Mourners remember Walker at service

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Jamie Walker grew up as the son of a coach whose passion for football was second only to the love he showed his family.

"He always supported me and my sister," Jamie Walker said Thursday during an emotional 90-minute memorial service for his dad, Northwestern football coach Randy Walker, who died last week of an apparent heart attack at age 52.

Whether it meant drawing the curtains tight so his kids could splash each other in the bathtub, telling bedtime stories he made up himself or monitoring his kids' participation in baseball and figure skating, Randy Walker took fatherhood seriously.

"You were a great father, role model and my best friend," Jamie Walker said, his voice breaking as he said goodbye to his dad. "I'll love you and miss you."

The church was filled with 900 mourners, including fellow coaches, current and former players, family and friends came to a Presbyterian church not far from the campus to honor Walker and celebrate his life.

Wearing matching dark athletic shirts with the Northwestern emblem, the current football team filed in shortly before the family and took up nearly the entire right side of the lower sanctuary.

One of Walker's former players, running back Jason Wright, now with the Cleveland Browns, sang a solo, "It Is Well."

Amid flowers spread on the altar were three photos of Walker: One showing him coaching on the sideline, another picturing him with his players and the third showing him relaxing on a beach at a table. One of the hymns sung was "Morning Has Broken," which was also played at Walker's wedding.

"It's painful for Randy to be taken from us ... with so much to look forward to," Northwestern president Harry Bienen said of the only coach to take the Wildcats to three bowl games. He said the school plans to endow a scholarship in Walker's honor.

"He was a father figure, a friend, a mentor and a spiritual leader of our team," kicker Joel Howells said, adding that Walker sometimes used a combination of love and discipline with his players.

Walker stood up for Howells, who had a rough day converting kicks in a Sun Bowl loss to UCLA, and had phoned the kicker shortly before his death last week.

"He just wanted to see how I was doing," Howells said.

Pat Fitzgerald, a defensive standout at Northwestern in the mid-1990s who is now the Wildcats' linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator, talked about how well Walker worked with the team.

"He taught us to love each other and how to respect our players and build trust," Fitzgerald said, adding that being asked to speak at the memorial service was the greatest honor of his life.

Fitzgerald said if Walker could speak again to his grief-ravaged team he would tell them, "I taught you what to do, and that's respond."

Also speaking was Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner, who was on Walker's staff at Miami of Ohio. After the eulogists were finished, a five-minute video tribute to walker's life was shown on the wall of the church.

Outside the service, Illinois football coach Ron Zook, a teammate of Walker's at Miami of Ohio, said he left "a great legacy."

"Randy never changed from the first day we met him in 1972 'til today," Zook said.

Brett Basanez, who blossomed into a quality quarterback and helped the Wildcats make the Sun Bowl, said Walker developed a sense of family while he made Northwestern respectable on the field.

"We all loved him very much," Basanez said. "He was a father away from home; you spent more time with him than your parents in your college years.

"He always joked, 'When I'm done coaching, I'll be on some beach somewhere.' It just happens to be on a different beach in a different place," he said.

Walker died June 29 after feeling chest pains late that night at his suburban Chicago home.

Northwestern was 37-46 under Walker. The Wildcats were 7-5 last season after a 50-38 loss to UCLA in the Sun Bowl. The Wildcats shared the Big Ten title in 2000 and went to the Alamo Bowl. Northwestern also went to the 2003 Motor City Bowl.

Walker was the first Wildcats coach to guide the team to four seasons with at least six wins since C.M. Hollister in 1899-1902.

Two months ago, Northwestern gave Walker a four-year extension through the 2011 season. He arrived at Northwestern in 1999 after nine years at Miami of Ohio, where he compiled a 59-35-5 record in nine seasons at his alma mater.

A native of Troy, Ohio, Walker is survived by his wife, Tamara, and two children, Abbey, 28, and Jamie, 25, who is the school's football recruiting assistant.