Lamb retires from active duty at Williams

The practices are over. The games have ended. The e-mails need answering. The new athletic field on upper Cole Field will bear his name. After 35 years of coaching and establishing his influence and impact on Williams College, retirement hasn’t really sunk in yet for Renzie Lamb.

“It’s great to be able to drive and see the trees,” Lamb said on his way to lunch. “It’s nice to not have to rush from everything that you have to do. But for me, all retirement means is that you’re not on duty 24/7. I don’t intend to miss anything. I’m going to stay involved. People will still call, just not at two in the morning, I hope.”

Indeed, after 35 years of coaching and teaching at Williams, the former football and lacrosse coach has earned those nights of rest. In his time here, he has been a football coach, lacrosse coach, squash coach, Physical Education instructor and, most importantly, a teacher and a mentor. No one who knows or speaks of Lamb refers to him as anything but “Renzie” or “Coach.”

While Lamb knows he won’t be leaving Williams and doesn’t believe his impact will lessen, others on campus aren’t so sure. “He’s a great guy, a wonderful person who cares about you individually,” lacrosse midfielder Scott Wilbur ’04 said. “It will definitely be different next year.” After four years of playing for Lamb, tri-captain Chris Hayes ’03 noted, “I’m glad I had all four years with him. It would be weird to be coming back and not having him greet me for the first lacrosse practice.”

The former high school history teacher has stayed involved with all aspects of the campus. One of the best roles he filled on campus was that of Freshman Advisor. “You got tremendous insight into those three or four kids during that first year,” Lamb said. “I just had one rule for them; you had to take Art History 101.”

A former Marine, Lamb brought the lessons he learned there with him to campus. It was about a sense of camaraderie, but also about taking responsibility. And Lamb was the first to show that responsibility. “I’ve bailed kids out of jail,” the coach said. “It used to be, whenever a kid got in trouble for doing donuts on Cole Field, they’d think, who can we call? Call Coach Lamb.”

For Lamb, teaching kids was a full time job. He loved the kids he came across at Williams, and he loved having an impact on them. “I’m proud of the kids that get perfect scores on the MCAT, the LSAT,” Lamb said. “Here at Williams, we’re the best. I didn’t accept mediocrity on the playing fields, and the professors don’t accept it in the classroom. Williams is special for that.”

But he’s worried that the completeness of the Williams education is suffering: “Here at Williams, we have to take pride in being the best at what you do.” Lamb said with a pound of his fist on the table. “Too many people here don’t believe you can be the best in more than one area, and they think that they can control it. The kids at Williams know what they want – an education. They won’t let me take that away from them with lacrosse. We should support them in being all that they can, being the best in everything.”

Lamb’s emphasis on excellence in academics as well as athletics has a long history. After growing up in Brooklyn and graduating from Hofstra, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, where he coached football and softball. One of his football teams won the service championship and his softball team won the Far East championship while he was stationed in Hawaii.

Upon discharge, Lamb had been promised a job at his alma mater. To Williams’ lasting betterment, Hofstra was unable to offer him the job, as the ex-sergeant who had promised him the job was accused of hiring too many ex-Marines. Instead, Lamb took a job teaching AP History and Economics at Iona Prep on Long Island. Not surprisingly, he was also a football and lacrosse coach at the school. But Lamb always wanted to get back into college. And so he jumped at the chance to come to Williams.

When asked what his legacy would be, what he was most proud of, Lamb took a while to answer. “I’m very proud that some of my former players are coming back to teach in the leadership studies class,” a somewhat subdued coach beamed.

Hayes was astounded at the number of people who showed up at the banquet held two weeks ago in Lamb’s honor. “I was absolutely blown away by the number of people there, from all of the country,” the All-NESCAC selection said. “It’s a testament to just how big of an impact he’s made, and makes me feel lucky that I was able to spend those last four years with him.”

Lamb, too, remembers that banquet fondly, but his fondest memories are of his times teaching at Williams. “The most memorable moment when I was here was in my Phys. Ed. classes,” Lamb said. “The person who, at the end of six weeks, comes up to me and says, ‘Thanks coach, I love squash,’ that’s special. A captured soul, required to be there, giving me attendance, and I’m able to get them to see something new, that’s memorable. That will be what I miss the most.

“I’d like to think that Mark Hopkins, when he was done sitting on that log, that the student walked away thinking, ‘I loved that time.’ If they said that to Mark Hopkins, and said that to me now, then it’s been a good life,” Lamb said.

In 1972, Lamb interviewed for the head football job. After what he described as “a good interview,” he was surprised to be taken aside by President Jack Sawyer, who told him, “You’re not going to get the job. If you got it, we’d lose you, and I want you to stay here with the boys.” Thirty-one years later, the College is finally losing Lamb and the community will definitely miss him. Williams College has lost a giant, but hopefully not completely. All of those players and students he’s met and touched as individuals will still be calling him, though with any luck not at two in the morning.