Football

Former Herd coach Sonny Randle passes away

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HUNTINGTON — Former Marshall head coach — and 4-time NFL Pro-Bowler — Sonny Randle has passed away today, May 23, in the morning at the age of 81. A friend of the family said he was in hospice care when he died overnight.

Born Ulmo Shannon Randle, Jr. in Cohasset, Va., Randle was living in the valley outside of Staunton with his wife, Gail. He is a member of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1991 and beloved by Herd fans for his many years of calling Herd football.

MUFB Sonny Randle 1980 at camp

Marshall football coach from 1979-83, then TV color man for the Thundering Herd Network from 1991-2005, Sonny Randle passed away earlier today in Hospice care at age 81. (courtesy Marshall Athletics)

Randle loved horse racing, and could often be found at racetracks with friends in the coaching profession. He was a radio voice known to fans of the ACC, Southern Conference, Mid-American Conference and Conference USA with his work on Marshall games as well as freelance work on other radio networks for games and bowl games. He did Marshall games for nearly 15 years with Keith Morehouse and treated the fan base to the color commentary with a spin only Randle could come up with.

Marshall University Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick made a statement today on the passing of the coach who took over for his senior season in 1979. Hamrick also got to know Randle better when he was AD at East Carolina, where Coach was a former head coach of the Pirates. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of former Thundering Herd head coach Sonny Randle,” Hamrick said. “Sonny was a beloved figure to many associated with our football program and will be dearly missed.”

The young Randle was sent to Fork Union Military Academy for his 12-years of primary education and secondary school where he was a renowned track athlete (9.6 in the 100-yard dash, and 20.7 in the 220) but did not play football until his senior year in 1954. Randle was All-State in football and basketball at FUMA and was named an All-American in track there.

He was given a full ride scholarship to attend Virginia Military Institute, but withdrew and enrolled at the University of Virginia, walked on, and eventually earned a scholarship there.

He had three letters in football and track and graduated with a BS in Education from Virginia in 1959. He was honorable mention All-American in 1958. He was selected to play in the Blue-Gray Senior Game in Montgomery, Alabama. He also competed for a spot as a sprinter for the 1960 USA team going to the Rome Olympics.

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Sonny Randle scores a touchdown, one of his 71 in the 1960s – most by any receiver in the National Football League. (courtesy of Arizona Cardinals/NFL)

Randle was the 218th pick by the Chicago Cardinals in the 1958 NFL Draft’s as a future’s draft pick, so the Cards were holding his rights for 1959 when he finished school. He was second in the NCAA that season with 47 catches, leading the ACC, and also led the league with his five touchdowns and 642 yards receiving. He led the nation in kickoff returns.

He played 10 years in the NFL as a speedster wide receiver, playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys, and his career ended in 1969 with the Washington Redskins, which Randle always treasured as Vince Lombardi left the Packers to coach the Redskins that one year before succumbing to cancer.

Randle exploded with 62 catches for the Cardinals in 1960 for 893 yards, and his 15 touchdowns led the NFL. In 1961, he had 44 catches for 591 yards and nine touchdowns with Sam Etcheverry at QB, but Charlie Johnson was the QB in 1962, and Randle had 63 catches for 1,158 yards (second in the league) and seven scores. In1962, Randle had at the time the second-best game statistically by a wide receiver in NFL history as he caught 16 passes for 256 yards in a game against the New York Giants. He finished the 1962 season with 63 receptions for 1,158 yards and eight touchdown catches and was named second-team All-Pro by UPI.

Randle once again passed the 1,000-yard receiving mark in 1963, finishing with 51 receptions for 1,014 yards and 12 touchdowns (fourth in the league). In 1964, he suffered a serious shoulder separation and was lost for the season after the seventh game. At the time he was on pace for the third straight 1,000-yard season. In 1966, he was limited with a fractured hand and although he didn’t miss any games, he only recorded 17 receptions for 218 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Sonny Randle

One of Sonny Randle’s football cards from his days with the Chicago/St. Louis Cardinals, 1959-66. (HI file photo)

In 1967, after drafting wide receiver Dave Williams in the first round, the Cardinals traded him to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a second-round draft choice (#42-Bob Atkins). He left the Cardinals as the franchise’s second all-time leading wide receiver. In 1988, he was named to the All-time Cardinal Team.

In 1967, he appeared in 14 games (10 starts), registering 33 receptions for 502 yards and 4 touchdowns. In 1968, he was released after playing in 3 games on October 11. On October 16, 1968, he was signed by the Dallas Cowboys for depth purposes. He appeared in 6 games as a reserve and had one reception for 12 yards.

He was first team All-Pro in 1960, second team All-Pro in 1962 and played in four Pro Bowls (1960, 1961, 1962, and 1965). Randle finished his career with 65 touchdown receptions in 120 games, currently placing him 12th on the NFL’s all-time TD-per-game list (minimum 60 TDs). His 65 TD catches were also the most in the NFL during the 1960s — Don Maynard (New York Jets) caught 84 and Lance Alworth (San Diego Chargers) caught 77 in the American Football League (AFL) in the 1960s, and both are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He had 365 receptions for 5,996 yards and 65 touchdowns in his career.

Sonny Randle and wife, Gail, from valleyliving.org

Sonny Randle and his wife, Gail, show off their home in 2010 with many memories from Sonny’s time in the NFL. (courtesy Valley Living/valleyliving.org)

Randle then was hired at East Carolina as an assistant coach in 1970 and promoted to head coach in 1971 when head coach Mike McGee left ECU for Duke. Randle’s Pirates won the Southern Conference in 1972 and 1973, and he was 22-10 at ECU, including 17-2 in the SoCon.

He then coached at Virginia, his alma mater in lean years in 1974 and 1975 where his teams went 4-7 and 1-10 (combined for 5-17), signing Huntington High linebacker Jim Grobe to play for the Cavaliers. Next, Randle spent a couple of seasons (1977-78, going 19-3 with 10-1 in ’77 and 9-2 in ’78) at Massanutten Military Academy, having 24 players signing to play major college football in two seasons.

Marshall hired Randle as head coach in 1979 and his last year there was his last year of coaching in 1983, after which he embarked on a broadcast career. Randle was the color man for the Thundering Herd Network in 1991 when the new stadium was built. He is also remembered for taking the gold trim being used on Herd uniforms in most sports and dressed the Herd in 1981-83 like the Green Bay Packers, with gold pants, and white and green jerseys with gold numbers and trimming.

Charley Johnson, Sonny Randle - St Louis Cardinals November 1, 1965 X 11049 credit: Marvin E. Newman - assign

Sonny Randle and St. Louis Cardinals quarterback Charley Johnson appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated in Nov. of 1965. (courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Randle was 1-10 in 1979, a complete rebuild of the program with 40-of-80 players leaving the team in the first spring of full-go contact for almost all 20 practices, and a heavy emphasis on conditioning. On that first staff was Bob Pruett and Jim Grobe, both of whom would go on to be head coaches, Pruett at Marshall (1996-2004) and Grobe at Wake Forest. Other assistants included future VMI/WVU head coach the late Bill Stewart; Steve Marshall who has worked for many NFL and eight different college teams as an offensive line coach including currently being at the NY Jets after the Green Bay Packers, Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans; and Jim Cavanaugh, who just retired at Virginia Tech (1996-2017);

Other Randle staff members include Reggie Oliver, who played QB for the Herd, coached at Bowling Green State and was a high school head coach in Columbus, Ohio; Jeff Hanson, who is still coaching after 50 years, at JMU after stops at Ferrum, Virginia State, Virginia, Richmond (coaching there 29 years in three stints), VMU, West Texas State, Southwest Texas State, and Lamar after Marshall; and Conrad Cardano, Player Personnel Director for the Minnesota Vikings, working there since 1987 in the scouting department after coaching at Catholic University, Marshall, EKU and the Blesto Scouting Combine.

Sonny 2014 at Chesapeake Sports Club

Randle was a popular speaker, here at a speaking engagement at the Chesapeake (Va.) Sports Club in 2014, and often spoke at Marshall events. (courtesy photo, Chesapeake Sports Club)

Overall, Randle was 22-10 at ECU, 5-17 at Virginia, 19-3 at Massanutten and 12-42-1 as Marshall’s coach, overall 58-72-1, a 45% winning percentage. Marshall went I-AA in Randle’s last season, a 4-7 year and 3-4 in the SoCon. In 1980, he broke a non-winning streak in the SoCon for Marshall with a 13-13 tie at Western Carolina. Next year, after a five-year run in the SoCon of 0-26-1, Randle’s 1981 team got the first win by the Herd in the SoCon the next year with a 17-14 win at Appalachian State in 1981, and a crowd of 3,000 Herd fans waited on the team bus to disembark at Gullickson Hall (the athletic office building) and Hodges Hall (the athletic dorm) after a police escort brought the team bus in from Hurricane. In 1983, Randle’s final team finally won a home game in SoCon play when they beat ETSU 13-10 at Fairfield Stadium, later beat The Citadel (26-10) and VMI (56-7) in what turned out to be Randle’s swan song at Marshall.

In 1983, Randle’s final team finally won a home game in SoCon play when they beat ETSU 13-10 at Fairfield Stadium, later beat The Citadel (26-10) and VMI (56-7) in what turned out to be Randle’s swan song at Marshall. Randle did draw the second and fifth best crowds in the history of Fairfield Stadium (1928-1990): 18,212 for Morehead State on Sept. 12, 1981 (20-17 comeback win in season opener) and 18,051 for Kent State on Sept. 13, 1980, in the opener (35-8 win), as well as drawing 17,240 for Randle’s first home opener and first game period, a 31-14 win over Toledo (11th best crowd at “Olde Fairfielde,” as H-D Editor Ernie Salvatore called the stadium).

The Sonny Randle Show was “do not miss” entertainment on Sundays each week after Marshall games in the fall as the coach would explain why the Herd had usually lost again. He did the show with Terry Bumgarner of WOWK TV-13, and the phrases he could turn that would make his a great color man were on full display week after week.

Randle began broadcasting while with the Cardinals in the 1960s. In the mid-1980s, Randle began to freelance football games as a commentator in St. Louis, in Virginia and finally at Marshall. In 1991, the first year at Marshall, he also started S-R Sports, syndicating his talk show network up and down the Atlantic coast out of Virginia.

Sonny Randle and wife

Gail and Sonny Randle back in 2014. Randle passed away this morning at age 81. (courtesy Randle family)

Randle players who stood out include free safety Carl Lee (first recruit for Randle, 12-years in the NFL, Vikings All-Time Team, coined name for Herd secondary “Gang of 4,” and MU HOF), linebacker Jimmy Devine and Terry Echols (who also punted and went to the Pittsburgh Steelers), punter Pat Velardi, kicker Barry Childers (set a freshman record in the NCAA for 59-yard field goal at WCU in 1980) and Scott LaTulipe, defensive end Alan Huff (played for Pittsburgh Steelers) and Marty Palazeti,running back Ron Lear (first freshman walk-on to rush for over 1,000 yards in 1979), the late RB Larry “Queen Bee” Fourquean (245 yards of rushing, MU record, in Appy State win in ’81) and RB Gilbert “I.W” Orr, quarterbacks Danny Wright, Ted Carpenter, and Carl Fodor (one of top QBs in MU history, and member of MU HOF), receivers Darnel “Dart” Richardson (an assistant coach at Dusquesne), Tony Stott, and Brian Swisher,  TE Mike Natale (tryouts with Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys), C Sam Manos (MU HOF, played for Cincinnati Bengals), and offensive tackles including the late Troy McNett, Rob Bowers, and the late Jim Hynus.

Other players include WR Billy Hynus, C Moke Riggs, LB Jessie Bandy, CB Glenn “The Gambler” Bates, LB Tony Lellie, DT James Wynes,  LB John Ceglie, WR Estee “Rocky” Williams, WR Danny Abercrombie,  G Steve Stoll, C Juan Stout, G Dan Staggs, G Mike Staggs,  DL Todd Evans, RB Randy Clarkson, RB Robert Surratt, DT Jeff Borman, TE Ted Jackson, TE Dean Roberts, NG George Elliott, DT Brian “Hooter” Hite, DT Mark Taylor, LB John T. Logan, CB Garfield Lewis, S Mike Copenhaver, CB Eugene Pertee, NG Poncho Borgese, DT Tony “Gator” Evans, DT Bill “Webster” McCourt, LB Brad Morrison, SS Clifford Wright, DL Jeff Durette, S Danny Tennant, RB Dickie Rollins, CB Tony Henderson, FB Erik King (part of the “King and Queen” backfield with Fourquean), LB David Hawkins, FB Jimmy North, G Greg Liebe, G Dale Rice, FB Tim Campbell, QB John Sharretts “The Throwin’ Taccoan,” (from Toccoa, Ga.) and Dan Patterson, and LB Greg Wiley.

About Woody Woodrum

Senior Editor and columnist/writer for Herd Insider since 2003, with Kindred Communications on radio for Marshall football/men's basketball pregame and postgame shows since 1996 and with First Sentry Bank Sportsline (Also Scott on Sports, Sideline Sports and Herd Insider Sportsline) since 1997. Married to Liz (12-22-1990) and one son, Tre' (11-7-1997). National Sportswriters & Sportscasters West Virginia Broadcaster of the Year winner for radio, 2000; won W.Va. Broadcasters Best Talk Show in 2013 with co-host Paul Swann and W.Va. Broadcasters Best Play-by-Play in 2015 with Jason Toy (Huntington at South Charleston, state AAA semifinals). Member of (College) Football Writers Association of America, (College) Basketball Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Color commentator for Marshall football (1999-2000), for Marshall basketball (2004-2016) and Marshall baseball (2004-2016). Color for high school football at Spring Valley (1999-2008), Cabell Midland (2009-2012) and Huntington (W.Va.) High School (2013-2016).

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