When Sonny Lubick was introduced as coach of the Colorado State University Rams, he made no promises about championship seasons and bowl games. Time spent as an assistant coach at CSU in the 1980s had taught him that, while there was potential, building a successful program in Fort Collins would be a monumental undertaking.
“I thought that if we were lucky, every third or fourth year we could win seven games and get to a bowl game,” Lubick said. “I was just hoping to keep my job for a few years.”
In 1993, Lubick took over a program that had not won a conference title in nearly 40 years, had played in just two bowl games in its history. And was in the bottom 10 among major schools in all-time winning percentage.
What transpired over the next 15 years can only be described as miraculous. Lubick not only found a way to win, he became the most successful coach in CSU history. His teams won or shared six conference titles, played in nine bowl games and four times won 10 or more games — a milestone never before achieved. His 107 wins rank second only to predecessor Harry Hughes’ 125 on CSU’s all-time list — and it took Hughes 31 seasons to set the standard.
Two seasons — 1994 and 1997 — were the defining achievements in the Lubick era.
The unheralded 1994 Rams upset fourth-ranked Arizona, won CSU’s first Western Athletic
Conference title, earned a first-ever Holiday Bowl berth and finished 16th in the final USA Today Coaches Poll. Though the Rams lost to mighty Michigan in the Holiday Bowl, their 10-2 record was the best in school history, and Lubick was Sports Illustrated’s national Coach of the Year.
The 1997 Rams did the ’94 team one better, winning CSUs third WAC title in four years
and closing the season on a nine-game winning streak — including a 35-24 Holiday Bowl win over Missouri. Their 11-2 record stands as the best in CSU history, and they finished the season ranked 16th.
Along the way, Lubick coached some of the finest players to wear Green and Gold. Safety Greg Myers finished his stellar career in 1995 by earning the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. Joey Porter, Clark Haggans, Sean Moran, Brady Smith, Blaine Saipaia, Cecil Sapp and Jason Craft went on to enjoy long NFL careers, including multiple Super Bowl appearances. In all, Lubick coached five All-Americans, seven Academic All-Americans and 61 first-team all-leaguers.
Lubick also mentored assistants who would go on to become some of the game’s top coaches, including Urban Meyer of two-time national champion Florida, Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin and Steve Fairchild, his successor at CSU.
Most important, Lubick changed the culture at CSU, transforming one of the nation’s worst programs into a consistent championship contender. He beat teams like Michigan State,
Arizona, Missouri, Louisville, Virginia and California, and he turned the annual series with
Colorado into a must-see event, going 4-4 vs. the Buffs in games played before record crowds in Denver. Fittingly, the field at Hughes Stadium was named in his honor, for he was, and remains, the face of CSU football.
Lubick and his wife, Carol Jo, still live in Fort Collins where they are active in the charity work that always has been an important part of their lives. Their sons, Marc (CSU) and Matt (Arizona State), followed their dad into coaching. Daughter Michelle lives nearby with husband Gerard Boyle and their three children.
Sometimes we play better on the road with a hostile crowd, We’ve just got to go out and survive.