Editor’s Note: William Lawson was the Head Coach at Lafayette College for 31 years, and his tragic passing has been noted across the lacrosse media landscape. In order to help remember Bill Lawson, and let our younger readers know what a big difference this one man made in so many lives, I asked one of his former players, John Moser, to write a remembrance of Coach Lawson.
Lacrosse lost a great ambassador, and representative of the game, this past weekend. Bill Lawson passed away Saturday afternoon in a car accident on Route 78 in Clinton, NJ, as he was heading to his home in Easton, PA. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him.
Coach Lawson was 79 years old, always coaching, and always making people he knew feel important to him.
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In today’s competitive environment, with our heavy emphasis on wins and losses, conference championships, and recruiting, we sometimes miss the great coaches of men that our sport produces. Bill Lawson was one of those coaches. Coach Lawson was never known for his fancy offense or stoic defense. He was not a great innovator, or a renowned tactician. He won many accolades for coaching, but most were about the man, and not the record.
Bill was known for his treatment of players and staff. He always treated everyone with candor and respect. Coach Lawson was not afraid to tell you how you could play better, but he always made sure that even the least skilled of his players felt appreciated and wanted. He demanded that same behavior from those around him, and had no tolerance for people without substance.
A Lafayette teammate of mine, Mark Enman, called me at 8pm on Saturday night to let me know that Coach Lawson had died in a car accident. No longer the Head Coach of Lafayette College, Bill stepped down begrudgingly in 2002. But since Bill was always coaching, the idea of stopping never occurred to him. Last season, at the age 79, he was still a volunteer assistant at Lafayette under Coach Rogalski. First reports were that Lawson was driving home from a weekend at the shore when his car crashed. I later got this note from my old Captain, Bob Wheatley and this set the record straight:
I received a call from an Army assistant coach that I have known for years. Coach was not driving home from the shore, he was coming from Army’s lacrosse camp. He had a great camp (as usual the kids all loved him), he was in good spirits, and spent the time just before leaving talking to my friend about their mutual experiences at Springfield College (where Bill went to school).
He spent his last days doing, and being around, what he loved, the game. I just got back from vacation but was lucky enough to speak to him on Thursday before I left. As usual we were talking about days gone by at Lafayette. He was laughing about the North Carolina trip that we took in his old green station wagon.
Bob Wheatley described Coach Lawson’s last day exactly how I remember my first meeting with him…
”This is Coach Lawson from the college,” Those were the first words I heard on the phone from Bill as he began the recruiting process with me in 1976. He told he how great a player I could be, how much fun I could have and how much I would learn if I went to Lafayette College, and he then added, “you don’t live far, so your parents can see you play almost every game!”
Lawson was always talking about the great times, not the just great plays; the great people, not just great teams. He was always focused on doing what he loved, and he had no time for anything else. He was a coach, and no matter what the sport, he was going to coach. He knew life was so much more than what happens between the sidelines. “Coach Lawson from the college” has never been too far from my mind. His impact was so subtle yet so substantial.
Even when I look back through my clouded lens of 30 years, I know I was never a star for Bill on the Lafayette lacrosse field. But in every encounter I ever had with him, I felt important and cared for. He always knew what you were doing and where you had been. Quick with a joke, I never left a conversation with Coach without a smile on my face, and he did the same thing with every one of his athletes.
Coach Lawson from the college leaves a legacy of tolerance and appreciation, as well as frankness and honesty. In his career he has passed these skills on, to well over 6000 Lafayette athletes (he coached swimming, diving, and tennis as well), and some of them are leading major Fortune 500 companies, while others are coaching youth lacrosse teams. I know every one of Bill’s athletes has a hole in their heart for the man who meant so much to us all.
Coach Lawson will be buried in Arlington Cemetery this week. He loved the service, and his country. Bill will be laid to rest with other great leaders and heroes who left us all too soon.
When it comes to great coaches in lacrosse history, Coach Lawson will not be grouped with the likes of Dave Pietramala, Bill Tierney, and Richie Moran, but for those who knew him, he leaves as one on the greatest coaches ever. Coach Lawson left life as he lived it, teaching about life, with a lacrosse stick in his hands.