Former EMU coaches: Tony Lombardi
Since we’re currently at the football season antipode right now, and the men’s basketball team, frankly, stinks, I though it would be a good time to start looking at some aspects of EMU athletic history. Today we start with the head coach with the shortest tenure of anyone in EMU’s 120 seasons of football: just one game.
Tony Lombardi (as far as I can find, unrelated to Vince Lombardi) was born in Park Forest, Illinois, a southern suburb of Chicago. His father, Bob Lombardi, was a high school football coach in the area. Lombardi attended Rich East High School in Park Forest, graduating in 1980. While in high school, he played tailback on the football team, which was coached by his father.
Lombardi played running back for the Arizona State University Sun Devils from 1980 through 1983, and was awarded a varsity letter for all four years of play. Lombardi went undrafted in the 1984 NFL Draft and signed as a free agent with the Chicago Bears. However, he did not make the team’s roster. Lombardi also briefly played professionally with the Montreal Concordes in the Canadian Football League.
After spending the 1985 season as defensive coordinator for his alma mater, Rich East High School, Lombardi served as defensive backs coach for the Wisconsin Badgers while earning a Master’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. From 1989 through 1996 he was the defensive coordinator for the NCAA Division II Mankato State Mavericks (now Minnesota State University).
In 1997, then- EMUhead coach Rick Rasnick hired him as the linebackers coach for EMU, and in the 1998 and 1999 seasons, he served as the team’s defensive coordinator.
On November 16, 1999, EMU Athletic Director Dave Diles held a press conference to announce that he had fired Rasnick as head coach. Diles announced that Lombardi would serve as the interim head coach for the final game of the season, four days later, against Northern Illinois, saying, “I felt it was best to make a change at this time to begin an immediate search for a new head football coach. After undergoing a very thorough and comprehensive assessment of our football program I’m convinced that Rick Rasnick is not the person to take our football team to a Mid-American Conference championship level.” Lombardi’s one game as a head coach was a 24-30 loss to the Northern Illinois Huskies on November 20, 1999 that was played in DeKalb, Illinois. With the loss on the last game of the year under Lombardi, the team concluded its season with a record of 4–7.
At the end of EMU’s 1999 season, none of Rasnick’s assistant coaches were retained. Lombardi did apply for the permanant head coaching position at EMU, but Diles instead hired Jeff Woodruff. I’ve not been able to find what he did in the 2000 season, but in 2001, Lombardi was the defensive coordinator for the short-lived Chicago Enforcers of the XFL. When the XFL folded after one year, Lombardi decided to stay close to home coaching high school football in order to spend more time with his four-year-old son Rocky, saying, “Football has been so great, providing me with everything I’ve had in life. There’s no way I was going to let Rocky grow up hating football because his dad is always gone.” In 2002, Lombardi became the head coach at Homewood-Flossmoor High School in Homewood, Illinois, where his father had been coach in the late 1960s, and he quickly
revitalized the struggling team. However, after just one season, Lombardi left Homewood-Flossmoor without explanation, taking over at Hinsdale Central High School in Hinsdale, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago.
After three seasons at Hinsdale Central, in which the team posted a 30-7 record, two trips to the Class 8A quarterfinals and one trip to the semifinals, Lombardi was fired in March 2006. His lawsuit against the school district for breach of contract was settled for $10,000, and within a month he was hired by Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he remains the head coach today.
If you have any other information about Lombardi, or any personal recollections, please share them in the comments!