There was a second set of stadium lights illuminating the night sky during the frigid Laramie Friday night.
At one stadium, more than 21,000 boisterous University of Wyoming fans were cheering their Cowboys to a Border War victory against heated rival Colorado State.
At the same time just a stone’s throw down the road to the northwest on the corner of North 15th Street and East Reynolds Street, the stadium lights came back on and the red numbers on the scoreboard pierced through the quiet, frozen air above a snow-laden football field of natural grass.
The numbers on the clock at the original Deti Stadium read 19:39 and the scores were 20 and 19 – 1939-2019.
It was a fittingly solemn tribute to Deacon “Coach” John R. Deti, 80, who passed away Thursday in Cheyenne.
Visitation will be from 2-5 p.m. Tuesday at Montgomery-Stryker Funeral Home in Laramie, followed by a 6 p.m. rosary at St. Laurence O’Toole Catholic Church. The funeral mass will be at 10 a.m. the next day.
Deti was a longtime, legendary football coach at Laramie High School from 1977-2002. He also previously coached at Mullen High School in Denver (1964-65), Cody High School (1965-66) and Sheridan High School (1966-70). He came back home to Laramie and took the reins of the Plainsmen program after his father, John Deti Sr., began the family legacy coaching football at Laramie from 1944-76. The father and son coaching duo guided Laramie football for 58 straight years.
“During a first home game I was up in the press box and I had a headset on,” said longtime LHS coach Gil Bradfield, who was an assistant for Deti Jr. for 26 years. “The person next to me was yelling down at John throughout the first half. So at halftime when we were walking into the locker room, we were talking about a couple of players here or there. Then I said to him, ‘did you hear your father?’
“He said, ‘how could you not hear him?’
“(Deti Jr.) was a mentor, who gave me my first coaching job. He was a good father, grandfather, uncle and friend. Not everyone knew the real John underneath – he was a real good person. There were a lot of things I did with him as a coach and as a friend.”
Veteran swimming and diving coach Tom Hudson, who has been coaching at LHS for nearly 30 years added: “To do what he and his dad did all those years – he was a living legend. (Deti Jr.) won state titles and had a very good record, but it was just because he was the individual he was – he was larger than life. I always felt so honored to be his friend. There was an aura of something really special about him.”
Hudson was probably the coach who utilized a stopwatch for practices second-most. The most by a long margin was Deti Jr., who had a stopwatch constantly hanging from around his neck, not only at practices but throughout the day and night.
“He loved that thing and ran his whole life through that,” Hudson said. “He didn’t know how to change the batteries in that stopwatch and I always kept spare batteries around for Deti. Once a year he would give it to me and I would take it apart and put new batteries in it for him.”
Deti Jr. posted a 157-79 record with the Plainsmen and his 188 career victories in the state ranks him fourth in Wyoming high school history. His Plainsmen teams won two state championships in 1984 and 1994, and finished runner-up five times in title games.
“I loved listening to him talk at the banquets when he was still coaching – it was the way he spoke about the kids,” Hudson said.
Deti Jr. kept his father’s old-school, smash-mouth football tradition going on the gridiron while adding his own twists. But running the ball was still the bread-and-butter for the Plainsmen. It was called a “full-house backfield” with a quarterback under center, a fullback and two half-backs.
“Offense and defense, we kept it really simple and went over it and over it and over it,” Bradfield said. “People knew what was coming and who was going to get the ball, but we continuously kept pushing it down people’s throats all the way down the field. What people didn’t know even though it was definitely a run-oriented offense, is that we had play-action passes off of it and a lot of people may not know there were a lot of plays that his father ran that he didn’t run.”
Deti Jr. also guided his teams to 11 conference championships, coached in two Shrine Bowls in 1988 and 1992 and was a Wyoming Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year in 1985 and 1995. He was inducted into the association’s Hall of Fame in 2004 and was a member of the Wyoming Sports Hall of Fame.
“I remember there was a new kid in school he saw one day in the hallway and he said, ‘Jesus Christ! Who’s that kid? He’s big enough to eat hay!’ and he immediately was on him to go out for football,” Hudson said.
The original Deti Stadium was named in honor of Deti Sr., and when the new high school southeast of town was opened in 2016 the new Deti Stadium honored both legacies.
Bradfield and Hudson both had lengthy pauses before recounting some of their fondest memories of their friendship with Deti Jr.
“One year, (John Jr.) went down to the Down Under football game in New Zealand, and a Wyoming football camp was coming up,” Bradfield said. “We had quite a few kids signed up to go, and I had worked it the year priors, was going to do it again and take care of the Laramie kids. Before he left he said to me, ‘whatever you do, don’t get in the 7-on-7 passing league.’
“So we go to the camp for individual time and team periods and one of the UW assistants came to me and asked if I wanted to get into the passing league. I looked at the guy and found myself not even questioning and said, ‘yeah, sure.’
“The kids wanted to be in the passing league, and so we get into it and at the end of the camp I had a trophy in my hand for first place. We ran the passing plays we would normally run during a season, and maybe a couple more I drew in the dirt. So I’m walking to my car and wondering what I am going to do with this trophy after he told me not to be in the passing league?
“So I drove to the high school, put the trophy on his desk and left. He came back a week later, called me right away and was just going on and on …”
“He was a fixture down by our (pool) area even after he stopped coaching football,” Hudson said. “He spent a lot of time in the coach’s office, and was always working out, lifting weights or walking around the gym or track. He followed all of Laramie High sports religiously and knew every Monday morning how we’ve done at the swim meets and was always there to give me a hard time about this or that – we bantered around a lot.
“He would tease us – ‘Last Chance meet?! We didn’t get any Last Chance football games!’”