For a person to have passion and excitement in their occupation as they're employed is something we're missing. Then to have that after retirement is a gifted person. —Eric Houle, on Steve Lunt
Eric Houle, Southern Utah's highly successful track and cross country coach, fondly remembers meeting Dr. Steve Lunt in 1975. Then the SUU track coach, Lunt had a nice chat with Houle after he'd won a state title in the two-mile run at that meet and offered him a scholarship the following year.
As he reflected on his former coach's life Wednesday afternoon, Houle respectfully admitted, "I never knew the impact he was going to have in my life at that moment."
There are hundreds of other former and current coaches and athletes who feel the same way about a Southern Utah University legend who was greatly admired and who impacted countless student-athletes in Utah and beyond.
Lunt, heralded for helping transform SUU into "The Coaching Factory" over the past few decades, passed away on Tuesday. He was 82.
Houle said you wouldn't have known Lunt was officially retired by the way he continued "working his magic" to bring competitions and tournaments to Cedar City and by continually reaching out to alumni to make sure they knew SUU appreciated them.
"For a person to have passion and excitement in their occupation as they're employed is something we're missing," Houle said. "Then to have that after retirement is a gifted person."
Lunt was as loyal to SUU as they come, having spent more than a half-century there as an athlete, coach and athletic director. On Wednesday, the university's Twitter account posted a quote he shared about his feelings for the Cedar City school where he worked in a variety of positions, including chairman of the Physical Education Department, track and field coach, head athletic trainer, a football and basketball assistant coach, AD, and as the assistant to the president for special events and projects.
"SUU has been my whole life," Lunt said. "I was raised here, and the university has afforded me everything in my life."
Lunt assisted in SUU's transition from an NAIA athletics program to NCAA Division I status, and founded the Utah Champions Awards, the SUU Athletic Hall of Fame, the Coaching Factory Hall of Fame and co-founded the Utah Summer Games.
Lunt was looking forward to what he referred to as his "swan song event" — the Banquet of Champions — that's scheduled for June 13, 2018. In a letter he sent to the Deseret News last month, Lunt proudly noted that he'd worked at CSU-SUSC-SUU for 53 years as well as five years in the public school system. He credited the late Dan Pattison, a former Deseret News sports writer, for coming up with "The Coaching Factory" nickname, which took on a life of its own.
"I merely took it and ran with it, and it has proven to be successful," Lunt wrote. He expressed thanks to recipients of the letter, saying, "To each of you I extend my deepest appreciation and gratitude for all the help-guidance-support you have shown to me."
Lunt's legacy and SUU's coaching track record are impressive. More than 40 percent of all Utah high school football coaches were trained in the Coaching Factory, twice as many as BYU and Utah, according to Southern Utah's website. Many Utah high school principals — 31 percent as recently as 2014 — come from this Big Sky Conference institution. The Coaching Factory program helps students focus on learning about coaching and getting hands-on leadership experience as part of their college education.
"If people want good attorneys, they look to a great law school to find them," the late Lunt is quoted as saying on the university's website. "If you want a good coach, or any kind of practitioner of physical education, you look to a great physical education school — SUU."
Between 1998-89 and 2016-17, the teams of high school coaches who came through SUU's program won 18 national championships, 593 state titles, had 432 runner-up finishes, 18 national coach of the year honorees and two National High School Federation Hall of Fame inductees (former Mountain View High girls basketball/cross country coach Dave Houle and Moapa Valley, Nevada, wrestling coach Marty Taggart). Former prep coaches Dave Peck (Bingham), Larry Wilson (Highland) and Doug Berry (Alta) are among the many who graduated from SUU.
Houle marvels at the lives being positively impacted by those who were first influenced by Lunt. "The valuation of people that he touched is one that I think is remarkable."
Portland State coach Barret Peery, a Payson native, sent his condolences via Twitter after learning of Lunt's passing. Peery played at Southern Utah from 1993-95 and then returned to coach the Thunderbirds as an assistant in two stints (1995-96; 1998-2002). Peery was also an assistant at Utah (2008-11) and Arizona State (2014-15) prior to being hired by the Vikings.
"The world lost a GREAT ONE last night with the passing of Dr. Steve Lunt!!" he wrote. "A tremendous educator, leader, mentor, family man and much more...Appreciate EVERYTHING he did for me and so many other coaches! He will be missed!!! #coaching factory."
Juab School District superintendent Rick Robins was also among Lunt's admirers who went to social media to share feelings of sadness over the loss.
"I’m heartbroken to hear of @SUUThunderbirds passing of Dr. Steve Lunt," Robins wrote. "Thoughts and prayers to his family. An amazing friend and mentor to us all. I’m so proud to be part of his legacy. #CoachingFactory"
Houle said Lunt was recently in his office. He'll remember the "soft grin and a nod" his old coach would give him as a sign "that things were OK." And Lunt, he said, treated everyone the same way, looking out for student-athletes and "giving and giving and giving" all the way until the end of his life.
Houle added in admiration, "If I'm 82 and I'm still living with that kind of passion, I will be blessed."