Celebrating A Legend

 Jimmy Feix off ers thanks for a face mask penalty against East Tennessee State University in 1977. Feix was part of the football coaching staff for 24 years, serving 15 years as head coach. JIM BURTON/TALISMAN FILE PHOTO

Elliott Pratt

The last time Jimmy Feix stood on a football field was just over a year ago, against a doctor’s orders. It was the 40th anniversary of the 1973 WKU football team that went 12-1 with an Ohio Valley Conference championship. More than 50 members of the team were honored at halftime of the WKU-Morgan State game.

Feix, confined to a wheelchair because of his battle with Parkinson’s disease, rode in a golf cart near midfield. Then, to the amazement of everyone in attendance, Feix stood up and walked to meet his former players on the field that donned his name.

“That sent cold chills all up and down our spines,” Leo Peckenpaugh, a quarterback for Feix from 1970 to 1973, said. “He wasn’t going to be in a wheelchair that day.”

Feix, the winningest football coach in WKU history, passed away Sunday afternoon.

He was 83.

Former players see Feix’s ability to stand up out of his wheelchair in the field that day as evidence that Feix was one of the toughest competitors they’d ever been associated with, but also a coach who had a heart of gold.

“One of my former teammates, Larry Deweese, summed it up best last week when he said coach Feix was the toughest man he’d ever met,” Peckenpaugh said. “He was a really classy fellow and highly competitive with integrity. He loved winning, but he handled defeat gracefully and he always was a gentleman about competition. He was one of the most humble people I’ve ever been around. It was an honor and a pleasure to play for him and an honor to call him friend.”

Feix remains WKU’s most successful coach with a 106-56-6 record during his 16 years as head coach from 1968 to 1983. With Feix as the coach, WKU won or shared the OVC championship on six occasions.

Feix arrived on the Hill in 1949 from Henderson as a quarterback. As a senior quarterback for WKU in 1952, Feix became the school’s first football athlete to earn All-American honors and led the Hilltoppers to their bowl appearance with a 34-19 win over Arkansas State in the Refrigerator Bowl in Evansville, Indiana.

Along with serving WKU as an All-American athlete and head coach, Feix was an assistant coach and held the positions of assistant director of Alumni Affairs, director of Alumni Affairs and director of athletics until his retirement in 1990.

Director of athletics Todd Stewart said Feix is the patriarch of WKU’s football program.

“I had a close relationship with him because he was an athletic director,” Stewart said. “I purposely put his name out on my door as a daily reminder for me of the special people who have held this position, he being one of them. He was the kind of person that every time you talked to him that after you finished talking to him you felt better.

“It didn’t matter what the topic was, you just felt better having had any kind of dialogue with Jimmy Feix.”

The playing field at Smith Stadium was named “Jimmy Feix Field” in his honor in 1991. Feix was inducted into the 10-person inaugural class of the WKU Athletics Hall of Fame that same year. During that same ceremony, WKU retired his No. 66 jersey.

Outside of athletics, those who knew Feix best say he “lived life the way it should be.”

“The things he taught us off the field were don’t do anything that would embarrass you, your family or your university. That was his rules,” Peckenpaugh said. “He was such a family person. He kept in contact with the guys that played for him and knew about their family lives and cared about it a great deal and that means so much to you when a guy stretches out that far. It says something about the quality of him.”

Former WKU play-by-play announcer, Wes Strader, said he’s the only person to have seen every play Feix coached on the field. From the broadcasting side, he said Feix is undisputedly one of WKU’s most prominent names.

“His name is associated with Western like Dero Downing’s. Athletically, he was Mr. Western,” Strader said. “He coached because he loved kids. He took great pride in their development for the future. He’s a great person, great coach and great family man. A great representative of the university. Nobody loved it more than him.”

The funeral service for the late Feix will be held Thursday at 11:00 a.m. at First Baptist Church of Bowling Green. He is survived by his wife, Frankie, two sons, Jimmy and Jeff, and multiple grandchildren.