ORONO, Maine – Harold Westerman was known as one of the architects of the Wing-T offense which combined a power running game with clever misdirection plays or counters.
The Wing-T and his prowess as a defensive coach enabled Westerman to post a career coaching record at the University of Maine of 80-39-7.
Westerman, who went on to serve as the athletic director at Maine, has died at the age of 94.
Westerman is just one of four members of the Black Bear Football Ring of Honor, being inducted in 2007.
Westerman, known to many as “Westy,” devoted 33 years to UMaine as an assistant coach (1949-50), head coach (1951-66) and athletic director (1967-82).
After taking over the head coaching duties in 1951, he won consecutive football conference titles in ’51 and ’52, including an undefeated record of 6-0-1 in ’51.
He added another undefeated record, 8-0-1, in 1961 to capture his third conference title.
In 1965, Westerman led the Black Bears to perhaps their greatest season ever, going 8-2, winning the Yankee Conference title and the Lambert Trophy. Maine advanced to play in the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
His players garnered 53 Yankee Conference honors and three All-America honors.
A year after his retirement as AD in 1982, he was inducted into the National Association of Directors of Athletics Hall of Fame. In 1990, Westerman was inducted into the UMaine Sports Hall of Fame.
“He always preached family,” said Walt Abbott, who played for Westerman and coached under him before becoming the head coach and serving as the athletic director.
“Nobody was there on scholarship so he preached playing for the love of the game and the family aspect of it,” said Abbott. “That went over well with the players.”
Abbott said Westerman also harped on discipline and dedication and left no stone unturned.
He was a stickler for “every detail” according to Abbott.
“He really worked the staff. We would start (preparing for a game) on a Sunday morning at 9 and when we got home, the birds would be singing (the following morning). I’d brush my teeth, get a bite to eat and go back to work,” said Abbott.
Another of his strong suits was defense and creating a scheme that would shut down the opponent.
“He spent a lot of time on it,” said Abbott.
Carl “Stump” Merrill played for Westerman for two years and coached under Abbott after Westerman became the athletic director.
“We all had great respect for him,” said Merrill. “When I played, we still played in the State Series (against Bowdoin, Bates and Colby) and in the Yankee Conference. We were pretty much the kingpins in the State Series and were a challenging team in the Yankee Conference and Westy was the guy who spearheaded that.
“He was dedicated to the kids and the school,” added Merrill.
Westerman, a native of Kansas, graduated from Michigan in 1942 and joined the staff in 1949 under coach Dave Nelson. After helping to create the Wing-T offense, it immediately resulted in a Yankee Conference Championship in 1949.
He has taught it to numerous coaches.
“We’d been tinkering with it, and it got to the point where we needed to run the Wing-T to make use of our personnel,” Westerman told the Bangor Daily News in 2007, when Bangor High School coach Mark Hackett contacted him about how to run the offense.
Stu Haskell worked in sports information and served as the business manager at Maine and also went on to become the athletic director.
“His counsel, friendship and steady hand at the wheel was so significant, we will always remember him in the fondest of ways,” said Haskell. “He was an extraordinary coach and a role model as an athletic director. He was one of those individuals who made everyone around him better.
“His players idolized him and I know they idolize him even more today,” added Haskell.
Haskell said one of Westerman’s major accomplishments as an athletic director was starting the men’s hockey program in 1977, a year after the Alfond Arena was built on the campus.
“More than anyone else, he was the guy most responsible for bringing ice hockey to Maine,” said Haskell, who pointed out Westerman’s relationship with the late Harold Alfond helped in Alfond’s decision to donate money that was pivotal in the building of the arena.
“Westy thought Maine people would really support the program. I was one of the skeptics. I told him this was a basketball state.
“He was right,” said Haskell, who considered Westerman a “wonderful guy.
“He was a warm-hearted individual who was always concerned about somebody else’s well-being and welfare,” said Haskell.
Haskell said Westerman had an impressive list of contacts across the country.
“On more than one occasion, I’d be in his office and he’d receive a phone call from one of the most prominent coaches in the country seeking advice on players or a football formation,” said Haskell, who also got to meet some of these prominent coaches and spend time with them at events he attended with Westerman.
Former Maine sports information specialist Len Harlow said Westerman was “very easy to work for.
“He let you do your job,” said Harlow.
His love for the university never dampened, even after his retirement, said Harlow.
“He bled Blue and White,” said Harlow. “It was evident in everything he did.”
Former Maine baseball coach and Colby College baseball coach and athletic director John Winkin said Westerman was a nice man and a “very sincere man” and he respected him.
“He and I would have differences of opinion on matters but I always respected him. He was honest. He was a square shooter, no doubt about it,” said Winkin.
Winkin also echoed Harlow’s sentiments about Westerman’s passion for the university.
“He really loved Maine and he loved Maine football. He really knew the game well,” said Winkin.
“He was a great mentor and friend, attending practices, addressing our recent teams, and sharing in the joy of our 2011 success,” said Maine head football coach Jack Cosgrove. “For everyone who knew, played or coached with coach Westerman, you have our deepest sympathies.”