Roland Ortmayer squints against the Southern California sun and describes who he is: "I'm a teacher, a kayaker and a rafter, a fly-fisherman and a mountain climber, not to mention being a husband, father and grandfather." No, he's more than that, says University of La Verne
president Stephen Morgan: "He may be a type of Socrates." No, more than that, says one of his students: "He's God-like." No, more than that, says a former student: "All he will do is change your life entirely."
Notice how no one, including Ortmayer, mentions that he is also a football coach. Indeed, to say Ortmayer is a coach diminishes the man—it's like praising Picasso for knowing the primary colors—though it elevates the profession. Roland Ortmayer, 72, from Roundup, Mont., and in his 42nd year as head coach at Division III La Verne, is the most unusual football coach in the U.S. He is far out of the mainstream of coaching thought. But is he the best coach? You judge.
"We field a football team at La Verne because a certain percentage of young men at this age like to play," says Ortmayer. "That's the only reason. If you try to get me to say it's to build character or healthy bodies or establish a reputation for La Verne, that would not be essentially true. It seems to me that winning football somehow speaks for many universities, and I would think some of them would be embarrassed to allow their football programs to speak for them. Football to me is like climbing a mountain. The climbing is where it's at. When you finally reach the top of the mountain, all it is, is cold and windy."
The point for Ort—that is how he is known by all—is that the value is in the playing, not the winning. Ort believes that every football team should win about half the time. That's what Ort has done at La Verne, a liberal arts school of 1,000 students whose campus is 30 miles east of Los Angeles. His record is 172-185-6, a winning percentage of .482, which would have gotten him fired years ago at almost any other school.
Each year Ort schedules three games he expects to win, three that are toss-ups, three that he figures he'll lose. "Sometimes I have the feeling that justice will not have prevailed if we win." he says. The Leopards have never won the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship outright, but twice they have tied for it. "That's good," he says. "We have never clearly been the best team." Ort prefers that the better team win, which very often means his team's opponents. After a 19-13 loss to Occidental last season, a reporter asked Ort if La Verne could have done anything to stop Oxy.
"Yeah, tackle 'em," he replied.
"You didn't do very well running the ball, did you?" the reporter persisted.
"No. We're no good on the ground because you have to block and our guys are not into blocking."
And that is significant. If his guys are not into blocking—and they decidedly were not against Occidental—that's fine with Ort. After all, the players are the ones who said they wanted to play football, not Ort. In fact, before that game Ort had mused. "I think I'll give them a stirring speech: "O.K., we scheduled the game, so let's play it.' That will be enough." Rockne he is not.
But how far, truly, is Ort—athletic director, football coach, track coach, kayaker, rafter, fly-fisherman, mountain climber, husband, father, grandfather and teacher of 10 phys ed courses a year—out of the mainstream?