Lee Faulkinberry's Dedication Remarks
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Dedication of the Ragin’ Cajun Tower at Cajun Field
To Russell Miller Faulkinberry
August 31, 2018
I’m Lee Faulkinberry Granger, Russ’ daughter. On behalf of our family, including my sister Mary Faulkinberry Helenius, Dad’s widow, Bonnie Faulkinberry and her children, I extend our thanks to the UL players and the University for honoring our father with the dedication of the Ragin’ Cajun Tower. Russell Miller Faulkinberry was born in 1928 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Coaching came naturally to Dad as his father was the head football coach at Middle Tennessee State College. Unfortunately, Dad lost his father when he was 4. Thereafter, he, his sister and brother were raised by their single mother. Times were challenging during the depression, but Dad studied and persevered.
Since athletics was in his blood, he played multiple sports in high school and then received a football scholarship to Vanderbilt University, where he played 40 varsity football games and served as the team captain in 1950. After college, he became the Head Coach for football and basketball teams at Gallatin Tennessee High School. Then during the Korean War, he entered the U.S. Navy and continued his coaching career as the Head Coach for the 1952 Navy NTC football team and the Women’s Basketball team.
After being honorably discharged from the Navy, Russ became line coach at Southeastern Louisiana University. Thereafter, in succession, he served as an assistant football coach at Iowa State, Texas A & M, and the University of Nebraska, before becoming Head Football Coach at USL, now UL, in 1961. He served in this capacity from 1961-1973.
Dad loved the southwestern Louisiana culture and most of his football players were local guys. During his tenure, he changed the team nickname from the “Bulldogs” to the “Raging Cajuns,” which he thought better reflected the spirit and drive of the student-athlete players. That nickname, now shortened to Ragin’ Cajuns, is world renowned. His teams won the Gulf States Conference Championships in 1965, 1968, and 1970. It was later in the 1960s that I realized how popular and influential Dad was at the university and in the community. One evening, on his birthday, the doorbell rang and an entire sorority of women was on the lawn singing happy birthday! Can you imagine, an entire sorority!! And, the cake they brought was very tasty too.
Although I was a child, I could tell that the young men and the coaches that played for and worked with Dad respected him a great deal. Many of them later told me how much he inspired them to have successful lives. He was a larger than life personality, and evidently intimidated quite a few. But, to my sister and me, he was the “friendly giant.” We’d delight in being carried around the house, each dangling from a giant bicep. He taught his players, coaches, and us to be “mentally tough.” But this toughness wasn’t limited to the playing field. He demanded the highest academic achievements and character from his players . . . to win at the game of life. That 1970 championship team bred many successful people—six to become medical doctors, three judges, many leaders in the military and law enforcement, and countless CEOs—of whom he was very proud.
The 1960s was a very turbulent time, but Dad managed to sail the UL football ship through those times, bringing his players safely through the storm. Dad was mentally tough, but also had a very kind heart and would give people a leg up. In retrospect, he was a progressive thinker, especially when it came to how one should treat others. He was an early advocate for inclusiveness, integration, feminism, and providing ways to help those with special needs make contributions and create value and pride.
My sister and I remember our house being a joyful place, especially at post-game parties where people would be singing around the piano with Dad as the ringmaster of the entire show. Dad loved the music of the time and Aquarius by the 5th Dimension was his favorite. But, he especially appreciated when the UL band would inspire his team by playing RESPECT by the late Aretha Franklin. Our family was close to the families of all the coaches, and we remember Ray Blanco with particular fondness as Dad’s right hand man who was always kind to us. In fact, we called him “Coachie.”
Only a few months before his death, his players honored him at a Reunion of the cheerleaders, players, coaches and staff from his coaching era, which was also attended by the then governor of the state. That event meant the world to him and to our family. Most of Dad’s teams played in McNaspy Stadium. But, due to the teams’ successes, the university and the community built Cajun Field where his teams played his last three seasons. We thank you for this honor you are bestowing upon Russ Faulkinberry today. He would be so proud that a prominent part of this house will bear his name. And, hopefully the Cajuns’ winningest coach’s spirit will bring the Cajuns a winning season in 2018!