Ex-coach Claiborne dies at 72
Jerry Claiborne, who was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame last year, dies of a heart attack.
September 25, 2000
From Staff And Wire Reports
The Roanoke Times

Jerry Claiborne steered Virginia Tech to 61 wins in 10 seasons.

Claiborne, who was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in April 1999, was 72.

Claiborne was 61-39-2 as the Hokies' coach from 1961-70 before being fired. He later served as the head coach at Maryland and Kentucky.

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer played for Claiborne from 1966-68.

'Claiborne was really important in my life ... in teaching me to be a good football coach.'
FRANK BEAMER "It always comes as a shock to hear news like that," Beamer said, upon learning of Claiborne's death Sunday night. "What I will always remember about him is what a great coach he was. Claiborne was really important in my life, as much as anybody, really, in teaching me to be a good football coach."

Claiborne had been living in Bowling Green, Ky., since 1996. He had complained of abdominal pain in recent weeks and visited The Medical Center in Bowling Green last Monday, his son Jonathan said.

Doctors removed Claiborne's gall bladder last Wednesday but found other problems that required more intensive hospitalization, his son said. Claiborne was moved to Vanderbilt on Thursday and underwent more surgery Friday, his son said.

Claiborne suffered a heart attack about 1:30 a.m. Sunday and doctors' efforts to revive him failed, Jonathan Claiborne said.

"It's so sad because he worked out religiously," said Virginia Tech announcer Mike Burnop, who played for Claiborne's 1970 Tech team. "He was always playing handball, racquetball, running. He never drank nor smoked."

Claiborne was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame along with 14 others at a dinner in New York last December. That was the last time Beamer saw him. Claiborne and the others were enshrined at the Hall of Fame in a ceremony at Notre Dame last month.

Claiborne retired in 1989 as the 21st-winningest coach in college football history with a career record of 179-122-8.

Claiborne was named Southern Conference Coach of the Year in 1963 after steering the Hokies to their only outright Southern Conference title. He took the 1996 and 1968 Tech teams to the Liberty Bowl.

"He was a disciplinarian - no sideburns. Your hair couldn't touch your ears," Burnop said. "We called him 'The Hawk' because he would stand up in that practice-field tower with a bullhorn in his hands. You never wanted to mess up because you knew he was going to blow that horn and holler your name out.

"He was a defensive wizard. When he was at Tech, he felt like three things could happen when you threw the ball and they were all bad. ... At Maryland, he threw the ball a lot, which showed you he could change his style to fit the game."

Claiborne was a blocking back and defensive back for Kentucky between 1946-1949, when they were coached by Paul "Bear" Bryant. Claiborne was an assistant to Bryant at Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama.

Claiborne was 77-37-4 with seven bowl bids and three ACC titles at Maryland from 1972-81. He was 41-46-3 with two bowl bids at Kentucky from 1982-89.

Claiborne struggled with Alzheimer's disease in recent years but still took an interest in the Kentucky football program. He even attended some games last season, his son said.

Memorial services are tentatively planned for Thursday in Hopkinsville, Ky., where Claiborne grew up. Claiborne is survived by his wife, five siblings, two sons and two daughters.

In an interview on the day he was elected to the Hall of Fame last year, Claiborne was joyful.

"I just kept my fingers crossed," Claiborne said. "I was sure hoping I'd get to it."

"When I was a kid, I wanted to be a football coach," Claiborne said. "The victories were the best thing, but also the players gave all they could. We didn't have people loafing or a whole lot of discipline problems."

Beamer said last year that Claiborne "was everything good about college football."

"He was honest, he was hardworking, he was sound as a coach. And generally, you won with him," Beamer said last year. "He was respected by the players, but at least in certain people there was an amount of fear because he had a way of putting fear in your heart."

"None of this, including me being here, would have happened as it has if coach Claiborne hadn't taken a chance on a guy a lot of people wouldn't take a chance on," Beamer said.