Second winningest Southern football coach at dies at age 54

Hobie Brown

Located on the creek bed on the campus of Ozark Christian College are three crosses and a sign which reads “not to be served, but to serve.”

The phrase not only serves as a reminder of purpose for the college, but also is the best way to remember one of Missouri Southern’s own.

Former Lions head football coach Jon Lantz passed away March 3 from an apparent aneurysm. Only 54 years old, Lantz made an impact as a coach for Edmond Memorial High School, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, and Southern. Academically, he continued to be a leader at OCC and at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.

“He was a true leader of people,” NEO football coach Rob Green said. “He was a person who was driven to do things. As a football coach, he wanted to be the best. The same went for his work in administration.”

Green knew Lantz for 28 years, coaching with Lantz at both the high school and collegiate level. They coached together at Putnam City (Okla.) West and Edmond Memorial high schools, and also at Southern. Green finished the 1997 season as head coach after Lantz resigned midseason.

“Jon was one of the best coaches I’ve been around,” he said.

At Southeastern Oklahoma State, Lantz won NAIA coach of the year in 1988, leading the Savage Storm to a conference championship into the second round of the NAIA playoffs. For Southern fans, the image they mostly remember of Coach Lantz is his raising the MIAA Conference trophy above his head in 1993.

“Jon Lantz represents an era we were proud of,” Sallie Beard, Southern’s athletic director said. “He left a very lasting impression and a legacy that we are proud of.”

“His 1993 team was about as good as the MIAA teams today,” Pittsburg State football coach Chuck Broyles said. “He was a nice guy, tough and hard-nosed with players. He was a player’s coach.”

Lantz moved across town when his career at Southern was over, taking a position at OCC in 1998.

“Jon was a person who would step up to the plate,” Ken Idleman, OCC chancellor, said. “If there was a hard job to do, he was your man. Unflinching, confident, able to balance grace and truth, he was a good fellow. In his role as director of student development and dean of students, he had to impress reality on students with kindness and firmness.”

His tenure at OCC ended in 2001, when he transitioned into the vice president of student affairs post of NEO A&M. The opportunity he had there reunited him with Green. Aspiring to better himself, Lantz began working on a doctorate degree.

“The irony about Jon’s death was that he was one semester away from his doctorate,” Green said. “He had his bookwork done and had written two-thirds of his dissertation.”

Whether he was on a field, in an office, or just crossing campus, Lantz built more than just a good reputation; he built a legacy.

“Our offices were across the hall from one another,” Green said. “The week before he died, we talked about more things. It was unbelievable. We talked about our families, relationships and the goals left in life.”

“One thing I noticed about Jon is how attracted he is to the people who are part of the servant staff,” Idleman said. “He was friendly to the student workers and cafeteria workers. He went out of his way to notice and affirm the people who are in the positions which get overlooked.”

Though Lantz had been out of coaching for several years, his legacy still touched current Lions’ head football coach Bart Tatum.

“Jon Lantz was a huge support to us behind the scenes,” he said. “He dropped in on more than one occasion to say he was excited about what we’ve been doing.”

He will always be remembered as friend, coach, rival, mentor, and leader.

“Jon had a great sense of humor and a great personality off the field,” Broyles said. “When we went to coaches meetings, he was the guy I wanted to go play golf with.”

“I told the staff the mentality of the program is going to be ‘Let’s continue building something Jon Lantz would be proud of’,” Tatum said.