"Faith, Family, & Football"--That's the Westering Family For You!
By Nick Dawson
Sports Information Director, Pacific Lutheran University
The legacy of Pacific Lutheran University head football coach Frosty Westering might best be summed up this way: About 15 years ago, a stamped envelope arrived at the PLU athletics office. The address read, simply, “Frosty, Tacoma, WA.” The post office workers knew exactly where to deliver the letter.
When you talk about the Westering Family in Pierce County sports history, you invariably begin – and usually end – with discussion of one individual: Frosty Westering, the family patriarch who won four national football championships in eight title-game appearances in his 32 seasons as head coach at Pacific Lutheran University. But there’s more – much more – and we’ll get to that.
To some people, Frosty Westering’s legacy at PLU will be all about wins, and certainly the numbers speak for themselves: four national championships (1980, 1987, 1993 and 1999); 19 national postseason appearances; 32 consecutive winning seasons; a 305-96-7 record in 40 total seasons, including a 261-70-5 win-loss record in his 32 years at PLU; and the ninth head coach in college football history to achieve at least 250 career wins.
“A championship, in the world, gives you authenticity that you did it,” Frosty said, admitting that most people wouldn’t have listened to him if his teams had been less than successful on the gridiron. “The championships just validate that you can coach. But that really doesn’t say anything until you ask, ‘What was the trip like?’ The trip was the greatest thing in life whether we won or not.”
To Frosty, the championship trophies and winning seasons served a bigger purpose. Success on the field gave him a platform from which he could pass on meaningful life lessons to those who rubbed up against the football program, particularly players, but also parents, cheerleaders, coaches and students.
It’s the trip – the journey through four decades with thousands of different lives to touch – that still drives this man who, in 2004, turned over the reins of the program to his second son, Scott. For a man who has lived his life and titled his first book with his motto, “Make the Big Time Where You Are,” retirement is much less a “kick your feet up” than a sidestep into others areas where he can influence the lives of others. He wrote a second book, “The Strange Secret of the Big Time,” and still is a much-requested speaker at the regional and national level.
Now, the most important audience for Frosty and his wife, Donna is their family. Those “meaningful life lessons” handed down to countless generations of football players have also lovingly been passed on to the Westering’s five children – Holly, Sue, Brad, Scott and Stacey – and their children. Even now, some of the grandchildren of Frosty and Donna Westering are emerging as excellent athletes in their own right, some at the national level, and to a person their goal is to “make the big time where they are.”
Put another way, Frosty lived his life by three Fs – Faith, Family and Football – and in that order. Those three elements have become an integral part of the lives of all members of the Westering clan.
The three most significant parts of Frosty’s life began to gain focus in his hometown of Missouri Valley, Iowa. It was there that he gave his life to Jesus Christ, courted and eventually married his grade school sweetheart, Donna Belle Jones, and first felt the satisfaction of coaching – as a mentor to a grade school football team.
A stint in the Marine Corps plus schooling at Northwestern University and Nebraska-Omaha helped refine his coaching, and life, philosophy. “I had all these coaching ideas and I didn’t know how I was going to put them together. I knew this, all the coaches I’d had believed that football was war and winning was it. They didn’t know there was another way or they didn’t believe in another way. I had this idea that I wanted to coach like I’d like to have been coached but never was.”
Frosty turned struggling Iowa high school football programs at Elkader and Fairfield into winners. Next came the head coaching position at Iowa’s Parsons College, followed by a move to Lea College in southern Minnesota. In the middle of all this, Frosty worked on his master’s and doctorate at Colorado State College, now the University of Northern Colorado. It was there that he was first exposed to an organization called The Fellowship of Christian Athletes. “All of a sudden Donna and I realized, this is it, this is what can tie my faith directly into athletics,” says Frosty. “My mission is to share Christ through football without forcing it on anybody. (FCA) really solidified my mission as a coach.”
That’s when Pacific Lutheran called, and the rest is part of Pierce County sports history.
“From a legacy standpoint it’s really not the wins and losses, although those are important,” said Paul Hoseth, who coached alongside Frosty for more than 20 years. “But I don’t think that’s really too important in the big scheme of things from his perspective. The impact that he has had on students who both played and didn’t play football has been amazing, and not only at (PLU) but many other (schools).”
Frosty’s son Scott, PLU’s football coach for the past five years, said it this way: “He’s one of those unique guys in life that you come across that can make anybody feel good about themselves regardless of their walk in life. One thing I’ve learned is living the saying, ‘Your true character shows in how you treat people that can do nothing for you,’ and that’s how my dad has lived.”
Scott has maintained (with a few tweaks) the key philosophical elements of his dad’s approach to football and life:
- The double-win, which emphasizes the satisfaction of playing to one’s personal potential over the final result on the scoreboard.
- Trash talking or posing for the crowd results in a seat on the bench.
- Employing Frostyisms such as “The real measure of me is not what I can do compared to others, but what I can do compared to my best self,” “Character: Our best piece of equipment,” and “The longer we play the better we get.”
PLU football players still rise off the turf to help opponents to their feet, they still clean up their locker room when they’re on the road, and they still leave a lasting and respected impression with airline, hotel and restaurant personnel wherever they travel.
One of those football players was Chad Johnson, quarterback of the 1999 national champion Lutes and also the 2000 Gagliardi Trophy winner, given to the NCAA Division III Player of the Year. Chad is the oldest son of Frosty and Donna’s oldest daughter, Holly, and her husband, Jim. Their second son, Jason, played at Puyallup’s Rogers High School, like his brother, but then went on to be a starting quarterback at the University of Arizona. He is now playing professional football in Europe. The youngest of the Johnson children, Heather, was a volleyball and basketball standout at Rogers High who later starred in volleyball at Pacific Lutheran. She is married to former Lute football linebacker Chris Linderman.
Frosty and Donna’s second daughter, Sue, is a dynamic motivational speaker and for the better part of the last three decades, including her time as captain of the PLU cheer squad, has unquestionably been the most vocal supporter at PLU football games. Sue served many years in local YMCA branches and is now a physical education teacher and volleyball coach at Gig Harbor High School.
Oldest son, Brad, was an all-conference and all-district starting quarterback for his father at Pacific Lutheran, leading the Lutes to a 1977 Apple Bowl victory over Western Washington in the Kingdome. Formerly the Dean of Students at Garfield High in Seattle, he is now an assistant principal in the Tacoma School District. Brad has two sons, Forrest and Logan, and he and wife Mary live in Seattle.
Scott was next in line. A state high school hurdles champion winning nine letters and named one of Tacoma Area’s 50 top Athletes of all time, Scott became an All-America tight end at PLU and had short stints with the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League. He served under his father as the Lutes’ offensive coordinator from 1982 until becoming the head coach. During the winter months Scott and his wife, Susan, watch their oldest daughter, Jordan, play basketball for the PLU Lutes. The next football player in the Westering line is Kellen, a talented soon to be a junior wide receiver for the Rogers High Rams. Their youngest daughter Jessi plays volleyball, basketball and fastpitch softball.
The baby of the family, Stacey, graduated from Pacific Lutheran in 1982 and in 1987 married Gary Spani, an All-America linebacker while at Kansas State. Gary went on to a nine-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs and is still the franchise’s all-time leader in tackles with 999.
Stacey and Gary are the parents of five beautiful daughters, the first two of whom are “making the big time where they’re at” on the national college basketball scene. Oldest daughter, Shalin, is an academic All-Big 12 performer at her father’s alma mater, while second daughter, Taber, a McDonald’s All-American, will play her freshman season for legendary coach Pat Summitt at the University of Tennessee. Tanis, Sajel and Taris are the youngest of the Spani’s and are all talented basketball players.
The uncommon coaching – and life – philosophy of Frosty Westering, magnified by phenomenal success on the field, brought both local and national prominence to the former coach and the Lutes program. It also explains several articles in Sports Illustrated. In its 2000 college football preview issue, SI dubbed Frosty’s PLU Lutes as “The Nicest Team in Football.”
Without a doubt, the Westering family is certainly one of “The Nicest Families in Pierce County Sports History.