Feix stays near WKU football program he helped build

Former WKU quarterback, head coach and athletic director Jimmy Feix. Feix passed away at age 83 on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 5, 2014.

Brad Stephens

Jimmy Feix still makes it to every

game played on the field that bears his name.

The 80-year-old — a two-time

All-American quarterback, assistant coach, head coach and athletic

director at WKU — has been slowed a bit in recent months by the

effects of Parkinson’s Disease. 

But he will be there Saturday when

the Toppers take Feix Field to face Louisiana-Lafayette in WKU’s

annual Homecoming contest.

“I want to see them get a win on

that Feix Field,” said Feix, whose 106 wins as head coach from

1968-1983 are the most of any coach in program history. “It’d mean

just a little more to me than it would to everyone else in those


There’s a lot that brings the Topper

legend back, especially on this particular weekend each


Feix gets to see the team he for so

long was a part of play on a field named after him, rekindle old

ties with men he once coached and share memories with teammates

from his playing days.

One of his favorite parts of

Homecoming is the reunion of WKU’s 1952 team that went 9-1, one of

the best in school history.

The 1952 Toppers capped off that

season with a 34-19 win over Arkansas State in the Refrigerator


After not officially coming together

for four decades, the team celebrated its 40th reunion at

Homecoming in 1992, and has been meeting on that weekend every year


This year will be the 59th

anniversary of the Refrigerator Bowl team. Feix, who was named an

All-American that season, said the bond the players on the team

developed brings them back to the Hill each year.

“We were with each other through

thick and thin,” Feix said. “You feel that personal warmth that’s

there, and that connection.

 “You’ve been in the huddle with

them, in the room crying after a loss, then celebrating. You’ve

done things that you’ve done with nobody else.”

In many respects, Feix has himself

to thank for the fact WKU still has a Homecoming where he can see

his old teammates.

Feix said that in the 1990s, after

he had retired from a five-year stint as Athletic Director, he

received a call saying school president Thomas Meredith was going

to drop the Topper football program altogether.

Feix, along with longtime assistant

Butch Gilbert and former WKU player Mickey Riggs, decided to take

action so that the program they’d spent their lives building wasn’t

going to die.

Under the direction of then-Head

Coach Jack Harbaugh, Feix and his friends picked up the phones to

sell tickets and raise support for the football team.

“We got on the phones and started

hollering,” he said. “We started shaking some leaves, getting some

support, just doing anything we could to save the


“And Coach Harbaugh dug his heels in

and would not quit on me. That made all the difference in the


Administration chose to keep

football and, just a short time later, Harbaugh led WKU to the 2002

I-AA National Championship — that title ironically coming during

the 50th anniversary season of Feix and his teammates’ Refrigerator

Bowl win.

Head Coach Willie Taggart, an

assistant on that team and a former All-American Topper quarterback

himself, has invited Feix to talk to the current WKU squad several


“You look at a lot of his success —

it was because of his love for Western Kentucky University,”

Taggart said. “He’s one of the toughest guys you’ll ever meet, and

our guys need to see that.”

Senior running back Bobby Rainey and

junior tight end Jack Doyle hand-delivered Feix a team birthday

card on his 80th birthday in August.

Rainey said it’s vital that WKU

football players learn about Feix and what he’s put into the


“As far as even having this program,

he’s an important guy,” Rainey said. “To know your history and be

able to go talk to him and present him a card for his birthday,

it’s an experience you’ll never forget.”

WKU has faced rough times in recent

years after making the transition from the Football Championship

Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) to the Football Bowl

Subdivision (formerly Division I-A.)

While some have questioned the

Toppers’ move to the FBS, Feix said WKU made the right choice

because “there wasn’t any way to go but up.”

“In the past we moved from Division

III to Division II, we thought, ‘woo-wee,’” Feix said. “Then

Division II to Division I-AA, we said, ‘woo-wee.’ Now we’ve moved

from I-AA to I-A and we’re saying, ‘woo-wee.’ So it’ll come. It

just takes awhile.”

He said he has confidence Taggart is

the right man for the WKU coaching job, and that he’ll have a

successful career as the Toppers’ head coach.

“Willie’s kind of like me — an old

quarterback, an old Westerner and an All-American,” Feix said. “And

because he’s a Westerner, he’s got the energy and enthusiasm to

make it work.”