In just seven seasons as Northwestern's head football coach, Randy Walker left quite a stamp on the Wildcat program. He was set to coach the Wildcats through the 2011 season, but on June 29, 2006, a sudden cardiac arrest due to a case of myocarditis he contracted in 2004 took his life. He was 52.
Prior to starting his eighth season at Northwestern, the Wildcats were coming off three successive seasons of six or more wins -- the first time Northwestern had accomplished that in 74 years.
Following sub-.500 campaigns in 2001 and '02, Walker guided the Wildcats to a three-year 19-16 regular-season mark, which included a 14-10 record against Big Ten opponents. In 2004, the Wildcats finished fourth in the Big Ten with a 5-3 record after a 4-4 and seventh-place effort in 2003. No preseason publication forecasted a finish of higher than eighth in either year. The same prognosis was given for 2005, but once again, the Wildcats proved the so-called experts wrong by finishing in a third-place Big Ten tie at 5-3.
With a 2005 bowl appearance (Sun Bowl), Walker became the first NU mentor to guide three different teams to the postseason. In addition, he became the first coach ever to guide three straight teams to four or more Big Ten wins.
Here are some of the other firsts for Walker, who is the second winningest coach in Northwestern history:
first NU football coach to own victories over all 10 Big Ten Conference foes
first NU coach since C.M. Hollister (1899-1902) to record four six-or-more win seasons
first NU coach to beat Ohio State in Evanston since 1958, and the first to beat the Buckeyes since 1971
first NU coach to beat Penn State at Beaver Stadium
In 2003, Northwestern earned a trip to the Motor City Bowl by winning four of its last six Big Ten games. That was Walker's second bowl venture after his magical 2000 season when Northwestern went from last to first in the Big Ten in just his second season at the Wildcat helm. For his 2000 achievements, Walker was named the Dave McClain Big Ten Coach of the Year and the Region 3 Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA).
Perhaps more important than his on-field achievements, Walker accepted the AFCA's Academic Achievement Award three of the past four years (2002, 2004 and 2005). Northwestern, which annually touts a graduation rate of 90 percent or better, had 100-percent rates for those years.
On the field,
Walker had a seven-year coaching mark of 37-46 at Northwestern and a 96-81-5 mark in 16 seasons as a head coach. Only "Pappy" Waldorf (49-45-7) won more games while coaching the Wildcats.
The Wildcats' fortunes turned in 2000 after Walker overhauled the offense and introduced the spread formation. Since that 2000 season, when the Wildcats shattered nearly every school offensive mark and ranked among the nation's leaders in total offense and scoring, the Wildcats continue to average well over 400 yards per game.
Led by Brett Basanez, the Big Ten's 2005 Offensive Player of the Year, Northwestern's 674-yard outburst vs. Wisconsin in 2005 shattered the 654-yard outing set against Michigan in 2000. (That was the most yards ever allowed by Wolverine defense.) The wild 54-51 win over Michigan is one of four ESPN "Instant Classic" victories that Walker has directed since the 2000 season. His 2005 club became just the second program in Big Ten history to average more than 500 yards per game (500.3 ypg). (Penn State was the other team to do it in 1994.)
Once a running back, always a running back. Walker, a former standout for Miami at that same position, prided himself on coaching great running backs. Not many coaches can claim this amazing stat: In 30 seasons he coached a running back to a 1,000-yard season 25 times. Walker coached the top two rushers in Miami history (Travis Prentice and Deland McCullough); twice at North Carolina he tutored two running backs to 1,000-yard seasons in the same year (Kelvin Bryant and Amos Lawrence in 1980 and Tyrone Anthony and Ethan Horton in 1983); and at NU he mentored Damien Anderson to the first 2,000-yard season in Northwestern football history. Anderson concluded his illustrious career first on NU's all-time rushing list. From 2002-05, Jason Wright (2002 and 2003), Noah Herron (2004) and Tyrell Sutton (2005) posted 1,000-yard rushing campaigns under Walker.
Another staple of Walker teams was their strength and conditioning regimen. One of the best in the country on getting the most out of his players, Walker's teams owned a 74-5-1 career record when leading after three quarters. At Northwestern, the Wildcats were 25-4 when leading going into the fourth quarter.
Walker came to Northwestern after serving as the head football coach at Miami (Ohio) University for nine seasons. He departed Oxford as the winningest head coach in school history with a mark of 59-35-5 (.621) -- a great honor considering the list of coaches who had gone before him. Dubbed the "Cradle of Coaches," Miami has produced such football legends as Earl "Red" Blaik, Paul Brown, Carmen Cozza, Sid Gillman, Weeb Ewbank, Woody Hayes, Bill Mallory, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler and Dick Crum, to name a few.
In 1998, Walker guided Miami to a 10-1 record, and the RedHawks finished atop the Mid-American Conference (MAC) for the third time in four years in total defense. Nationally, Walker's troops ranked 16th in total defense and tied for fourth in scoring defense. In addition, they led the nation and tied an NCAA Division I-A record by losing just one fumble in 11 games, and their pass efficiency defense rating was the fifth best overall.
In his first year as head coach at Miami in 1990, after inheriting a team that had won just two games the previous two seasons combined, Walker led Miami to a 5-5-1 mark and a fifth-place showing in the MAC. Miami led the conference and ranked ninth nationally in total defense that season. In 1991, Walker led Miami to a 6-4-1 mark and a third-place finish in the MAC. Miami's defense led the conference and ranked fifth nationally in both total defense and scoring defense.
While at Miami, Walker did not shy away from scheduling quality competition. In his last two seasons at Miami, the RedHawks recorded nonconference wins over Army (38-14 in 1997, 14-13 in 1998), Virginia Tech (24-17) and North Carolina (13-10). In 1995, Miami handed Northwestern its only regular-season loss when the RedHawks upset NU, 30-28, during the Wildcats' Rose Bowl season.
Walker also served as the running backs coach for the Wildcats during the 1988 and 1989 seasons. He coached the first back-to-back 1,000-yard rushers in Wildcat history, Byron Sanders and Bob Christian.
Prior to his assistant coaching days at NU, Walker spent 10 seasons (1978-87) at the University of North Carolina. In 1985, he was named offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Tar Heels after spending the previous seven campaigns as the running backs (1978-81) and quarterbacks (1982-87) coach. Walker coached in six postseason games at UNC, and the Tar Heels went 4-2 in those games, beating Michigan in the Gator Bowl (1979), Texas in the Bluebonnet Bowl (1980), Arkansas in the Gator Bowl (1981), and Texas in the Sun Bowl (1982). The two losses came at the hands of Florida State in the Peach Bowl (1983) and Arizona in the Aloha Bowl (1986).
When Walker left Carolina, he had guided three of the top four quarterback career completion leaders, the all-time leader in receptions and five 1,000-yard rushers.
A native of Troy, Ohio, Walker graduated from Miami University in 1976 with a B.A. in social studies education and, in 1981, earned his master's degree in education administration.
As a fullback, he led MU to 11-0, 10-0-1 and 11-1 records in 1973, 1974 and 1975 -- earning team MVP honors as a senior -- and aided his team to Tangerine Bowl victories over Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. In fact, Walker has been a part of five of Miami's six seasons with 10 or more wins, having been an assistant coach of the 10-1 1977 squad. For these outstanding accomplishments, he was inducted into the Miami Hall of Fame in 1992.
Following his graduation from Miami in 1976, Walker was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, and after a short stint with them he returned to Oxford to help as a graduate assistant. The following year he became a full-time assistant in charge of running backs.
Walker married the former Tamara Weikert. He was the father of two children -- Abbey and Jamie (NU, '04), and a son-in-law, Brian Boudreau.