under the label “EMAL” (Every Man a Lute). Coming from the avuncular, charismatic coach in trademark knit yellow-and-black beanie, Frosty’s inclusive philosophy animated PLU students and faculty, taught young men about true sportsmanship and developed them for lives of service.

Scott wasn’t Frosty, but he was a faithful standard bearer. He learned from his dad first as a player, then as a brilliant assistant coach starting in 1981.

That Frosty’s achievements belonged to the whole Westering clan — including his wife Donna and their five children — was illustrated by them receiving the Tacoma Athletic Commission’s “First Family of Sports” award in 2009.

Of course, wins and losses make and break careers, even in small-college football. Coaching is nobody’s birthright, and after a 4-4 record this year, Scott might have suspected all good things must come to an end.

But firing him now deprives PLU of a vestige of stability and identity at a time when it sure could use some.

One of the clearest signs that big changes were afoot at the university was the sale and liquidation of KPLU last year. Then came the surprise resignation of President Thomas Krise last spring. Now, after a decade of declining enrollment, the campus is bracing for possible faculty cuts, the end of one academic major (classics studies) and the demotion of another (Nordic studies).

That last cut would mark a symbolic shift for a college founded by Norwegian immigrants. Then again, PLU has faced questions for awhile from those who sense it’s surrendering its Lutheran heritage and faith-based mission.

Even Frosty’s proud EMAL label is on the outs, benched by administrators who feel it’s a gender-exclusive acronym from a bygone era.

We actually think a little traditional PLU spirit would be welcome right now. So let’s say farewell to the 46-year Westering regime with Frosty’s game-time cheer, which still resonates 4 1/2 years after he died:

Hey, Lutes! Go, Lutes! Attaway! Attaway!

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