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UA legend Dick Tomey passes away at the age of 80


TUCSON – After a five-month battle with lung cancer, University of Arizona legend, Dick Tomey passed away Friday at the age of 80.

The former Arizona head football coach was diagnosed with a type of lung cancer in January. Tomey has since been receiving treatment to combat the deadly disease.

The family of Coach Tomey released the following statement following his death:

It is with great sadness that we share the news of Dick Tomey’s death on May 10, 2019 @ 9:30pm. He died surrounded by his family, resting peacefully, after battling lung cancer for months. We are all heartbroken to lose him, but are forever grateful to have shared his life.

To us, Dick Tomey was one of a kind. Known for his room-for-everyone big-heartedness, generous spiritedness (to a fault), instinctive kindness, love and respect for people of all walks, and the ease with which he forgave himself and others and moved on with life without resentments—taught all of us so much. Dick Tomey was never petty, never small minded. He was a man who discovered his mission in life, embraced it, enjoyed it, and accomplished amazing things. When speaking of football, he often said, “Football is not complicated. People are.” He was always, first and foremost, a people person.

On the football field he was a tough as nails coach, who loved fierce competition and the thrill of team-building. He loved his players, every single one of them—always. He was hard on them. He constantly raised the bar. He could do that because he knew how to find the goodness and the talent in people. If he didn’t find it immediately, he kept looking until he did, and once he found goodness/talent he never lost sight of it. He expressed his admiration and raised his expectations—and watched both things multiply. Just that gift alone changed lives, including some of ours. When it came to football, Dick Tomey had an eye for undiscovered ability, an eye for raw potential, an eye for leadership—and a deep regard for guys who walked on, who sacrificed to play the game simply because they loved it. He was never afraid to be the underdog coach, with the underdog team… in fact, he was partial to taking his underdog team(s) in to play the moneyed power schools… and his teams won their share of those games.

Off the field Dick was a beautiful human being. His was a loving spirit. He was a natural leader, a natural teacher. His gift of oratory was legendary. Nearly everyone who knew him can quote Dick Tomey on some subject. Words were his most powerful tool (even his profanity was eloquent). When he spoke he made listeners out of non-listeners, believers out of non-believers. He lifted, he challenged, he inspired. He could change the way a person thought about life, about the world around him, and the person would be better for the change. His own family is proof of that.

Dick Tomey never aspired to fame or fortune. As a young man he dreamed of coaching junior high football. His long career included its share of hard knocks and frustrations, but he insisted, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” It was his selflessness and dedication to the common good that always propelled him forward.

As a family we rarely talk about how many games Dick Tomey won—we talk about how many hearts he won… including all of ours.

The Indiana native joined the University of Arizona football program after coaching the University of Hawaii to its first top-20 Associated Press ranking season. The Western Athletic Conference Coach of the Year quickly made an impact on the Wildcats, crafting the notorious “Desert Swarm” defense and leading them to two of the three ten-win seasons in school history.

Tomey was also named Pac-10 Coach of the Year in 1992. The former DePauw football player currently holds the most wins of all UA football coaches at 95 wins.

Coach Dick Tomey at halftime of tonight’s game versus Colorado. He was inducted into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame. #BearDown

Posted by Arizona Football on Saturday, November 8, 2014

The football legend also served as an assistant defensive coach for the San Francisco 49ers, and assistant head coach and defensive ends coach for the Texas Longhorns. During his tenure in the NFL, Tomey help lead the Longhorns to a victory in the team’s first Rose Bowl appearance.

Tomey coached the Wildcats from 1987 through 2000.

Arizona Athletics says a celebration of Life will be announced at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, the Dick Tomey Legacy Fund has been established through the Positive Coaching Alliance (501c3). 100% of these funds will go directly to providing scholarships and programming for underserved youth in the markets where Dick spent the majority of his years in the community as the Head Football Coach.

Visit to designate the Hawaii, Arizona, or Bay Area Chapter as the beneficiary of your donation to the Dick Tomey Legacy Fund.

Anthony Victor Reyes

Anthony Victor Reyes

Anthony Victor Reyes is the lead digital content producer at News 4 Tucson. The award-winning journalist previously worked as a community reporter in Jasper County, Iowa.
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