Cliff Foust, one of the best high school football coaches Northeast Ohio has ever known, passed away in November at the age of 92.
I never played for Foust. In fact, I never even played organized football while growing up in Garfield Heights. The closest I ever got to the field (besides marching band) was during my 20’s and 30’s, when I would literally dream about catching a touchdown pass while representing the hometown Bulldogs. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be considered a nightmare, but make no mistake about it, the underlying theme of this dream was the regret that apparently stemmed from having never put on the pads.
Foust wouldn’t have been my high school coach at Garfield anyway. After spending 28 years with the school, he left in 1979 — right before my sophomore year. Two years earlier, on Nov. 11, 1977, he clinched a 10-0 season with a memorable win against Lake Erie League rival Valley Forge. In the midst of a Friday night blizzard that dropped 3½ inches of snow on Blaugrund Field, the home crowd relentlessly chanted, “Forge, Forge, go to hell, we want the LEL!” (We got the conference; we didn’t get the playoffs despite being unbeaten.)
One of Foust’s best players at his next stop, University School, was current Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. Upon hearing of Foust’s death, I found an interesting online article written in November 2012 by Barry Horn of SportsDay Dallas/Ft. Worth. Apparently Foust and Garrett had maintained contact up to that point. Said Foust: “I write him letters as kind of a pep talk before and after every season. And he always writes back.”
Garrett noted Foust’s catch phrase — “Stand tall” — and the lasting effect it had on him. “When I was a senior, he was the head coach, but he also started to coach quarterbacks,” Garrett said. “We worked so many hours on standing tall in the pocket. That’s all I heard — ‘Stand tall in the pocket. Stand tall. Stand tall. Stand tall.’ At the time I thought he was teaching me how to drop back. Really what he was teaching me was about standing tall in life, whatever the circumstances.”
Foust said he was delighted that Garrett had recalled the lesson. “Not every player in my 55 years of coaching understood what I was trying to tell him,” he said. “Jason did. I always hoped he’d be a coach, I thought he would be a good one. But he is so intelligent, I thought he would go in a different direction.”
Things are finally going in the Cowboys’ direction this season. Through Thanksgiving weekend they had lost only one game. I’d like to think that Garrett and Foust connected one last time when Dallas played in Cleveland on Nov. 6. At the very least, I hope they kept writing those letters over the last four years.
“All of Coach Foust’s letters,” Garrett told Horn in 2012, “end the same — ‘Stand tall.’”
And that’s how I’ll end my final column of 2016. Happy New Year, everyone. Stand taller than ever in 2017. Better to reach the end zone in real life than in your dreams.
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