New book documents life and career of legendary Canyon, Naz girls coach Lombard
Coach Joe Lombard (left) and author Jon Mark Beilue hold up a copy of the book "More Than A Coach" which chronicles Lombard's life and career, during a signing Saturday at Canyon High. [Kale Steed/ Press Pass Sports]
By Lee Passmore
With enough championship trophies to fully stock cases at two schools and needing two hands to count the memberships in various hall of fames, it’s probably been long past time to tell Joe Lombard’s story.
That’s what the public has finally gotten with the publication of “More Than A Coach”, Lombard’s biography written by Jon Mark Beilue. The book chronicles Lombard’s life from his childhood in Fort Wayne, Ind. to his retirement from coaching a little over a year ago, when he officially stepped down at Canyon High after 42 years as one of the most successful girls high school basketball coaches in history.
Since announcing his retirement in April 2020, Lombard has been on something of a victory lap in recognition of a career so successful some of his numbers look like typos. With a lifetime record of 1,379-133 and 19 state championships in basketball (plus seven in cross country), Lombard was recognized with induction to the Panhandle Sports Hall of Fame last month, one of the few honors it seemed he had yet to achieve.
Prior to that, he spent most of the past year working on the book with Beilue, another PSHOF honoree best known for spending 37 years with the Amarillo Globe-News. Saturday afternoon, Lombard and Beilue were at Canyon’s Joe Lombard Gymnasium (naturally) to sign the book, which is available for purchase on Amazon.
“I just had a lot of people especially in the last five or six years ask me if I was going to write a book and I never thought about that much but I did know that if I was going to do a book I was going to wait until my career was over,” Lombard said. “It’s been in the background. With Jon Mark Beilue writing it I just think people are going to like the outcome of the way the book went.”
Beilue wrote the book in fairly chronological order, documenting Lombard’s life as a young standout athlete in Indiana to playing basketball at Wayland Baptist University where he met his future wife Babs. She was the head coach at Hale Center, where she won a state championship, and that inspired Lombard to leave his job as a sporting goods salesman in Plainview to pursue coaching at Nazareth.
The rest, of course, is history and a coaching imprint which will loom over the Texas Panhandle long after Lombard and his contemporaries (along with some of his descendants, coaching and family) are gone.
Beilue was witness to a lot of that history as a longtime sports editor at the Globe-News. During a visit with Lombard at halftime of a Canyon football game during what would be his final year of coaching, Beilue said the book had its genesis.
“Joe sort of confided in me that he was going to retire and that it would probably be his last year and that maybe he would like to write a book,” Beilue said. “My radar went up and said why is he telling me this? Before he could change his mind I said ‘I’ll do it.’”
After Canyon’s season ended and Lombard announced his retirement, Beilue checked back with him to see if the book was still a go. It was, and in June 2020 Beilue met with Lombard twice a week to gather information for the book.
Beilue estimates he made 72 trips to Lombard’s home for interviews. While Beilue did the heavy lifting in terms of writing, Lombard contributed several “Timeout With Joe” segments between chapters, where he documented everything from how to organize and run a practice, dealing with parents and players and why he wore certain sweaters on game nights.
“It was really fun to relive all those things,” Lombard said. “There was some frustration with some of those games we lost early in my career but there was a lot of fun doing this. With all the scrapbooks Babs had prepared from each season it really gave (Beilue) a lot of information to use.”
Lombard had never been to Texas prior to enrolling at Wayland in Plainview, and said he was excited because he thought he’d be near the Gulf of Mexico, until he found out where Plainview was.
That’s where the segment of Lombard’s life starts with which most area fans are familiar. It was also an unlikely start to a legendary coaching career.
“It’s such a good story and I’m not saying that facetiously,” said Beilue, who also has two previous books collecting his most popular news columns with the Globe-News. “My job was not to mess it up. Just get (Lombard) to tell details and stories within stories. You might think you know Joe Lombard, but you really don’t know him until you read his book.”
It’s appropriate that the first signing for the book occurred at a gym named for Lombard while he was still coaching. That alone is a testament to his impact on the game in the area.
As has long been his custom, Lombard is deflecting his legendary status.
“The book is a little bit of a part of that legacy and maybe a tribute to our players and coaches I’ve worked with through the years,” Lombard said. “It’s just been amazing. It’s for them to know there were so many people involved with this.
“Any time you have success there are so many people involved with it. I wanted to share that with others.”
The picture in the book was of Lombard and his first Canyon Lady Eagles team in 1985-86.
The book ends with coach Lombard winning another state championship at Canyon, but not Joe. His son Tate, who took over soon after Lombard retired, won a Class 4A state championship with the Lady Eagles in March, the third he’s won after winning two at Wall.
But Joe was on the sideline as a volunteer assistant all season, proving he can’t leave the game behind.
“There’s been so many storybook type things happen throughout his career with him winning a state title for the first time with my mom winning right across from him at Hale Center,” said Tate, who won his first title at Wall in 2014 when Joe won the first of four straight at Canyon. “His 1,000th win was a state title game. Things like that are neat stories but encompassing the whole program and communities and how it turned out has been really fun to see.”
Tate followed his father’s footsteps into coaching and has proven a worthy heir to the throne. Lombard’s daughter Lindy Slagle, who won a state championship playing for her father at Canyon, also got into coaching for 13 years but has since gotten out of it after having two children.
“As a teenager you knew you were part of a program that had really high expectations and a lot of history and tradition,” Slagle said. “It probably doesn’t dawn on you until you’re an adult how impactful the program is on your life. A lot of us have gone on to be coaches. I was a head coach for four years and I tried to emulate what I grew up around but it’s a lot easier said than done.”
Slagle admitted to not having the patience of her father when it came to coaching, and few can match the cool demeanor of Joe on the sideline, even during the biggest of games.
That’s a carryover from his behavior off the court, which has allowed him some perspective. It hasn’t always been easy, as he’s had to deal with events such as the loss of a grandchild when Tate’s first son died shortly after birth due to a heart defect. Tate and his wife Paige have since had a healthy son.
“People may think he’s never had any difficulty in his life,” Beilue said of Joe Lombard. “It’s been a smooth trajectory to the mountaintop but he’s had some heartbreak, some personal tragedy. For his first seven years at Canyon he didn’t win a state championship and he was losing to Levelland in just heartbreaking fashion. But he learned from losses and he learned to get better.”
Beilue said people should be as impressed by Lombard as a person as they are by him as a coach, hence the book’s title. While it catalogs one the greatest coaching careers anyone’s witnessed, the coach himself wants readers to know his story is about more than that.
“There’s a really steady Christian theme that goes throughout the book and we’ve got scripture which relates to each chapter,” Lombard said. “We did a Timeout at the end of each chapter and some of them are advice to young coaches to lead through the years. I rank different teams and opposing players, disappointing losses and biggest comebacks. Things like that I think are really interesting.”
There will be another book signing taking place July 11 in Nazareth, where Lombard won six state titles before heading to Canyon in 1985. Lombard and Beilue will also be signing books on July 12-15 at the Texas Girls Coaches Association clinic in Arlington.