By Janie McCauley
PARKLAND – Frosty Westering limps along with his two artificial hips. He’s had two cataract operations and hernia surgery. Days away from his 74th birthday and six victories shy of 300 wins, he has no plans to retire as football coach at Pacific Lutheran University.
“I’m like a car with 200,000-mile checkups,” he says with a smile. “I’ve gotta get new parts.”
But his approach to coaching hasn’t needed a tuneup. He is the reason athletes come to PLU, a private school of 3,500 students near Tacoma.
Westering, one of the most successful college football coaches in the country at any level, has the Lutes in the playoffs again. PLU (8-2) heads to Fargo, N.D., Saturday to play St. John’s (10-2) in the quarterfinals of the Division III playoffs.
Heavy snowfall forced the game to be moved from Collegeville, Minn., home of St. John’s, to The Fargodome, the home stadium of North Dakota State University. The Johnnies field was a muddy quagmire after last Saturday’s game, and the snow this week made the field unplayable.
St. John’s coach John Garliardi has 387 wins in 53 seasons, the last 49 years at the Minnesota school.
This is Westering’s 30th year at PLU and 38th as a head college coach. His team rallied from an 0-2 start, and won two overtime playoff games. Westering has 294 career victories – 250 at PLU.
It’s the fourth year in a row PLU and St. John’s have met in the playoffs. The Johnnies eliminated the Lutes in the first round of the playoffs in 1998 and in the second round last year. PLU won in ‘99 on the way to the national title.
The Lutes have had 33 straight winning seasons. Yet Westering is quick to point out that’s not the priority at PLU, where there’s no football stadium – the team lists Sparks Stadium, the high school field in nearby Puyallup, as its home turf.
It’s about fun and learning about life through sports, he says.
For example, his players work with middle and elementary school pupils in lower-income neighborhoods in Tacoma. A note on Westering’s desk is a request for a “rainbow sign” for a pupil’s grandmother who’s in the hospital and not breathing well. The team makes about 50 of these signs a year, each player signing their name and adding a greeting.
“Years ago, I realized how important it is to encourage people when things aren’t going well,” Westering says.
In his office, where artificial turf serves as carpet – the yard lines need to be repainted, he notes – Westering pulls items from his makeshift tool kit. First, a blue toy car and then a red one, both with pop-up hoods.
“The red car is what most people think winning is, with the power source comparing yourself to others,” he says. “The blue one is comparing to your best self.” Then he grabs a toy toilet, complete with a handle “to flush your mistakes.”
He picked up the nickname Frosty as a boy in Missouri Valley, Iowa. He was 11 or 12, he’s not certain, and worked at the soda fountain in his father’s pharmacy. Westering would sneak frosty malts to all his friends.
His real name is Forrest.
“I lost it so early in life, nobody knows it,” he says. “Some people send mail to only Frosty, Tacoma, Washington, and it gets to me.”
He has a lot of fans. He’s working on his second book.
“I think he enjoys what he’s doing and that’s why he’s still there,” said John Tully, football coach at Whitworth College in Spokane.
Westering’s team eliminated Tully’s Pirates with a 27-26 overtime win in the first round of the playoffs.
Tully often calls Westering to congratulate the longtime coach on yet another playoff victory. It’s hard not to be fond of Frosty.
“I really like him and obviously he’s done a tremendous job at PLU,” Tully said. “The nice thing is he’s raised the bar in the Northwest and nationally. For us, that’s a great thing because we needed to elevate our program to that standard.”
Westering’s son, Scott, an assistant coach for the Lutes, is set to take over the program if his father ever retires, and if he gets the job.
Westering has coached 48 sets of brothers, three at once one season. He even coached his grandson, Chad Johnson, who was the Lutes’ starting quarterback and now is an assistant coach with the team.
Westering gives chances to players from small towns, and those from the city, who can’t make Division I rosters. One suggestion: egos go elsewhere.
He even gives second chances. Todd McDevitt, a senior receiver who spent two seasons playing for Western Washington University in Bellingham, said he wanted to join a program that stressed more than just winning.
McDevitt has become one of the team’s top receivers with 33 catches for 509 yards and five touchdowns this season.
“Anyone who extends themselves to him, he’s so eager to help,” McDevitt said. “The key thing about Frosty is he’s so genuine.”
The clutter in his modest-sized office doesn’t bother Westering. There are pieces from all his years, trophies, team photos and motivational sayings in every space.
“It’s so hard to explain,” he says of his success. “Today in the pro world, winning is the only thing. … The best thing to teach kids is it’s not about being No. 1 or no one.”
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