By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
When Jon Lantz was hired as Missouri Southern’s football coach in 1989, he inherited a program that went 8-21 in the previous three seasons.
The Lions’ fortunes turned around quickly as they went 6-4 in Lantz’s first year and were 51-35-1 in his eight-plus years as head coach, highlighted by the MIAA championship in 1993.
“Jon brought a lot of calming to the program,” said Jim Frazier, the athletics director who hired Lantz. “Jon was a friend, a very successful coach and a perfect fit for Missouri Southern. He really was, and he did us a good job. He just made a couple of mistakes.”
Lantz came to Missouri Southern after directing Southeastern Oklahoma State to a 21-9-2 record and ending a string of 10 consecutive losing seasons for the Savages. Lantz was NAIA coach of the year in 1988 when the Savages went 10-1 and lost in the second round of the playoffs.
Before becoming a college coach, Lantz won 40 games and three league championships in six years at Edmond Memorial High School.
“He was an icon among Oklahoma high school coaches,” Frazier said. “When he went to Southeastern Oklahoma, he had a lot of following from the Oklahoma high school coaches.”
Lantz played two quarterbacks in his first season at Missouri Southern — Matt Cook and Rod Smith. After the season, Lantz met with Smith and told him he could help him become an all-conference quarterback or an All-American wide receiver.
“I chose All-American receiver,” said Smith, who became an All-American and later an all-pro with the Denver Broncos. “He continued to fulfill his end of the deal, giving me chances to make plays, and I fulfilled my end by going out and making plays. We had a trust and chemistry with each other, and that made it great.
“Coach Lantz changed my life. He’s like a dad to me. He taught me a lot, trained me for the future. I always hoped for him to be with me to share it. It’s tough for me to talk about him. I really miss him.”
Lantz’s tenure with the Lions also included some off-the-field issues. He was suspended for one game by the MIAA for his involvement in a pre-game fight between the Lions and Pittsburg State in 1991. Eleven players were suspended and one dismissed from the squad for on-campus alcohol violations one week before the 1997 season started. The Lions also forfeited all seven victories that year for using an ineligible player.
Then on Oct. 21, 1997, Lantz resigned as the Lions’ coach after a sideline incident with a player during a game three days earlier.
“It began Saturday at the game where I physically engaged a player for unsportsmanlike conduct,” Lantz said at a press conference. “I crossed the line. ... It’s not the kind of thing you take lightly. You have to sit back, look at yourself, wonder why you react in the ways you do, and if you do that, what’s wrong?”
Leaving Missouri Southern as the school’s second winningest football coach, Lantz spent three years as director of student development at Ozark Christian College. Then he was vice president of student affairs at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M before he died unexpectedly at home in March 2007.