Warren Powers, who spent seven years as Missouri’s head coach from 1978 to 1984, and his wife Linda have gone public with his battle against Alzheimer’s disease. (Columbia Tribune)
UPDATE: A donation page has been set up in honor of Warren and Linda Powers for the Walk to End Alzheimers. Please visit the page and consider making a donation: http://act.alz.org/site/TR/Walk2015/MO-StLouis?team_id=291269&pg=team&fr_id=7602
By Sally Tippett Rains
Former Mizzou football coach Warren Powers has lived an amazing life. From his days riding on a delivery truck with his brother in Kansas City to earning a college scholarship playing on the Oakland Raiders, marrying a Mizzou PomPom girl and then becoming a college head coach. Throughout his life, sitting around a table with his Oakland, Nebraska or Mizzou friends, conversations have happily come up about the great times, memorable wins and those good old days. He’s had a lifelong effect on many of his former players and he’s been married to the same wife throughout it all. But nowadays there are not as many conversations like that and it’s really not clear how much of it all he recalls. Perhaps he remembers it but just can’t process what he wants to say. His wife Linda fears that one day there will be no more laughter, mo more reminiscing — no memory at all. He has Alzheimer’s disease.
On June 13 Linda Powers wrote a letter to the editor in the Post-Dispatch that revealed her husband has Alzheimer’s disease, encouraging readers to support the Alzheimer’s Association. She had been on FOX 2 and has since done an interview with Frank Cusumano on KSDK. Ever since Powers was fired in 1984 the now 74-year-old coach has been a private person. He was rarely in the news and did not go back into coaching, but now, in the hopes of helping others, they are telling his story.
The news that Powers had Alzheimer’s disease was shocking.
Not Warren Powers- the smiling coach who, in his first game at Missouri in 1978, led the Tigers to a defeat of Notre Dame—causing massive parties in Columbia culminating in the goalposts being taken down. Not that vibrant coach who directed his team to five bowl games. His Mizzou overall record was 46-33-3. Only three coaches – Gary Pinkel, Don Faurot and Dan Devine – have coached more or won more games in school history.
“Oh no, that’s terrible news,” said Bill Wilkerson, the play-by-play man for Missouri football and host of Sports Open Line on KMOX radio during Powers’ tenure. “I remember him so well and he was always so upbeat, very positive. Once a game was over he was optimistic about the next one.”
“Naturally it was devastating and disturbing to hear the news,” said Howard Richards, the standout offensive tackle at Mizzou who went on to play in the NFL, work for the CIA and is now on the radio broadcast team. “It’s tough to hear the news that someone I was so close to and who was so influencing in my career could be suffering from this terrible disease. The only good thing is they are continuously developing treatments and it seems to be helping his memory.”
Other high profile people whose families have gone public have included President Reagan and most recently Glen Campbell, who chronicled his journey in a special on CNN. They have all done so in hopes of raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease as well as funds to help find a cure.
Powers played football at Nebraska and made it to the pros as the starting safety for the 1967 AFL Champion Raiders and played in the second AFL-NFL World Championship game, now known as Super Bowl II. From 1969-76 he was an assistant coach at Nebraska under both Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne; then he became the head coach at Washington State for a year before he was hired at Missouri, succeeding Al Onofrio.
Linda said her husband was diagnosed four years ago and she wanted to go public to put yet another face on the terrible disease in hopes that people would donate to the Alzheimer’s Association in hopes for a cure.
They spent hours doing an interview for this story. Powrs re-lived exciting moments from his coaching career and remembered how he and Linda met and even contributed to stories from his childhood.
“Warren did not remember doing the interview the next day” she said in an email a few days later.
Though he might not remember what month it is, he sure remembers when Missouri beat Notre Dame. He can still remember things from long ago, but ask him what he had for breakfast and it’s not there.
This is the life of the spouse or caregiver for someone living with Alzheimer’s. There is constant repeating of questions which will be answered only to be re-asked moments later. There are the blank stares and the seeming lack of interest in things that in the past would have been met with enthusiasm.
But if there was ever anyone a person would want to go on that journey with, Linda Powers is that person. She does her best to keep a positive outlook and she has him on a regiment of certain foods and exercise that she thinks will help slow down his loss of memory.
It is working for now. Powers still remembers the day they met and the crazy story that began their journey together.
Married since 1968
Warren and Linda met on a blind date in 1968. Linda was in school at Missouri and Warren had just retired from the Raiders. He had just been hired as an assistant coach by Nebraska.
“His really good friend and roommate from the Oakland Raiders, Gus Otto (who played football at Mizzou), was living in Columbia in the off-season getting his masters degree,” said Linda. “Gus’s fiance at the time was named Suzanne and I knew her. They fixed us up on a blind date and we went to a place called Black and Gold. They had shuffleboard, and burgers, it was a real fun place.”
“Warren and Gus were driving back from a friend’s wedding in Wisconsin,” said Suzanne Otto, who is a successful real estate agent in St. Louis. “Warren was going to stay in Columbia for the night and Gus said ‘why don’t you see if you can get him a date?’ Linda and I were in a design class so I asked her if she wanted to go out with us on a Friday night. She wasn’t real enthusiastic about it, and said “oh maybe,” but then she accepted and we went out on Friday. We got together again on that Saturday.”
After that weekend, they did not see each other for a while. Powers is seven years older and she was still in school. They stayed in touch with phone calls. The next time they saw each other was when they were both in Gus and Suzanne’s wedding. It was in Crystal City, Mo., on June 21, and he flew in and Linda drove down to Crystal City. A lot more happened that weekend than the Otto’s wedding.
“Hang on to your hat for this one,” Linda said. “We were together that weekend in Crystal City along with some of the other Raiders guys who were there. Then he asked me to marry him the night of the wedding!”
Warren and Linda Powers were driving the newlyweds back to their hotel so they could get ready to leave for their honeymoon when they dropped the bombshell.
“Linda said to me, ‘Warren’ asked me to marry him!’ I said ‘what?,'” Suzanne Otto said.. “She said ‘he asked me to marry him.’ I said ‘What do you mean he asked you to marry him? You hardly know him!’ She was just so excited and said, ”I know!'”
As Linda chattered on, Suzanne’s mind was on other things so she really was not thinking about what was going on. The Otto’s went on their honeymoon and traveled to Lake Tahoe, Denver and then to Oakland.
“When we were in Oakland, we went to visit another Raider player, Kent McCloughan who went to Nebraska, and knew Warren. Kent says, ”I can’t believe it. Who’s Warren marrying?’ We were stunned and said, ‘Marrying? Warren’s getting married?’ And Kent says, ‘Yeah, Warren called and said he’s getting married in 5 1/2 weeks.’ And then we remember that in all the excitement Linda had told us.
“Kent wondered who Warren was marrying because it all happened so fast,” said Linda. “Everyone wondered who the mystery girl was!!”
After they became engaged at the Otto’s wedding, Warren and Linda drove to St. Louis so he could meet her parents. When they got there, her mother asked her about the wedding and she proceeded to tell them and then said, “Warren asked me to marry him and I said yes!”
According to Suzanne, Linda tells the story that after she told her mother, her mother thought for a moment and turned to Warren and said, “There’s no returning the merchandise!”
“After that first date we had talked a lot on the phone and I felt like I knew him,” she said. “My parents thought it was a little crazy but they trusted my judgment and here we are almost 46 years later.”
She had to throw together a wedding in two months but there was more to it.
“Warren was Catholic and asked if I would consider becoming a Catholic and I said ‘that’s not a problem because we all pray to the same God,” said Linda.
“So the day of her wedding she turned Catholic, got baptized, confirmed and married– all in the same day,” said Suzanne.
“Two months later we were married on August 15,” said Linda.
Powers chimed in: “And I was back at practice the 16th!”
“Yes we left the next day,” said Linda. “He had to be in Lincoln the 16th and he was back at practice the next day.”
They both got a kick out of that memory. They don’t know how long memories like that will still be with him, but it was obvious that talking about their young lives and laughing was a joy that Linda appreciates.
They are still friends with Gus and Suzanne Otto who live in St. Louis. The two couples just had dinner together this week.
“We still go out,” said Suzanne Otto. “And our kids invite them to things. They recently came to our granddaughter’s second birthday party.”
The one thing Linda’s parents asked of her was to finish her education, so when she moved to Lincoln, she transferred to Nebraska and got her degree. She majored in home economics and merchandising but realized that being married to a coach would keep her from pursuing that career. He was gone a lot and his hours were irregular.
If they were going to see each other she would not be able to have a full-time job at that point.
She found a job at a Lincoln television station, KOLN, as the host of Romper Room. As “Miss Linda” (shown in picture, right) she looked through her “magic mirror” every day to see all the children out in television land.
Romper Room, also shown in St. Louis (with “Miss Lois”) was franchised to stations around the country with local hosts but the same format. While her husband was diagramming plays or going on recruiting trips, she was leading children in cardboard boxes on “the safety patrol” and teaching them to be good Romper Room Doo-Bees.
Powers was born Feb. 9, 1941 in Kansas City. His dad worked for the railroad and was often gone. His mother was a homemaker. He is one of seven children. When asked about his childhood he seemed to remember but Linda asked if he wanted her to explain it and he said, “maybe that would be better’.”
“There’s a lot to explain,” Linda said.
The youngest child died at childbirth and Powers’ mother passed away two weeks later, leaving six children at home ages 16 down to two and a father who was never home. Warren was seven and times were different back then, no one moved in with them, the children basically raised themselves.
“What was always interesting to me was that all those kids were left alone and yet not one of them went to jail or had any major problems,” said Linda. “They all did well. They relied on each other and took take care of each other. Their grandmother would come over and check on them every once in awhile but no other adult lived with them they just made it on their own.”
At the beginning, most days the kids were at school, and so the two year old would not have to be home alone, she ended up going to live with another family. Though she grew up in a different house, she always knew who her siblings were. At this writing, the siblings were all living and though in different parts of the country, they are all very close.
“John was the oldest boy, the sixteen year old,” said Linda. ”He had a job driving a truck and making deliveries Since there was no childcare, he would take his little brother– Warren–with him.”
After their mother’s death it became John’s job to try to keep his siblings on a good path, and he stayed on s good path himself.
“Think about it,” said Linda. “He went from no education and driving a truck to becoming vice president of Nationwide Papers and president of Central Products in Neenah, Wis. And Warren’s other brother D.J. put himself through school at St. Benedict’s, became a Navy pilot and then had a successful career in Silicon Valley, and then of course Warren became a head coach. That’s pretty amazing for what they went through.”
Sports became a a big part of Powers’ life, shown right in eye black from his Oakland Raiders days. (Photo courtesy Powers family)
“Pretty much from kindergarten on up I was always playing sports,” said Powers.
He played basketball, ran track and of course, football.
“I did it all,” he said. “I ran, did the high jump and the long jump in track.”
He was an All-State quarterback at Bishop Lillis High School in Kansas City.
Playing Days- Nebraska and Oakland Raiders
Powers played running back at the University of Nebraska from 1960 to 1962. He had only been recruited by one school before Nebraska came into the picture.
A Nebraska alum whose son played football in high school with Powers told the coaching staff about him.That school would end up playing a big part in his life.
“I played up there,” Powers said. “And then I ended up being a coach.”
It was because of Bob Devaney the coach at Nebraska that after he played in the pros he would come back to Nebraska as a coach.
Powers went to play safety for the Raiders. He was injured much of 1963 but in 1964 Powers was second on the team in interceptions.
He had a memorable interception against San Diego which helped win a game 21-20, as shown in the text on the back of his Topps football card (below).
Powers spent six seasons with the Raiders and during that time had 22 interceptions. He was with Oakland in the game that became known as Super Bowl II– when the Raiders lost to the legendary Bart Starr and the Green Bay Packers.
It was during his playing career in Oakland that Powers met Otto, who played from 1964-1973. Gus was from St. Louis and had played his college football at Missouri.
They were familiar with each other as both came from the Big Eight and then both ended up in Oakland, Powers coming a year ahead of Otto.
Head Coaching Career
“I will always remember when Warren went up to interview for the Washington State job,” said Linda. “He was such a sweetheart; he was so thoughtful towards me.
“They offered him the job and he said to me ‘now Linda I won’t take it unless you think we should’, because I was working on the Romper Room show at the time. He said ‘you have a career and if you don’t want to go we won’t do this’ which I thought was very, very kind of him. Certainly I was not going to stop a coaching job for my job in Lincoln and I’m glad I didn’t because of how it all turned out.”
Once Powers took the job as the coach at Washington State she quit her job and they moved to Washington. As luck would have it, in his first year as a head coach he would end up playing Nebraska.
“We go to Washington State,” remembered Linda. “And then here we come back to Lincoln to play the Cornhuskers– and we won. It was a devastating loss to Nebraska and as we are leaving and we flew over the airport I turn to Warren and I said “Thank God we never have to come back here again”, and a year later there we were…in Lincoln, Nebraska…again.”
Only this time it was with the Missouri Tigers. Powers was hired one year to the day he got the job at Washington State. He is shown, right during his time at Missouri. (Photo courtesy Powers family)
The memory is a strange thing. While he might not be able to carry on a conversation about current events, ask about his old football days and those memories are still there.
The first game he coached for Mizzou was Sept. 9, 1978 and they upset fifth ranked Notre Dame in South Bend 3-0, Phil Bradley was his quarterback the first three years—playing on the Liberty Bows championship team as well as the Hall of Fame Classic and Liberty Bowl again in 1980.
“We beat Notre Dame to start the season and we beat Nebraska to end it–both on the road,” said Bradley, who went on to play major league baseball and now works for the players association.
There were some big names on that Notre Dame team, starting with former Missouri head coach Dan Devine who had just led Notre Dame to the 1977 national championship. The quarterback was Joe Montana, with running backs Vegas Ferguson and Jerome Heavens.
“I’ll never forget the Notre Dame game,” added Linda. “It was so hot that day. Dan Devine had also been at Mizzou and had just won the National Championship the previous year with Notre Dame, and we beat them 3-nothing. It was like ‘oh my God’, nobody could believe it.”
I was lucky enough to be in South Bend on that hot, hot day to see the Tigers shutdown the Irish. It was truly the thrill of a lifetime to cover that game,” said Jim Baer who was the Suburban Journals sports editor at the time. I remember a couple things. Jeff Brockhaus scored the only points on a medium length field goal. Kris Haynes hit a Mizzou receiver out of bounds and that cost Notre Dame a chance to win the game. The Irish were entirely out of shape and melted in the heat. My best memory was Warren Powers, standing on a steamer trunk in the locker room, with great emotion saying “We beat them suckers”– and the place went nuts.”
The picture shown below is from the Notre Dame Game in 1978, photo courtesy Missouri Athletics.
After the game the media and fans were stunned. Crowds gathered outside the Tigers locker room but an aisle opened up as Linda Powers approached. As soon as she saw her husband she could not contain herself and cried tears of joy. The two embraced and Linda walked out–with an escort– carrying the game ball.
Meanwhile back in Columbia the students were going crazy. They had heard the game on radio or watched in their dorm room televisions or at Harpo’s or any of the other gathering places that students went. After the exciting victory they flocked to the streets and ran towards Faurot Field in hopes of tearing down the goalposts. The police had anticipated their action and stood guard. Later that night when they left, the students ran in and got the job done.
Bradley did not remember if there was a big welcoming group at the airport when the team got back.”We weren’t thinking about that,” he said years later. “We had Alabama that next week.”
“That was a special group of guys on that ’78 team from players to coaches,” said former player Stan Lechner. “We had a ton of talent but not a lot of experience going into that season– but coach Powers and his staff had us believing in ourselves and not to fear anyone. And it showed on the field. Such great memories from that year including beating the defending National Champion Notre Dame team and the #2 ranked Nebraska– both in their home fields. And of course the victory in the Liberty Bowl.”
When asked about beating Nebraska twice Powers chuckled, and though he could not get out all his thoughts you could tell he had happy memories.
“Playing in Lincoln, Nebraska is a very difficult job!” he said. “I was very fortunate to go up there and win a couple of games but I also remember going in there and losing a few games too.”
In his first year at Mizzou the team went to the Liberty Bowl and emerged with a win, beating LSU 20-15.
“The memories from his first season (1978) are the most clear,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, the assistant sports information director at Missouri at the time and now a bank executive in Kansas City. “That opening win at Notre Dame by a 3-0 score, over the defending national champs coached by Dan Devine and quarterbacked by Joe Montana, was one for the ages.
“And then there was the regular-season finale at Nebraska, when the Tigers upset the Huskers 35-31 in what is still one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen. That put us in a bowl game for the first time in five years. I’ll never forget the celebrations in Columbia after those wins.”
Powers had come to Missouri after Onofrio had been fired, so the players there were the ones Onofrio recruited. Howard Richards (shown left with Warren and Linda Powers, photo courtesy Howard Richards) remembered how shocked the players were that Onofrio was fired and a new coach came in. He said it is unsettling as a player who was recruited by one coaching staff to be faced with a new coach.
“All sorts of things go through your mind like ‘what if the staff doesn’t like me’, ‘what if I’m not their type of player’, ‘would I be better off transferring someplace else.”
But Richards was happy because he felt the new coach was very fair to all players.
“The biggest thing about coming in as a new coach is you inherit a program,” he said. “We met with the coaching staff soon after he came, and he told us how it would be.”
“The biggest thing about coming in as a new coach is you inherit a program,” he said. “Coach Powers gave everyone a fair shot. It didn’t matter if you had started with Al Onofrio, if you were the best player you were going to start, and it’s not always like that. What he said to us in that first meeting – that’s what happened. My experience under the Powers regime was 100 percent positive.”
Bradley was Powers first quarterback , followed by Mike Hyde and then Marlon Adler.
“He was a good leader,” said Bradley. “A good leader of us.”
Bradley had a unique situation. When he was recruited by Onofrio, they had reached an agreement whereby if Bradley wanted to leave football the last year and concentrate on baseball he could.
“For me personally what I remember about Coach Powers is that he was willing to honor the agreement that Coach Onofrio made to me that I would only have to play one spring of football and then I could play baseball. He didn’t have to do that. As it’s turned out, that was a big deal,” Bradley said.
Bradley lettered in football from 1977–81, and then in baseball in 1979-80-81 at Mizzou. He went on to be drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the third round in a 1981 and had a successful career in the major leagues.
“Back then Oklahoma and Nebraska were clearly the best two teams in the conference,” said Bradley. “I don’t think people understood how competitive the Big Eight Conference was. If you finished third place in the Big Eight Conference back then, that’s not bad.”
“I always felt that if the need arose I could walk in the office and talk to him,” Richards said about Powers. “He always had a kind word. He would always have a joke when he popped into the position meetings.”
As Powers became acclimated to Mizzou and met the other coaches and staff in the Athletic Department, one who he became friends with was Norm Stewart the basketball coach. One thing Linda always said people were surprised to know was that the Powers and Norm and Virginia Stewart were very good friends. They had a lake house that they owned together at Lake of the Ozarks
“We spent most of our downtime at the lake,” she said. “We loved boating and loved to fish. When I was a student at Mizzou I was a pom pom girl and Norm Stewart was the coach. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that one day he would become one of our closest friends.”
They are still friends today.
“I really loved going to the lake,” said Powers. “I loved the fishing more than anything. I used to catch a few, not that many but I enjoyed it.”
Warren and Linda Powers never had any children but they have nieces and nephews who have played a big part in their lives. A couple of them went to school at Missouri while their uncle was coaching.
“John the first one who came through was a Beta and he would bring his friends out to the house, and even when we moved to St. Louis. it was fun to have them come out,” said Linda. “Even today I have nieces who when someone finds out that Warren is there uncle they are like ‘No way. Your uncle is Warren Powers?’ It was always fun and the kids have always been an important part of our life.”
The years Powers was at Mizzou, he won many games and took the team to five bowl games, winning three of them. He was also considered a good recruiter.
“Being recruited out of high school by colleges like Nebraska, Iowa State, and Colorado the main reason that I picked Missouri was because of Coach Powers and Coach Price” said Hyde, a product of Lindbergh High School in St. Louis.
“Was he a good recruiter? My answer would be yes,” said Richards, shown left interviewing Powers. (Photo courtesy Howard Richards). “My answer would be yes. I was in Onofrio’s last recruiting class (1977), therefore, the players after my class (1978 onward), that Coach Powers recruited were the ones who sustained the program’s winning ways through 1983, the year before he was dismissed.”
“He had one of the best teams Missouri has had in probably the last 30, 40 years, said Wilkerson. “Oh my, he had so much talent. We must have had every player East St. Louis ever produced. Guys like Johnny Poe, Eric Wright, so much talent.”
Wilkerson did the play-by-play with Rod Kelly adding color to the broadcasts on the Learfield sports network. Wilkerson was the popular host of “Sports Open Line” in St. Louis
Wilkerson shared his memories of the Powers era at Mizzou.
To hear the 12 minute interview with Wilkerson’s memories, click the audio player below:
Perhaps by winning all the games they should not have won, and by giving the fans so many thrills early on, they expected too much. After a loss in the Holiday Bowl followed by a disappointing season, the natives were getting restless. Alums from St. Louis and Kansas City, which in those days were seen by some as rivaling forces, were becoming more vocal.
“I could sort of see it coming at the Holiday Bowl when we lost,” said Linda. “I felt that was the beginning of the end. It was 1983 and everybody was riding high in that game. We were winning with 30 seconds left, BYU had the ball on the 15 yard line and Steve Young—their quarterback at the time– ended up running the ball down the field and they won 21-17.”
It was a heartbreaking loss and Linda felt it had an effect on the next season.
“The next year we didn’t have a good season, ” she said. “We lost a lot of games by less than a touchdown, and you could feel the pressure from the alums. It was always a problem when Warren was there. He was not trying to please the alums he was just trying to win football games. I felt like with all the politics going on and some of the alums were upset, that Dave Hart (the athletic director) was under some pressure.”
Some thought a loss to Kansas was the last straw, but Linda said she felt the decision was already made before that game.
“I had a bad feeling the day of the KU game in1984,” she said. “When I went into the press box before the game I could just feel the tension. And I remember saying to one of the alumni, ‘the decision has been made, hasn’t it?’ and they didn’t answer, so I think the writing was on the wall. I’ve always felt it was a political firing. There were lots of problems going on and maybe firing the coach would solve some.”
“Warren Powers was a good coach, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he accomplished at Mizzou,” said Fitzpatrick. “He went to five bowls in seven years, back when there weren’t nearly as many bowls as there are today and a .500 record didn’t make you ‘bowl eligible’.
“His only losing record came in his final season, when there were a couple of very difficult losses to Wisconsin and Notre Dame before things spiraled downhill. Bottom line is he shouldn’t have been fired.”
“The ironic thing about Coach Powers–when he got fired,” said Bradley, “It was a long time before they got into another bowl game.”
After Powers left in 1984 Missouri did not earn another bowl game trip until 1997.
Powers moved out of the limelight. He never coached again.
“I think he was so devastated that he just did not want to be involved in football,” Linda said. “You have to remember that he had so much success –he only had one losing season and then he got fired. Everybody was shocked. Players have told us they were shocked.”
People wondered why Powers never returned to coaching.
“I don’t know why he never coached again,” said Fitzpatrick. “ I always figured not coaching was his choice—that maybe he was just tired of the grind and wanted to enjoy life more. He certainly was qualified to keep coaching “
Turns out Fitzpatrick was right and Powers made the decision to get out of football. Linda Powers tried to get him to reconsider but he made his decision.
“I told him ‘why don’t you just take a year off or get a job as an assistant coach and then you can decide what you want to do?’”she said. “Here’s the quote he gave me: ‘No one will ever control my life like that again.'”
He had just had enough.
There were many alumni in St. Louis who extended invitations to Powers to work in their companies. He became part owner in the rent-to-own business which would have made it hard to pick up and leave should he decide to go back into coaching. There was some talk with the Raiders and he almost went to work there but in the end he chose to stay out of football.
Besides his own business, he got offers to sell cars, which he did, first working at Behlman.
“I saw him while he was working for Behlman,” said Wilkerson. “It was good seeing him then.”
Powers then worked for Bommarito. Who would not want to buy a car from the former Missouri head coach? Frank Bommarito is a good friend of his, and that is the last place he worked before retiring.
For a long time Powers had nothing to do with the university that had fired him, but then Mike Alden came he brought him back into the fold. He has enjoyed attending awards dinners and recently went to a Liberty Bowl Reunion where he got to see a lot of his old players.
His lasting effects on players
After it became public that Powers was suffering from Alzheimer’s, Linda said they have heard from many players, with the common theme that he taught those guys how to be men, to be responsible, and they really appreciated that.he wasn’t just their coach, there was more than that.
Hyde lost his father just before his senior year of high school. He became very close to his high school coach Stan Mach and he remembers a warmness he felt in college with Powers.
“I have to say that Coach Powers also helped me mature, compete, believe, get a degree and he was also like a father figure to me,” said Hyde. “Throughout life you cross paths with people who inspire, motivate and help you become a better person and Coach Powers was one of those people.”
“It’s really heartbreaking to see what is happening to coach Powers,” said Lechner. “He means so much to all of us who had the privilege to play for him. I can’t say enough about my appreciation for coach Powers. He gave a ‘too small, too slow, too weak’ kid from a small town, Aurora, Mo., the chance of a lifetime. I wasn’t about to let him down.”
“I am Facebook friends with many of the old players and it is so great to catch up with all of them,” said Linda. “Now they are men with families, some even have grandkids. We’ve heard from so many of them, and they all have such nice memories of their days at Mizzou.”
“Getting a chance to start at Mizzou was special,” said Hyde, shown in picture, above. (From left to right: Ken Judd, Bud Epps, Stan Lechner, Mike Hyde, Coach Dick Beechner, Warren Powers, Paul Gadt. Photo courtesy Mike Hyde). “But as time progresses and you get older, you look back on the experience and it was an opportunity that I would never trade. The friends I made and the blood, sweat and tears you leave on the field helped make me a better person and this could not have been accomplished if Coach Powers did not recruit me, work with me and believe in me.”
“The one thing that has always stayed with me all my life was a saying Coach Powers used to say,” said Bradley. “He said, ‘Things never stay the same, they usually get better or they get worse.’ He was referring to the team. The choices you have are you either come out every week and try to get better or you don’t come out every week trying and you stay the same. You’ve either got to get better or you will get worse. That is a good lesson to learn. It’s a phrase that’s stuck with me through all these years.”
It’s not just the players who are expressing their devotion to the coach. Last summer Powers got to get out on the football field again—all due to Steve Miller, who was on his coaching staff at Mizzou.
“Steve called him,” said Linda, “and said, ‘I’m going to be running some football camps this summer and I would love to have Coach come along if he would like to.’ I said ‘that’s great Steve but you’re going to have to remember you will have to explain to him what you want him to do.’ The whole thing ended up being such a positive. Steve told me, ‘This was my turn to give back. He gave me my break in coaching; now it’s my turn to give back.’ Warren actually went twice ;he went for three days the first one and then he went back to another one. It was so positive.”
“I think of the three years I was with Coach Powers,” said Bradley. “I know we are all getting older, but I like to think about the times when I was younger and he was younger and the time we were together. We were on the same team, we were trying to achieve the same goals. We had good programs and we were prepared to play every Saturday, and we competed hard every Saturday.”
Liberty Bowl Reunion
“We had a 2003 reunion and also a 25-year Liberty Bowl reunion in 2013,” said Hyde, who lives in St. Louis and is a vice-president for Kuna Foods. “Last time I ran into Coach Powers was at a Muscular Dystrophy Dinner with my wife Diane and he was there with Linda. That was only about 4 months ago and I thought Coach looked good.”
The 2013 “Liberty Bowl Reunion” was held at the Texas A&M game. It was an informal tailgate where former players and coaches got together to remember their time together.
“Howard Richards had heard that coach was having memory problems,” said Lechner, shown, center in the picture below with teammate Brad Gadt and his brother Paul Gadt (Photo courtesy Stan Lechner). Lechner now lives in Springfield, Mo. and sells dental supplies. “Since it was our 35th anniversary (of winning the Liberty Bowl in 1978) he wanted to get us together.”
Richards started rounding up players.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to get the word out,” said Lechner. “We used Facebook and Twitter.”
Some of the players who attended were Richards, Lechner, Bradley, Hyde, Jerome Sally, Paul Gadt, and Don Carter. (One of the assistant coaches Dick Beechner, is shown in the photo at the left with Bradley and Richards. Photo courtesy Stan Lechner)
Alumni look back at those years and remember the success that Powers’ teams had in a very tough Big Eight. Linda Powers knows that her husband’s celebrity status can help generate funds for the Alzheimer’s Association.
“When someone like Warren Powers goes public with his diagnosis, it shows others that it’s okay to talk about it,” said Lindy Noel of the Alzheimer’s Association. “It encourages them to start looking at the reality they may be facing with a loved one who is showing signs. And finally, it shows them that they are not alone.”
Linda said that six years ago she started noticing things were not right with her husband and after a while they made an appointment with a doctor. Powers was working at Bommarito at the time.
“Frank Bommarito has been a dear friend to Warren and very supportive of him even after he was diagnosed,” said Suzanne Otto, whose mother had died of Alzheimer’s disease so she was very in tuned with it. “When Warren started having memory problems Frank just moved him to a different position and kept him on.”
He was diagnosed a year later and as soon as they got that diagnosis Linda got him on a regiment of coconut oil.
“I went online and found out about coconut oil and have Warren on it I put it on his cereal in the morning every day,” she said. “That started because of a video I saw by Dr. Mary Newport whose husband had Alzheimer’s and she put him on it and she believed in the benefits. I too think it has helped in slowing the process down since Warren’s decline has been slow.”
According to a book called “Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was A Cure? The Story of Kenones” by Dr. Mary T. Newport, regular use of coconut oil can give hope to Alzheimer’s patients. Coconut water is also mentioned on various websites as a way to help with memory.
Suzanne Otto’s daughter Angie manufactures a product called “My Coconut Butter” which is marketed in several stores in the area including Dierbergs.
“We use Angie’s product also, Coconut Butter, and believe it too has many benefits,” said Linda.
When this writer asked Powers what he thought when first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease he said he knew things were not right. It seemed he was starting to say say something about it, but quickly he lost his train of thought.
Linda is very up front with him and talks about the disease in front of him because she feels it’s important to get the message out. He said at first he did not want it out there, and truth be told he probably still would not want it out there, but he does understand that by going public he can help others.
“I know Linda worries about Warren,” said Suzanne Otto. “Besides going out and playing bridge a bit or teaching it, she generally does not want to be away from him. She is so much to him. She is mother, wife, caregiver, friend, advocate and more.”
Gus and Suzanne Otto are shown in a picture, left, with Warren and Linda Powers on July 31, 2015.
Powers has had an influence on so many young men’s lives in his coaching career and by putting his story out there he may still be having an effect on people’s lives. Perhaps his story prompts someone to recognize symptoms in a loved one and go to the doctor. Perhaps it inspires people to donate to the Alzheimer’s Association.”
“I went through Alzheimer’s with my Mom many years ago,” said Fitzpatrick. “So it is a disease that strikes close to home.
“Warren Powers had a very keen mind and it’s just shocking and sad to think that his memories are fading. But it shows a lot of fortitude on behalf of Linda and him to go public with it and do something positive to address this awful malady. I applaud them for that.”
There are several ways that the Powers feel they can help people: spreading awareness of the need for funds to support a cure, and helping people realize that maybe their loved one could be suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and letting them know that help is out there.
“If you think someone you know has Alzheimer’s disease, you can call the Alzheimer’s Association at 800.272.3900 to talk to a Helpline Specialist,” said Noel. “They will guide you through the steps of seeking a diagnosis and connecting you to community resources available.”
Glen Campbell, the Grammy-winning country music singer and his wife Kim Campbell have been very public about the superstar’s battle. One of their goals is to let people see a person with Alzheimer’s disease is still a person. There is someone inside, even though they seem to be going away. Kim Campbell says one of the most important things that Glen Campbell has done is to “help remove the stigma of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Linda Powers also has that goal. She wants people to remember and celebrate her husband as the coach who did so much for Mizzou. But after having come forward with their situation, she wants people to also realize he’s not gone. He is still here and continuing to live his life, just in a different way.
In June, Linda used her love for the game of bridge to help raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association with a fundraiser.
She has always enjoyed playing bridge and one person she played with was Mariana Hanifan, the wife of former St. Louis Cardinals head coach and Rams assistant Jim Hanifan. She and Warren are friends with some of the former Rams coaches including the Hanifans. Hanifan’s wife Marianna loved bridge too. Marianna was quite an expert as is Linda who teaches it. Marianna recently passed away and Warren and Linda attended her funeral.
Powers still has his easy smile and joking personality. He defers to Linda, maybe knowing that when he starts a story he may forget the end.
But then there are days–or times– when he is doing great. The day of Mariana Hanifan’s funeral there were so many people he knew through football at the church and he recognized many of them and went up to them and shook their hands.
While he did not remember doing the interviews for this article, when he saw this writer at the funeral he recognized her from 30 years ago when she worked at KMOX Radio and used to interview him. The memories may not stay, but the look on his face showed he clearly had a memory when he would greet each person that day. He seemed to enjoy seeing his old friends but just greeted them and then moved on.
“He may not be able to have the same conversations he had before,” she said, “But if people know about it they can be prepared and have shorter conversations.
Linda Powers thinks about all the things she has learned online about Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s scary. People tell her about their relatives and friends who have died from it. She knows stories about late stage patients who wander, become moody, and completely forget their loved ones
But she is also hopeful because of all the work being done by the Alzheimer’s Association– which can only happen with donations. This research and learning about homeopathic ways she can be proactive and keep her husband where he is right now is what keeps her going. She sees so much positive that is just around the corner with Alzheimer’s research especially since the 2015 Alzheimer’s Associati
Every day is a new adventure as they try to live in the moment. As with everything there are good days and bad days. They try to stay active, but there are those dark moments, the moments she is alone with her thoughts and fears. In those moments she relies on her Christian faith to help her.
“I have a very strong faith that I rely on daily,” she said. “I believe we are dealt a hand in life and God helps us through it.”
As a bridge player, she knows about being dealt a hand; but as a championship bridge player, she knows how to win.
Linda hopes that by telling Warren Powers’ story it won’t scare people away from talking to him, it will encourage them to come up, and maybe even open a dialog for others.
“He is not an Alzheimer patient,” she says, “He is a person living with Alzheimer’s.”
How you can help the Alzheimer’s Association In honor of Coach Powers and his wife Linda:
“Our biggest platform for raising awareness, funds and connecting to our community is through the Walk to End Alzheimer’s,” said Lindy Noel of the Alzheimer’s Association. “The Walk is free and if anyone wants to participate they can go to alz.org/stl or call our 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900 for more inf